The Chief Executive Officer of Freyace Global Investment Limited, and the Secretary of the Tin-Can Island Chapter, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Mr. Godfrey Chukwuęmęka Nwosu, has put in over 30 years at various levels in cargo delivery and clearing processing subsectors of the maritime sector. Therefore, he talks about various industry issues with a righteously-authoritative note, as he navigates easily from one point to the other. This trait he displayed copiously as he sat down for an exclusive interview with MARITIME MATTERS conducted by Obiajulu Agų at the Secretariat of the NAGAFF Tin-Can Island Chapter within the Seaview Properties Commercial Complex at the Tin-Can Island Port Complex (TCIPC), Apapa, Lagos State, South-West Nigeria, in the twilight of 2018 for a review of the year, and projections for the coming year 2019, among other issues.
As the year is almost at its end, from the perspective of a freight forwarder, how has it impacted your profession in particular and the maritime industry generally in Nigeria?
Assessing year 2018, as it concerns the maritime industry and the freight forwarding subsector in particular, I will take it from the freight forwarding aspect. But looking at the maritime sector in general, going by the activities of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), and shipowners and issue of cabotage and the carriage of goods by indigenous shipowners, all these are issues that have been going on in this year of 2018.
And it has been positive response, especially from NIMASA, judging from what the Director-General, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, has been saying all these while. You will see that there have been immense improvements in the activities of NIMASA. Going forward to talk about the activities of pirates, coastline security and onboard security, as in indigenous security of Nigerian Merchant Navy in charge, and employment of foreign experts as onboard security men. All these are issues NIMASA has been able to tackle in the recent months in this year of 2018.
Also, the NPA has taken a new dimension, although the Managing Director has designed another method of administration where appointments are reactionarily given. Especially when it comes to the aspect of the image person of the Nigerian Ports Authority, it has been series of swap and swap and swap of appointments. Whatever she intends to gain out of that, she is the one in charge she knows the best.
The Shippers’ Council, yes, has been having handful of cases in this 2018, especially the issue of ports access gridlock with loss of deposits; shippers and their importers complaining about containers not having been returned to the ports or to holding bays. These are issues that the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, in conjunction with the Nigerian Ports Authority, under the Federal Ministry of Transport, has had a lot of tasks to manage, which, of course, we are all aware of. You know these are one of the reasons the Vice President (of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo) had to fly into Lagos, Tin-Can Island precisely, on emergency working visit to assess the state of the ports access roads, which led to the setting up of the Presidential Task Force to decongest and free the access roads from all the trucks clogging the roads.
All these are issues that have been going on in this very year of 2018, and all the government agencies and parastatals have been doing the best which they think is good enough to ensure these problems, these challenges, are being resolved under minimum time.
To the freight forwarding subsector of the economy, which is where I will dwell mostly, so many things have happened in the area of our operations here, we have suffered much. Freight forwarders have lost finance, reasonable amount of money, to be used in the processing and delivery of cargoes, both bulk and containerised cargoes.
In all of these, there is the issue of the non-availability of holding bays by shipping companies for the unstuffing of containers to the congestion, which has been inevitably noticed now as a result of overtime containers. Most containers here have spent minimum of six, four, three years inside the port uncleared. And neither have the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the NPA nor the Customs and terminal operators have been able to vacate those containers to Ikorodu. Whatever be the reasons, they all know. That’s the only area that has been militating against free flow of return of empty containers and taking deliveries of new imports.
We have also had handful of problems. The freight forwarders have also been faced with challenges of where the haulage logistics owners, truck owners and their drivers, out of no reason just woke up one morning and then shut down operations, making it difficult for cleared goods to be exited out of the ports, which gave rise now to be increasing their haulage charges. Now within the shortest distance from inside the ports to outside, where you have unstuffing bays, you discover you are paying as much as a 100, 200, 300 thousand Naira to get containers taken out of the ports.
A major issue that has been facing freight forwarders in 2018 is inconsistencies in policies; policies as, for instance, there is no harmonised duty rates or amount payable, judging from one Customs command of the port to another.
For instance, in Apapa Customs Command, duty payable by 40 feet or 20 feet container is quite different from what is payable in Tin-Can Port Command, same goes for Onne or other active Customs ports where goods are being cleared.
