The National President, Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agent (ANLCA) Hon. Tony Iju Nwabunike recently bagged the Shipping World Magazine Achievers Awards 2020 as the “Freight Forwarder of the Decade”.
The award ceremony took place amidst pulp and pageantry at the Federal Palace hotel, Victoria Island on the the 1st day of December with timbers and calibers from all sector of the economy.
While speaking with news men at the event, he analyzed various challenges confronting the freight forwarding industry vis-a-vis various government policies, he delve on border reopening which will aid the AFCTA free market trade. He also talked about the present condition of CRFFN as against what it was at the inception.
He however hinted on the significance of the award to him, being crowned the most outstanding freight forwarder in the last 10 years was a huge honour which he cherishes most among the scores of awards he ever received in his shipping career spanning over 20 years. Excerpts...
You just bagged honour of “Freight Forwarder of the Decade”, which symbolizes that in the last 10years their have not been a better freight forwarder than you, what does this mean to you sir
Tony : I must first of all have to appreciate you for coming around to witness this award ceremony despite the busy road, secondly I must confess to you, of all the awards I have gotten, this seems to be the best ever because if you look at the award itself “Freight Forwarder of the Decade”, its means that for the past 10 good years I am the outstanding freight forwarder, it gives me joy because I know that the Shipping World and maritime journalist must have looked into the system and look into all the other freight forwarders and came up with this decision, its an exciting decision and am proud of it. Its an honour to have, a wonderful honour indeed.
The freight forwarding practitioners have lots of challenges, including operational and all others, as the president of the biggest freight forwarding association in Nigeria , what steps are you taking to address the challenges.
Tony : The challenges are very very serious, if you look at it from the critical angel of every sector of the maritime industry you will know that we are facing lots of challenges.
Challenges in the areas of infrastructure, challenges of those that ought to be doing oversight function that are not doing what needs to be done, challenges of multiplicities of government agencies in the ports, challenges of the concessionier , terminal operators and shipping companies not taking directives from the government and the challenges of the government too, not forth coming with proper disciplinary action against them, so we have all this challenges confronting us. This my award is going to give me the impetuous and strength again to fight for those challenges.
Recently sir dollars has suddenly gone up against the naira, as a freight forwarder don’t you think it will impede in your cost of operation?
Tony: Seriously it is so disheartened to see our naira so devalued to #500 to dollar this day, what this means is that next year is going to be very difficult for us too, when I say for us it means those of us that are importing because forex is going to be very difficult, those who are actually importing will think twice. The only way out of this problem is encouraging the local manufacturers and increasing infrastructural amenities so that people will go into farming, mechanized farming and some menial industrialization. That in effect will cushion the high level of exchange rate.
One of the biggest issues on ground in Africa is the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFCTA), which is taking effect in January, we can see that Nigeria is already hitting recession, we have heard the challenges you just itemized before the sector, what do you see for freight forwarder as we go into this regional free market trade.
Tony : We had a zoom meeting which I was given the assignment to talked about AFCTA, you know that today Nigeria is one of the African countries that have sign the agreement and I will tell you the sincere truth, if Nigeria is sure ready, first of all they have to open their borders, secondly we need to liberalized our trade. Most importantly we know its going to be a border-less trade and what do we have to offer, do we have the products, is Nigeria ready ? This are questions we need to ask ourselves. For me, I think we have a whole lots of things to do because its going to be a very competitive market and if you don’t have anything to bring to the table, I thing we are going to suffer it, as a giant of Africa does not means anything, if you don’t have anything to give on the table you are going to have a deficit of supply and demand.
Sir you were quoted in several reports that you got the assurance of the government to reopen the closed borders, once the borders are reopened as government have confirm those reports what will it mean to the freight forwarding industry?
Tony : What it will mean to the freight forwarding industry is that in all honesty, over 600 to 700 trucks are been trapped at the border with goods that majority have actually gotten spoilt as perishable goods and those exposed to unfavorable climate conditions.
What am saying in effect is that the most important thing is to open the border, once this is done the freight forwarders working there have some levels of employment, they have workers working for them that they pay their salaries and they will be able to go back to their work. Even the trade liberalization we are talking in ECOWAS trade is going to work up again as they are open up all the areas. We are not saying we should live our borders post porous but we need to work in lines and principles of AFCTA and ECOWAS trade liberalization.
With all of the challenges the freight forwarders are profiling solutions to, if the government refused to open the borders, what will then happen.
Tony: I don’t think they should refuse opening it because I could remember few days ago the minister of finance said they are going to open it and I have gotten my assurance from the highest authority they are opening the birder soon. I think its more of what they are going to do about the system and the way forward.
The Council for the Regulations Of Freight Forwarders in Nigeria ( CRFFN), you are the pioneer chairman with visions for the regulation of the profession , its been close to 10years that the council has been established, you maned it but now stakeholders are of the opinion that the Council is not serving the purpose for which it was established, what can you say about this.
Tony: First of all CRFFN was established 2007, April 16th by act 16 of the national parliament, section 5 of that act said the minister of transportation will be sort for advice and information and procedures.
That does not mean that the minister of transportation should be all and all of CRFFN, don’t forget its the Council that regulates freight forwarders in Nigeria, so what we are to be talking about is who are the ministry that supposed to be regulating and controlling it.
if we go to Section 19 of the same act is simple, it state that those who are supposed to be playing games on that place are the people who are licensed, if you don’t have the license or if you are not licensed with the authority you are not supposed to be there, but unfortunately they have not given CRFFN a good seat. We started well with CRFFN, during my 2year tenure I opened all the branches that are existing till date, all the chapters from Port Harcourt, Lagos, Kano and Abuja.
That same period I employed the very first Registrar, it was on my signature that he was employed. That same period I took Nigeria flag to FIATA, we registered Nigeria flag at the FIATA and WCO.
So what am trying to say is that its supposed to be a body of all freight forwarders that regulates us , what the government is trying to do is a game I don’t want to look into, in as much as it look as if its a parastatal, when you look at it critically it look like an association or as a council. I think it should have a good footings standing on its legs otherwise it will not work.
Are you trying to say the government is not been sincere and playing games running of CRFFN?
Tony: I am not saying it that way, what am trying to say is that government should leave CRFFN and allow it to stand on its feet so it can walk on its own.