• Says young customs officers transferred to other commands bribe their way back to their juicy seats
• ‘You don’t go to CPC in Ghana and see people’
By Francis Ugwoke
Former President of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, has said that the only way to check corruption in the nation’s ports was through automation of shipping services and deployment of Cargo Tracking Note (CTN).
Shittu argued that Nigeria’s automation has to be total in which no physical interface is required as obtains in other advanced countries, including Ghana, as the only to check corruption in the system.
Shittu in an exclusive interview with SHIPPING DAY recommended that the system should be single window (one-stop-shop) as practised in other advanced countries, including our neighbouring country, Ghana.
He said the level of corruption in port system in Nigeria has continued to rise so high because of physical interface with customs officials and other government agencies.
He expressed concerns that some agencies who were asked to leave the ports, among them the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), have continued to fight to return to the ports..
He added that the situation has become so bad that many young Customs officers benefiting from corruption in the ports have risen to resist transfer to other commands by bribing their way back to their seats .
Shittu pointed out CTN as very necessary in the fight against corruption in the ports, adding that its return along with full digitalization of operations at the ports will do a lot in addressing issues of corruption.
According to Shittu: “You see, the level of malpractices in the ports cannot change. Just look ordinary direct traffic on the road alone became multi-billion Naira thing. They brought Army, Navy, they brought Road Safety, they brought Opeifa, former Commissioner of Transport, Lagos State, still yet. It is because we have a penchant that where we see food, you can’t remove it from my mouth oo. That is just that, nothing more. Inside the ports, you can never eradicate corruption – because I have tried on my own to look at, what do we do? Okay. Online transaction, like the one we do with Custom, as long as along the line, there is interface, is a problem. This new modernization as I am talking to you, if due diligence is done abroad, it is not impossible for somebody to use transshipment instead of loading direct from China to Apapa, you now see the person going down to Antwherp – they say they are trans-loading, anything can happen. Eventually, Nigerians have the brain to work around it. Because it is attractive to be corrupt. The bottom line is money and it is a reflection of the larger society. Even if what you are getting is more than enough for you, you just want to amass and collect more, that is why you see a young officer, 2-star may be not up to 2 years in the office, will be boasting in the office, ”me, every Friday, if I don’t have N500,000 then the person I catch on Monday is in trouble”. When he starts getting N500,000 every Friday, at the end of the month N2m, how much salary do you want to pay him. So between me and you that is too attractive to him, and he remains there, he now has enough wealth to influence his posting so that he does not leave that area. Is everywhere, I am not talking alone about Custom, even all those agencies in the ports are involved. That is why SON is fighting to be in ports. But if it is the same online single window, one-step-shop, even me, the agent, I have done my declaration, I have received the assessment I sent it online while sitting down here. That is what happens in America. It happens in Ghana. You don’t go to CPC in Ghana and see people. You are supposed to be in your office, that is why you are licensed to have an office. Once you send it (your declaration) to your client, he forwards it to his bank, bank pays, he forwards the receipt through the owner, to you, to the agent and you forward to the customs. You don’t have any business except to wait for notification of delivery that custom has released your cargo. And everything is online. If for example I want to know the state of the cargo for the payment I have done, I go online, under custom examination process. You see it, check back 12 hours. That is what happens abroad, if they suspect anything through scanning, they will do that examination without you, all those crowd at the port is not necessary.
“That is what they do abroad. But can we fine-tune it to that level. Will the scanner not breakdown as it use to breakdown for a purpose. You have yellow lane, red lane and green lane. Green is for you to go, red lane is danger, and yellow lane is neither here or there, they can give you benefit – especially when they are homogenous product – that is what PAAR brought for us. But now it is 100 percent examination. So the system is blurred. Even when you do examination when the machine was alright, they will tell you, yes we have scanned, but this report we are not satisfied, go and position your container”.
Responding to the question on whether it could be possible for an agent to stay in his office and clear his goods without physically being at the ports as the case in Ghana, Shittu said:
“We just have to start it. There is no reason we will be waiting. Nigeria has not done this or that, for instance, now there is no light, I am using generator, I needed it because we have work continuously we are doing.
“This is survival, for me if that is the route we need to take, it is better for me. For 8 years, that was what I was crying for. I give you example why I was crying, and don’t know why you media guys did not bother to help us than to amplify it, even now – it is a necessity. Before you came I was talking to somebody in North Carolina, who is doing shipment, and that shipment is giving them problem through the agent here. They went to our site and found my name too, so they called me. So I directed them to the new National Secretary (ANLCA) to see how they can help them, because we set up that table then– a web page – where we say – find a custom agent – so through that they contacted us. What am I bringing, you need to be necessary to do port operation. There is no area of port operation that does not certification. And that is the quarrel I had with them, the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), this idea of everybody come, this one come, you register because they pay money – they are registering as freight forwarders to do what?
There must be a job for you to do, it is not just to answer I am a freight forwarder. Oh, yes, I have my own ID card as a freight forwarder, but I am a custom broker working in a licensed company. You could be a ship chandler, is part of the line, you can specialise in transportation, there is nothing wrong, you can do business in the port without necessarily being a graduate – but those distortion, they are not looking into it. Myself and Engene Nweke (former NAGAFF President) in our collaborations, we came out with seven different categories of freight forwarders. But people are not interested, all they think is how much do I make in this project. Be that is it may, online transaction is what works abroad – because my partners abroad, Pegasus, anytime I travel on holiday to the US, I go to them, I spend three days with them to see how their operations go. And they go to the port. They have in-gate clearance. Any terminal they are going, they have clearance, everywhere they have clearance. I saw a load of these tags we are wearing (form of ID when clearing goods at ports) – and I said what are you doing with all these, and they said because, if you don’t wear them, you cannot enter there. Why should people go to the terminal in large number, following themselves, saying yes, they are going to do examination. That is why the ISPS code did not work, that is why people are crying there are now wharf rats, because if that Cargo Tracking Note (CTN) had worked with Shippers Council, probably it needs to work, even the loading arrangement of that container abroad is already received there so this suspicion, (I have told you personal interview leads to trouble), I am suspecting something in cargo is not necessary, because they are sitting down in their offices and monitoring, because they are all interlinked. But once there is no interface, you will see that many people will not be interested in coming to the ports. Because there is nothing carry”.