For instance, in Tin-Can, under this particular year 2018, we had a series of increments in amounts accepted by the command from 800,000 Naira, every 40 feet container must pay 800,000 Naira to one million Naira, to where we have found ourselves presently. We have found ourselves where a particular consignment must pay nothing less than 1,200,000 Naira as import duty. But if you compare it to the neighbouring ports like Apapa or PTML, same does not apply because of inconsistencies in policies, no harmonised duty payable. It is also affecting its revenue. Forget about what the management of the Tin-Can Command is claiming that it is meeting its target, it’s also affecting its revenue.
The other day, we had a meeting with the Customs Area Controller (CAC) where we were comparing the volume of trade, the throughput in Tin-Can with PTML, which is the next-door-neighbour port here. We discovered that, in all, PTML is having a higher throughput of cargoes both from Asia and from America. While here from Tin-Can, where we had cargoes from Europe and also from America, the level of cargo throughput is low. It is as a result of this variant in duty collected. It wasn’t from vehicles. Tin-Can is known as a vehicle port and 80 per cent of the revenue realised in Tin-Can Command comes from imported vehicles. And the variation in duty payable between Tin-Can and PTML is unimaginable. It has also affected it.
So, in generality, we thank God that we are still in business, but not smiling to the bank or saying that it’s been rosy. the important thing is to keep the faith. We’ve been trying our best to meet up with whatever policy they introduce here. Most of us too, we’ve lost our members as a result of pressures and hardship. Many people cannot meet up today. Some people cannot be in business because of the high rate of cost of doing in business in Tin-Can Port, which is not same in Apapa or other ports.
We’ve lost members to death. People slump and die here. You see somebody walking, you think you are discussing with him, the next thing you see he drops. And before you spell “Jack Robinson”, that soul is gone. That is a family man who has come out to look for a daily living for himself and members of his family. You just lose that person to death as a result of stress, high blood pressure, which is accumulation of hard experiences of working environment.
And the terminal operators are just not helping matters. Their working environments are so harsh. They don’t have any equipment. Go to the terminal operated at the Tin-Can Island Port by the concessionaire Port & Cargo Handling Services Limited, you discover that the rubber-tyred gantry (RTG) cranes are not functioning … not working. You would have only one equipment or two doing deliveries and imports at the same time. So, you go to terminal operated at the same port by the concessionaire Five Star Logistics Limited, the same thing. Equipment problem. All these operators brought in here are refurbished equipment that don’t stand the test of time. All these count on the pressure, life pressure, of the operator, who is the freight forwarder.
What are your projections for year 2019, still from the perspective of a freight forwarder?
We thank God for the coming and inauguration of members of the Board of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), because whatever thing we are doing here, if we are not regulated or governed by anybody, it would amount to “To your tents, O Israel!”. All men to your fate! But now that the Honourable Minister of Transportation has been magnanimous to inaugurate this Council … this honourable members of the Council, it’s going to be a turnaround because all the members, all those who made it to the Council this time around are all tested freight forwarders. They’ve seen it all; it’s not as if they were imported from another industry to come and contest elections. And these are young freight forwarders, unlike the first major elections when we had people who are in their 60s, 50s contesting election and winning. Now you have young persons of late 40s to early 50s ascending the position of Council members.
So, every expectation is built around their ability to turnaround this industry, the freight forwarding industry, especially recently, two days ago, we read about the appointment of an Interim Registrar for the CRFFN, implying that the outgoing Registrar, Sir Mike Jukwe, has given way and finally embarked on his retirement. The coming of a new Registrar as an interim arrangement will also help in revitalising the industry; the freight forwarding industry to be precise.
We have high hopes for next year, taking into account that next year is an electioneering year when we are expecting new government at the Federal Executive level where we will be having a new President, either returning the existing or getting a new one. In all, there will be change of guards in the way of policies and other things. So, the expectations are high for the industry, the freight fowarding industry, in 2019. We hope for the better. Imports have increased tremendously, not minding the mix-up of prohibited and non-prohibited items coming in at the same time. Series of cases of dangerous goods being imported. But, in all, with general assessment, you can see there has been increased output of imported goods into Nigeria. There is high hope in all.
