Sonniel Ebonyem Onochie, MD Real Passion Nigeria Ltd.
Story by Dili Utomi.
The Maritime sector of the Nigerian economy is one of the huge revenue generating sectors of the economy and a general opinion is that such an important sector should operate with deliberate and well coordinated efforts in order to get the maximum benefits derivable from such a big area.There are so much reflections on the part of the private stakeholders especially freight forwarders and licensed customs agents mainly on the topical issue of efficiency within the various Ports, they complain that the government has not done enough to make the Nigerian Ports as efficient as those of the neighbouring countries and this has made the usage of our Ports less attractive.
We spoke with a licensed customs broker who has over thirty two years of experience in the industry. Mr. Sonniel Ebonyem Onochie is a licensed customs agent of repute, a straight talking, tenaciously energetic fellow with a clear idea of what he thinks should be done to chart a better course for the industry, he is also the vice chairman of the Tin Can chapter of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents.
Mr. Onochie started with with expression “The problems in the Ports are numerous”. He went on to state that he thinks that the major problems besetting brokers at the Ports right now is the issue of multiple ‘alerts’ from the various units of the Nigeria Customs Service and secondly the self inflicted injuries caused by the squabbles within the ranks of the agents and freight forwarders with a special mention of his immediate sectoral body, the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents popularly known with its acronym as ANLCA. He says that the issue of ANLCA one and ANLCA two has made the arduous task of tackling the issues that crop up within the sector more onerous by the conflicts among members. He expatiated further by giving the example of the chairman of the Tin Can chapter of his association going to present an issue with the Customs authority and another faction of the same association goes to counter it. Mr. Onochie goes further to say that the matters are made worse with the proliferation of different brokers and freight forwarders’ associations with a cacophony of voices speaking at the same time and the resultant lack of unity which others especially the agencies within the industry exploit to the detriment of the brokers and freight forwarders.
On the thorny issue of ‘alerts’ from the various units of the Customs, The ANLCA vice chairman of Tin Can chapter said that this has been caused by the cash-oriented policy of giving targets by the federal government to the Nigeria Customs Service which are directly heaped on each Command to meet and sometimes surpass. He deplored this practice as he says that this target imposition is inimical to the principle of trade facilitation and is also anti-business. Previously, we use to have one or two alerts, but the present proliferation of alerts has a direct correlation to the imposed target by the customs management team as directed by the federal government, this is bad for business.
There seems to be so much confusion within the system as government seems to be more interested in milky the citizen for more. Now, you have the added issue of the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report where the fees paid for the two different types of containers have been jacked up, the whole process of customs’ rate and its collection should be streamlined so that there will be less confusion within the system. If the government wants to slam a particular charge for example on a 20 footer container irrespective of what is in the container and its value, let them make it a clear policy and let us know, so that we can pay and take delivery of our cargo, but let us have a clear direction at the Customs and not all these confusion.
In my 32 years in this industry, the feisty Mr. Onochie said “This is the very first time the Customs Area Controllers of Commands are given targets to generate certain amounts of revenue, so how would he do it, do we expect him to go to his personal account to get the money? No. It is by punishing agents and milking importers that targets are met. For the CAC to meet any target, there must be numerous alerts. But once Customs surpass their targets, they are supposed to give agents a breeder; we are all human beings; but extortion via alerts has become a new normal. A CAC would announce a 100billion naira or 200 billion naira as revenue at the end of the month to our own detriment. They sit in their offices while agents go scouting for jobs, and at the end of the day, you collect government’s duties and still take the last Kobo from us via numerous alerts. We do all the troubles that come in from this profession while someone sits in the comfort of his office to take the glory at the end of the day declaring billions and trillions to our detriment. Can a Customs Officer relax in his office and money goes to meet him in there without an agent taking the money to him, they can’t do much without freight forwarders or agents. For instance, l wake up everyday to go scouting for jobs, when l get one, I prepare my SGD and make payment into the Government’s coffers via bank, and Customs declares how much they have made while sitting in their offices. If a Sonniel Onochie gets 50 SGDs and makes duty payment of One Billion naira to the Government, Sonniel Onochie as a licensed agent should be entitled to one percent of that money, but it is not done that way, rather they device other means to take the last Kobo from me, and at the end of the day they declare 100 billion naira as generated revenue”, he lamented.
We as the major players along the logistics supply chain needs unity and cohesion in order to be able to tackle the numerous issues within the system, in my thirty two years of operation within the sector, I have have never seen it this bad, there are moves right now to create the proper channel for communication and better relationships among the licensed customs agents and freight forwarders and indeed I truly hope that it bears fruit because I do have my fears for the sector.
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