By Kenneth Jukpor
Alhaji Ibrahim Tanko is an aspirant for the Apapa Chairmanship position of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF). In this exclusive interview with MMS Plus he unveils his plans for the Chapter as a Chairman, even as he commends the leadership of the association. He also assesses the maritime industry from a freight forwarder’s perspective and narrates his foray into freight forwarding. Enjoy it:
You’re contesting for the the position of Chairman at the Apapa Chapter of NAGAFF; tell us about yourself, what inspired you to contest?
I’m a practical grass root and active freight forwarder. Although I’m new in the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), my past leadership experience during my years at the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA) equips me with the necessary understanding of the terrains and operational workings in Apapa Premier Ports.
At Apapa I noticed some key issues under NAGAFF, we don’t have a secretariat, we don’t have a bus and we don’t have a place to run to, as a source of revenue. You can’t run an association successfully without these factors. There must be an avenue to make money and there must be a place where you can attend to the problems of members, so you need a secretariat and you also need a bus. I have bought the bus and I’m giving it to NAGAFF Apapa Chapter even before the elections. The delay is because we want to paint it in NAGAFF colours before handing it over. I would do this before the elections as I promised.
Freight forwarders at Apapa have been made to suffer like slaves because everybody is thinking about how to extort monies from us. Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Customs, even the Quarantine Service and Police introduce systems to delay our jobs because of bribes. Police and Quarantine now call Customs to block our consignment and the Customs oblige without asking the reasons or verifying the claims. We have Port Police within the ports, so it is expected that when there are issues that involve police, the police officers at the ports are consulted to resolve it but you find that they leave the police in Apapa and start sending for the Police in Harvey road.
Are you saying that the corruption in Apapa has reached such alarming level?
The situation in Apapa with regards to corruption and extortion has reached an unpleasant state and it must be stopped. Nobody has showed interest in tackling this problem and I begin to wonder if they are afraid but I’m going to tackle this if elected as Chairman of Apapa Chapter. I would also make sure I do my best to address this issue even if I fail. These are some of the issues that made me come out for this position. I haven’t been elected as Chairman but I have almost achieved a breakthrough with SON, they called me for a meeting last week and assured me that such arbitrary blocking of containers would stop. They showed me some of the development at SON which gives a freight forwarder hope that some of these sharp practices would soon stop. There is also the problem of collecting our items as sample when they never bring back the results. They promised that they would start bring the results to the SON office at Burma road, Apapa. In the past, they never returned the samples of items they collect and I had asked members of NAGAFF at Apapa Chapter to stop giving them samples until they start providing the results of the samples they collected in the past.
I have started tackling these problems as a leader because a leader isn’t just about the position it is about taking responsibility and facing tough circumstances. I don’t do corrupt businesses so I have nothing to be scared of as an activist or as a leader. It is when one is engaged in such practices that it becomes difficult to question these abnormal practices because the Customs begin to block your fraudulent jobs. The only problem I have with Customs which occurs on rare occasions is that my duty is low and I ask them for the correct duty, verify and pay it. When you open any of my files you can’t find something to blackmail me. The same can be said of the Founder of NAGAFF, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam because if he does fraudulent deals he wouldn’t be able speak against Customs, Police, SON and other agencies of government when they err.
What is your opinion on this issue of palletization to be introduced at the ports?
It is a good one if the government is going to do it the way it should be. There are several good reasons to support the introduction of palletization. It makes it easy for Customs to carryout their examinations as they can use forklifts to pull out the pallets and confirm the content and quantity of the items. However, there are no forklifts readily available at the ports and the freight forwarder shouldn’t be charged with the responsibility of hiring these equipment. It is the duty of terminal operators to provide forklifts because they have been collecting monies for this under handling charges but they were not rendering the service.
Those freight forwarders involved in shoddy deals may not welcome this practice because it makes it difficult for them to conceal items or disclose the wrong quantity of goods.
However, there is an issue that affects palletization with regards to Plant Quarantine Service. They collect charges to examine any wood that comes into the country and the use of pallets would mean all inbound containers would be subject to this examination and possibly charges by the Plant Quarantine Service. Plant Quarantine has to address this issue of examining these wooden pallets.
How would you appraise the maritime sector as it affects the freight forwarder in 2017 as well as 2018. What are your expectations the sector this year?
The recurring problem is the absence of scanners which should aid the Customs in their operations at the ports. The Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) Col. Hammed Ali (Rtd.) has assured the maritime public on several occasions that the government was working assiduously to resolve this issue. If we are able to get the scanners working at the ports this year, I would see this as a remarkable achievement as the Customs would be empowered to carry out examinations speedily. Most of the cargoes wouldn’t need to come out of the containers with the use of scanners.
Most people say this year’s election in NAGAFF is the most competitive in the history of the association as more freight forwarding bigwigs fight for positions in the association. What’s you assessment of NAGAFF in terms of its growth and development?
I must commend the efforts of the Founder of NAGAFF, Dr. Aniebonam because as you rightly observed the association has grown into a professional body that is a force to reckon with in the industry. You have to commend him because it is his vision and tenacity that has kept NAGAFF over the years. I only recently joined NAGAFF but I have known Dr. Aniebonam for a long time and I have also closely watched NAGAFF as it grew. I am convinced that he is the man to emulate in this industry because I was with him during our time at the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). Look at the contribution he has made in the industry since that time; no one has been able to match that.
We joined NCMDLCA together before he left us to form NAGAFF. He is a man of integrity and uncommon boldness. This is the type of personality that I want to follow and I didn’t just move to NAGAFF, I also invited some of my friends from ANLCA.
This present election is historic; NAGAFF has never experienced anything like this in its history. The reason is because people who are bigwigs in freight forwarding have joined NAGAFF. Some freight forwarders are surprised when they see me because they have heard a lot about the man ‘Tanko’ because I’m a very humble person.
How long have you been in this profession and what motivated you to venture into the freight forwarding profession?
I have been in this profession since 1991; I got my license in 1996. I wanted to be a Police officer so I applied and started the job but my mother didn’t like the job so I quit and came to Lagos. My father was an exporter; he exported palm kernel, charcoal and ginger before he died in 1973. I wanted to do this export business but I didn’t have the capital so I settled for this freight forwarding business and I continued until today.
I am planning to start charcoal export in the next two months before I venture into ginger and kernel because export business was my first passion. I couldn’t do it then because I didn’t have money but I’m ready to go into export.
What’s your word of advice to your followers, prospective voters and the opposition on the upcoming election?
The election is going to be tough so we have to be ready for the outcome. I will still be a member of NAGAFF irrespective of the outcome of that election and I would still put in my best to contribute to the growth and development of NAGAFF in Apapa and at the national level. I would continue to protect the interest of the freight forwarder as long as it is legitimate.
One of my hobbies is fighting for people, that is why I was given the nickname ‘panadol’. Panadol is a pain reliever, it relieves pain and headache and I’m ready to continue playing that role of relieving the pain on freight forwarders.
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