Otunba Frank Ogunojemite, the APFFLON president.
Story by Dili Utomi.
There is palpable anxiety and a sense of uncertainty as we move into the final days of the grace period given by the management of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) for vehicles shipped in before the period of the introduction of the new Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) valuation protocol to be cleared. In order to properly gauge the heartbeat of the people on this matter, we asked a leader of one of the freight forwarding associations, the Africa Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics on Nigeria (APFFLON), Otunba Frank Ogunojemite a few questions as he gave us his candid overview on the matter.
Speaking to us at his Ikeja office, the experienced and widely travelled president of APFFLON said that he will not pre-empt what is likely going to happen, but that “The National Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Customs Service, Deputy Controller of Customs Timinadi Bomodi had said that there is going to be a meeting before the grace period elapses and so the freight forwarders are eagerly awaiting a circular that should invite stakeholders to a meeting with the Customs and I think that we should excercise a bit more patience and wait for the circular”. Otunba Ogunojemite said that the CNPRO made the categorical statement on a radio show on Saturday in Lagos and that he actually called in to ask the CNPRO if there is going to be a kind of exemption or consideration for imported essential vehicles, but that the CNPRO said that there is no such consideration at the moment”.
Otunba Ogunojemite stressing a point during the interview.
When pressed about whether he thinks that there might some kind of concessions or consideration on the part of the Customs in the end , Otunba Ogunojemite said that we should live with the facts steering us in the face. He said that if there is going to be any kind of consideration, upward or downward, the Customs will issue a circular to that effect and so we should play the waiting game, but he also added that candidly, he does not think that there will be any reduction in Customs duty, he would rather the Customs allows the status quo to remain than think of an upward review of the tarrifs.
We asked Otunba Ogunojemite why he thinks that there is a seeming lack of communication on the part of the Customs, three days to the expiration of the grace period and he answered that there is still time for them to issue a press release, call a press conference or make a pronouncement on the matter, but that when they eventually decide to take any of these steps, they should be considerate enough to give the stakeholders enough time to get themselves ready, he added that it will be better if the Customs gives them enough notice before any action.
When asked about the effects of the full implementation of the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) valuaton regime, Otunba Ogunojemite said that he does not think that there will be much adverse effects except for the increase in duty element of the regime because the essence is the result of what they as freight forwarders have been clamouring for, which is uniform tarriffs at all Ports. “The only hitch in the process to me is the fact that the VIN valuation protocol has not been included in the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) and I think that this anomaly should be corrected to avoid legal complications”. On whether he was part of any consultation before the formulation of the VIN valuation policy, he said that it is rather unfortunate that on matters as crucial as this one, the management of the Nigeria Customs Service does not deem it fit to consult with stakeholders before the policy was introduced and that the process is not as transparent as people would have loved it to be. He though expressed optimism that with the level of ruckus that the VIN valuation introduction has caused that the mistake will not repeat itself again and that the lesson would have been learnt. He lamented that very funny things are happening in the country like the order given by the Nigerian Ports Authority for freight forwarders not to be charged rents and demurrages for the period of the lockdown during the covid-19 pandemic and those charged refunded, he said that the order was only implemented mostly in breach by the shipping companies and terminal operators to the detriment of the freight forwarders. He regretted that the government had not been strict in applying the rules and policies that benefit freight forwarders.
On suggestion by some that with the government shying away from engaging stakeholders in the industry, the stakeholders themselves should form ad-hoc committees that will constantly take the initiative to engage the government, Otunba Ogunojemite quoted the Chinese adage which says days that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a step and buttressed his point with the fact that the person he is talking to right now is a pressman who will eventually air all his opinion on the matter being discussed through the media and that this is also a good way of engaging the government.
He advised that the government should leave its door opened and also listen to the heartbeat of the people on important matters, as he also advised that they should stop giving targets to the Customs, but rather encourage them to really facilitate trade and stop the incessant increase in duty charged on goods in order not to add to the inflationary trend. He asked that the government find a way of improving the per capita income of the people such that their purchasing power will improve and the economy generally improves for it. He warned that if the inverse of what he advises is done, unemployment will continue to be rife and this breeds insecurity the more and the nation will continue to be un-livable for the people.
Otunba Ogunojemite also touched on the matter of the recently concluded Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) and he spoke about what he thinks should happen. He said that the election has come and gone and that as humans, there is no way that there won’t be imperfections, but that the big take away from it all is that the election was conducted based on the recognition of the individual candidate who also make up corporate bodies and associations. “It is a good outcome for all freight forwarders as the jinx of the insistence by associations leaders that they share the positions among themselves has been broken. “I really commend the honourable minister of transportation for his insistence that the right thing would be done by allowing for the individual participation in the election into the Council. I believe that this is the beginning of the process of reformation in the council and I think that it will send a signal to all individuals to work hard and stop hiding behind a finger”.
He said that this is the proper beginning of election into the council and the Council should start running like other professional bodies that are run by intellectuals. The president of APFFLON thinks that the process was satisfactory, but hopes that over the next 24 months, a new era would have emerged.
On the non-inaugauration of the elected board, the APFFLON president urged the Minister of Transportation not to allow there to be a lacuna in the management of the Council, but should speed up the process of inaugurating the board so that they can hit the ground running and attend to the needs of freight forwarders as it were. He lamented the lack of an interim board that would have piloted the affairs of the board in the absence of the elected board, but that be that as it may, the recently elected officials should be sworn in and have them carry out their responsibilities.
” I do not know why there is a delay in inaugurating the board, but whatever the issues may be, it should all be speedily resolved and the officials be inaugurated to tackle all the pending and other anticipated issues that may come for the interest of all freight forwarders”. He concluded by wishing the board a successful tenure when eventually inaugurated and advised them to try and leave enduring legacies during their time.
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