Cargo throughput is the totality of imports and exports, of which Nigeria has long experienced a huge imbalance in favour of the former. How can Nigeria remedy the issue of persisting low exports of other items apart from crude petroleum?
We all know Nigeria is an importing nation? Yes?
We all know that per ratio, imports and exports ratios, you give Nigerian imports 70 per cent and exports 30 per cent. Of course, you are asking how we can improve our exports; what we have here is not even sufficient for us to export. And what are we exporting? Apart from the big chunk contributed by crude petroleum to Nigeria’s, majority of what we are exporting are food items. What else do we export? Cocoa is no more there for export. Cotton is no more there for export. The groundnuts are not enough for export. The cassava that has just become another crop … another form of goods for export is not even enough. And policies are not making it easy at all. Now, if it were previously, you will see the volume of exports of cocoa or cashew. But if you check the level of items exported, you will see that charcoal has taken over. Charcoal and ginger have taken over. Now, how many people are into the exportation of these two commodities? Who has the money to finance exports?
Nigeria is an imports-dependent nation. Nobody can take that away. And it will take a good government, a good government that is exports-oriented, to improve on that. And that government is government that will come and improve our agricultural sector for maximum output. If we have enough output of agricultural goods being produced. Now, we have planting of rice here and there, but of what quantity is being exported? They are here perishing. Why? We don’t have good roads. There are no preservative facilities for all these crops. Somebody in Benue will produce quantities reasonable quantities of tomatoes, yams from his or her farm; somebody in Adamawa has a large mass of land producing groundnuts, where are the access roads to take those crops to the markets or to the cities from where they will be exported?
Go to Cameroon, you see where they harvest plantain or banana, they hardly drop because there mechanised farming is being optimally applied. They will harvest it, hang it, use articulated trucks for evacuating it to the market. You can’t see it drop on the ground. You can’t buy plantain or banana in Cameroon and notice any form of peels that caused damage to it because they have a well-planned agricultural system.
But here, we have these crops … we produce them enough but our challenge here is distribution, access roads, preservation, power … talking about electricity, I’m not talking about political power. If we have good arrangement of facilities for electricity where, perhaps, the ones that are refrigerated can be built; refrigerated warehouses where you can take these crops, preserve them for export. Then if we have that good access roads where these crops can be taken straight to the ports, taken to the market, taken to where they are needed, our export tonnage will increase.
Until government discovers the importance of fixing our road infrastructure, providing adequate electricity for factories to thrive, the volume of exports and, indeed, every aspect of businesses in Nigeria will operate way below capacity. How many factories … how many cold room factories do we have? And on what are they being powered? On generators! So, how many people can do that?
Given that we have a steady power supply here, I can rent a warehouse, construct a cold room here; basically, where people can come and preserve their goods. Butchers and meat sellers could store and preserve what unsold stock they have for a fee and providing one a source of income. I can construct it, when you bring your produce from the farm to the facility, I will preserve it there pending when you come and take it to the market or for export. These are the challenges.
What are your expectations from the newly-inaugurated Governing Council of the CRFFN?
Expectations are high; they have no time to waste. They should start by inaugurating committees; setting up committees, from enforcement to finance to supervisory. They have a lot of jobs to do. The shipping companies have eaten so deep into the freight forwarding industry by cheating and ripping off of importers and their agents. The terminal operators, some of them who are indigenous, are not helping matters. Taken to the other side, they run their systems largely on independently-generated power supplies, and all these have the multiplier effects to costs which they return to the consumer who is the freight forwarder.
The Chairman of the CRFFN Governing Council, Alhaji Tsani Abubakar, and other members of the Council should swing into action, hit the ground running, because there is no time! They should come in and straighten the shipping charges, the terminal charges, which from inception of the contract for concession of the ports, none of them were authorised or have the approval. Or the powers to increase any charges without consulting the appropriate authorities like the NPA, which concessioned the ports terminal to them, the stakeholders who are the operators, and then the government itself; not arbitrarily increasing charges without consultation.
The CRFFN Governing Council should sit up and start tackling such issues. Then, there should be standard charges. Nobody should come from my village and come to the port and charge an import, maybe 33,000 metric tonnes of product, and another person will come and charge a different thing. There should be a regulated standard rate for all jobs in the ports.
