Mr. Raph Agbogu MD, Sovereign Gates International Nig Limited.
Story by Dili Utomi
There are indications that the volatile situation within the maritime industry will persist as practitioners in the industry blame government programmes and policies and the lack of clear direction for the worsening effects on the industry.
We sought the opinion of an experienced Licensed Customs Agent, Mr. Raphael Agbogu on some of the recent policies of government that seemed to have caused some level of agitation within the industry and as usual, he gave his candid opinion as well as suggestions on what should be done to ameliorate the hardships being experienced by practitioners and the general populace alike.
Mr. Agbogu said that the country is running a risk of total collapse because of greed and rebellion, noting the we are a party to the conventions of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and what the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) is doing is against the letter and spirit of the conventions. Why are they doing this? he asked rhetorically, he explained that the action of the NCS is borne out of greed, ignorance and rebellion. Although, he added that the blame should be put at the door steps of the government of the day that gives targets to be met by the Customs, he asked about the rationality of giving targets to the Customs when people are dying out of the hardships imposed by this type of policy. He categorically said that the action of the government portrays them as a blood sucking government as he asked again “How many people are importing now, what is the exchange rate and for the government that is consistently imposing targets on the Customs, who is bearing the brunt of it all?”. He says that if the government is taking to the provisions of the various conventions like other countries, we would not have the kind of business losses that we are having now. Mr. Agbogu noted that the small neighbouring country of Benin Republic is getting it right hence the use of her Port as a more regular destination for the movement of goods meant for the Nigerian market by importers.
“When the government closed the borders, in international trade, it is termed an arbitrary action, but again, what we have is a situation ethics, when government officials lie to the government about the true nature of things and the government itself does not call its people to order”. He lamented that qualities like competence, capacity and professionalism have all been thrown out and that political patronage seems to be the only quality needed for one to be engaged in government activities.
Narrowing down his analysis to the effects of the government policies to the logistics value chain, Mr. Agbogu described it all as anti-people and anti-business noting that whatever you are doing that impacts negatively on the lives of the people is not right, he noted that for example, the issue of the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) and the policy of value are against the conventions as these and other policies have made Nigeria the costliest place to do business in the world in terms of the clearance of goods and the accompanying services. He says that “Customs business is not a profit making business, first and foremost the wellbeing of the people should be the paramount interest of the government, Customs as interpreted means trade, and excise means manufacturing and so they should be primarily concerned with the facilitation of trade by creating the enabling environment for it to thrive and then flourish, as far as I am concerned, we may be sitting on a keg of socioeconomic gunpowder as we are eating the lamb that we should preserve, nurture and make to produce more”. He regretted that there is a downward trend in the importation of goods and also the reduced amount of export as the cost of shipping is skyrocketing.
Mr. Agbogu described Ghana as having a very good standard of operation in the maritime sector, hence the better efficiency in their port operation, but regretted that Nigeria has not towed that line.” What are the real policies that the Nigerian government is putting in place that will make are trade facilities more competitive in order to arrest the dwindling fortunes of our maritime sector” he queried “It is rather unfortunate, but hopefully someday, the government will realise the importance of organising a roundtable with the professionals and practitioners in the sector in order to get their heartbeat and proffer solutions to the myriad of problems that seem to have enveloped the sector, otherwise there may be total collapse of the whole system”.
He bemoaned the lack of engagement of the stakeholders by government before the formulation and implementation of any programme noting that the average Licensed Customs Agent is a trade facilitator who is in a good position to advise the government and proffer solutions to the problems on the industry.
“Why it seems more painful to me than is usual is because the head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) happens to be a guru from Nigeria, in the person of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, she is an economic administrator who we can liaise with and key into those policies that will facilitate trade and bring in investments”. Mr. Agbogu alleges that the Nigeria Customs Service has been politicised and that those administrating its affairs are only doing the bidding of their masters.
He gave a sweeping description of the problems in the sector as being that of deception and corruption noting that everyone who is put in charge of any government entity seems to be a political gladiator who uses that position as a stepping stone to a higher office. He wondered why everybody seems only interested in making money and holding a position and says that this mere action is distroying the fabrics of the nation without care.
“There is what is called the Standard Operating Principles and Rules of Engagement in any Operating field, but all these seem to have been thrown aboard and a situation of lesser farre entrenched all round, be it the police, Customs, the security apparatuses, every aspect of our nation life and this has created the sociopolitical and economic quagmire that we are currently experiencing”.
Mr. Agbogu wondered why “There are overlapping functions in a lot of government agencies, the Controller General of Customs is supposed to be under a permanent secretary in the ministry of finance, but today the CG has an unrestrained power and can take decisions as he seems fit, the DG of NIMASA is supposed to be under the supervision of a permanent secretary in the ministry of transportation so also is the executive secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, but our politics have made nonsense of all the arrangements, he complained.
He advocated a culture of long term planning, honesty and clarity of purpose. He also admonished the government to make the ministry of information more vibrant and more engaging in order to inform and properly educate the people on the good programmes and policies of the government just like it was done during the period of Dora Akunyili, he declared that Nigeria’s role in Africa is so pivotal and recommends that there must be synergy in rallying the people to use all the resources of the country to better the lot of every individual person in the country.
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