Members of the CRFFN Council have a lot to do. They should also consider the social responsibilities from all these multinationals; none of them cares for the welfare of the operators. People come, pay money to those multinationals in millions and bilions, and these outfits don’t consider how these patrons are faring, and what their welfare needs are. The Council should look into these, ensuring that a Freight Forwarding Village is constructed and built, where freight forwarders can come and do their businesses, take off from there. In Dubai, it’s there. In America, it’s there. You have what it’s called the Freight Forwarders Village, where any prospective importer or exporter will walk in, consult whoever you want to do business with. All these are facilities we need; not paying high rent charges. Because if the Council comes now and acquires or constructs a Freight Forwarders Village, the rates for accommodation will be controlled. And not going to Apapa to rent a three-bedroom flat the charge is different; go to Eleganza (Plaza in Apapa), it is different; you go to Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, it is different; go to Airport Road, it is different; go to Mafoluku, it is different. But if we have a village we can call our own, constructed and built by the Council, freight forwarders will now have a name, have a place of work.
The maritime sector has been undergoing reforms, including the concession of ports terminals, reformation of the dock labour subsector, and the establishment of the CRFFN. Thus far, how impactful or otherwise do you consider the reforms?
Another word for reform is change. And one thing that is dynamic is change. Reform has brought reasonably good improvement from the old order. If not reform that led us to concession of the ports, we won’t have known that individuals can participate in ports operations, aside the known ports owner at that time – the Nigerian Ports Authority. It was as a result of concessioning that we now know that you can run business as an individual owning part of the port that is being concessioned. It’s been good.
Also, under these reforms in the maritime sector, there have been tremendous changes. Before now, the labour union … the dock workers were like all-comers affair. Today, with reforms, we have been made to understand the value attached to the Maritime Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MWUN), which has also given wider participation to corporate companies who now take charges and responsibilities of providing services in the area of dock labour.
If not for reform or concession, some companies who are today managing some areas of ports operations wouldn’t have had the opportunity to come in.
But the question here is: How has it fared? The question here is: What are the levels of compliance, as concerning all these ports operations in line with the initial agreement signed? That is the question!
You’ll discover that they’ve all derailed. They have now chosen their own option of operation by not taking into cognisance the terms and conditions, as provided by the Nigerian Ports Authority and the Federal Government before the concession of these ports were given out to them. Today, they now have their own management and internally. When you come, they give their own terms and conditions, against what the government provided as standard operating procedure. Now the standard operating procedure, as government attached to be part of reforms, is no longer being followed by the operators. They created their own standard operating procedure and tell you that this is how they operate here. And this is how it favours them. It is no longer how it favours the Nigerian Government; it is how it favours them the operators. That is the question.
Yes, reform, the intent was good. Yes, the reform by concessioning was to expand and to bring in infrastructural development. What have they added as value?
Take time go into the ports, all they did was demolish existing infrastructures; they have not built anyone. Before now, we used to have warehouses in the terminals. All these operators now demolished the existing warehouses for groupage goods. As we speak, you hardly hear anybody clearing groupage goods, giving room now for consolidation. People will now go to Dubai, go to America; one person will hire the container, he might not have any goods in it; Agų, Edwin, Titus will bring these cargoes to me who has just rented the container – a twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU). You bring the goods and put there. What Edwin is importing is quite different from what Okoli is importing, and quite different from what Agų is importing. Among these items that are going to be consolidated in one container for shipment, one might be a problem. Of which, if there were still existing structures of groupage warehouses, you can quietly purchase your goods in Dubai as a trading location now, purchase these in three … five cartons, package these and it comes here and you pick it as groupage. You don’t have any business waiting for one man to clear the container where this man has a prohibited item in it.
But they have succeeded in demolishing the warehouses and they have not provided any alternative. They now turned all the imports to be containerised imports. It is not meant to be like that; everybody must not go to market and buy a container-load of goods. Now Chinese goods, notably accessories, are thriving. People would go now and carry handbags as duty free; these are dutiable items that would have involved the one bag as groupage and you go to the airport and pick it.
Concessionaires have not added any value to infrastructure; what they have succeeded in doing is demolishing existing infrastructure, creating large spaces for container imports. And the container imports they have created space for now, both the overtime and fresh imports are there. And they are not even yielding to letting go by transfer of all these overtime containers. People are asking questions. You don’t know why you have all these containers littered here and there because inside the ports, overtime imported goods that have spent more than 90 days are about 60 per cent. Because, today, you’ll agree with me that, as soon as any import is coming, it doesn’t take the importer more than two weeks to bring his container out because he will never allow it there to stand for demurrage.
So, why are we talking about congestion inside the ports? These are existing containers that that have been lying there. Let them move those containers out to appropriate government warehouse like we have Ikorodu. If only they have not sold it out? We have Ikorodu Lighter Terminal where overtime containers are taken to. I don’t know the problem of the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority. I don’t know the problem of the Nigeria Customs Service where they will now allow the terminal operators to dictate what transfer they do, when they will take those containers, whether they will do it or not. These are issues that need further clarification by them.
I know that Customs has the authority, the power to instruct and mandate terminal operators to take these overtime containers from our ports. What is happening here? Why are they still there?
The Managing Director of the NPA has the power to mandate her tenant, who is the operator, to move the overtime containers out from the ports so that we have space. None!
We are talking about concession; all it added to us was … yes, boom, container imports boom. Other areas of benefits … okay, how often you have seen those jumbo rolls of paper coming that are used for stationery factories? How often do you see them? Before now, we used to have these coils of paper, jumbo rolls coming in, being stacked at the groupage warehouse. It’s no more there, that’s why they now reverted it … the traders now turned it to MDF (medium-density fibreboards) … those boards you see now. We had those paper rolls that were coming there. Now, there is no facility for storage. So, the concessionaires have not added any infrastructural value to the concession agreement.
What attracted you to the freight forwarding profession?
As a young school leaver back in 1986, I came to town in Lagos. My cousin was working here in the ports as labour. Then dock workers were known as “labour”. So, every morning when he wakes up to go to “Wharf”, as called by then … he was going to Wharf, I will go with him to Wharf. When we come to Wharf, enter inside the terminal, while he will be busy on unstuffing cargoes, discharging vehicular imports, I will engage myself with others by pushing those vehicles that do not start.
I came to be here in Tin-Can, precisely … Tin-Can Port RoRo Terminal. Gradually, I began to see that people are making a living from it. As at that time, there was no other thing I could do other than to keep coming to Wharf. Not until I discovered that there was a prospect; one could stay here and make a meaning. As time went by, others were going back to school to get their degrees. But I had thought all the while that this was not what I required, so I queried myself about why I was mulling over going to school to acquire degrees. In the long run, it dawned on me that I have to go back to school to acquire the needed knowledge; which I did. I decided to go back to school and acquired a first degree. And as a result of my self effort too.
Then 1999 … between the late 1980s to early 1990s, things were turning around, especially 1996 era of (then Nigeria’s military ruler, General Sani) Abacha, when people, issues, certain things were happening at the same time, and I was like, being an an ambitious person: “Is there no better way to do this job staying away from trouble?” Then NAGAFF came on board, giving a way for freight forwarders to acquire knowledge and be professionals here. Being in the right-thinking and in my own imagination, I now keyed onto it.
So, I was attracted here to give life a meaning. In the course of making a living, I now discovered it was a noble profession and I’m now happy being here. I have managed to acquire the much-needed basics in knowledge by way of training, academic pursuits, as well as professional qualifications here.
I have no regrets being a professional freight forwarder. All I know is that I began to find it interesting to acquire the knowledge of professional freight forwarding. Which is why I’m here. Here to better my life, better the lives of other people. I don’t have any other way of imparting to society. Or which other way? Or what will I be doing, if I have the opportunity of bettering the lives of other persons. Here I can have the opportunity of employing, employment. I have the opportunity of creating jobs. So, I think it’s my own little way of contributing to the society.
What do you see as the future of the freight forwarding profession for you?
My future in the profession? Yes, I’m a career person in this profession. I’m hoping that one day, I will have the opportunity of serving in the Board of CRFFN. And at the same time find another opportunity to serve.
I have high prospects. I want to, at the appointed time, be part of policymaking in Nigeria. And, also, I look forward to using my opportunities given better to the industry by way of creating more knowledge and to also help in contributing to policymaking.
I’m a career person, so my expectations in the industry are high. I’m aiming high. I’m aiming as high as where this profession can take anybody to. Those are my expectations.