NPA’s timidity to regulate terminal operators causes their impunity – Adeniyi Ajayi 

Prince Adeniyi Ajayi is the Deputy National President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA) who petitioned the Apapa and Tincan Island Port managers over the gridlock caused by collection of tolls by officials of the  Committee of Maritime Truck Unions and Associations (COMTUA) along the port access roads which led to their ban from carrying out such activities in the port corridors.

In this interview with SEGUN OLADIPUPO, Ajayi who doubles as the Managing Director of Kaytosh Resources Limited, spoke on what prompted him to write the petition.
He explained why the tenure of the President of the association can continue despite holding the office for more than a decade.
On customs platform, he said it was one of the best in the world but holds his reservations.
Excerpt .

Q.  What prompted you into petitioning NPA to stop  COMTUA from collecting dues on the road?

A.   I was just coming from my house that day and on getting to Ijora bridge, i just managed to get to the port where the traffic started from and I discovered that COMTUA people are the ones causing the traffic because before that time, I was told that the road was free.

 It was when they started collecting their dues from truck drivers that informed the traffic and the whole bridge was locked down that day.

When I got there, I saw their senior officer and I told him that what they were doing was wrong. They argued with me that they have the right and I told them that NPA Act clearly states that collection of tolls in and around the port access road is illegal.

In 2003, it was my organisation that wrote a petition against ANLCA for collecting tolls along the road. It was what led to the decision that port police command to swing into action and the whole thing went down.
The COMTUA people argued against what I said even some drivers were beaten up that day. I had to petition the two port managers when I got to my office that day.
I copied port police and to my greatest surprise, they acted promptly and swung into action and made sure they were out of the road.

Q.  Within what period did it take the management of the two ports to respond to your petition?

A.  Within 24 hours. Before the letter got to them, they were already getting feelers from their men about the activities of COMTUA on the road. When they saw the petiton, they swung unto action almost immediately.

Q. What is your assessment of the Presidential task force on Apapa gridlock since its inauguration?

A.  My assessment of the task force is that they have not approached the real problem. Where the problem lies is on the terminal operators. If the terminal operators are operating at their full capacity, you will see the movement of trucks maybe receiving empties or loading will be seamlessly carried out. I enter into APMT and I discovered that though they will show you equipment but most of the equipment are obsolete, some are not working again and they also don’t have enough manpower.

What they do is once they have a ship at berth, because the ship pays in dollars, they will now move their equipment and few personnel to the ship side and the people for examination and delivery will be left out.
So also export. By the time they must have done that for just three hours, the traffic must have extended to Ojuelegba.

Q.  Are you saying it is only APMT that constitute this traffic? What of other terminals?

A.  I generalised It, all of them are not working optimally. They are just doing skeletal work. I am just writing to Ports and Cargo now, same thing, we have some consignments with them but we cannot access the terminal. Right now, you cannot access Tincan Island Port. My own company truck has been there since Saturday morning and this is Wednesday, it has not gotten to first gate not to talk of coming into the port to do the business.

Q.   Have you taken your grievances to the Nigerian Ports Authority for the shortage of staff by the terminal operators?

A.  Yes of course. We have written a lot of letters to NPA but because they don’t have the power as the port has been concessioned to private individuals and they have contract mandate with them so they can do little or nothing to them.

Q.  What is the best way out?

A.  The best way out is to enhance a body like the Nigerian shippers’ Council to do the needful. Once they empower them legally, they will have every right to swing into any terminal that is defaulting and sanction them if need be. But as it is now, it is not clear if they have the power to regulate the port.

Q.  Are you bothered that the Council does not have what it takes to carry out its economic regulatory function?

A.  I am more than bothered, it is killing. All these inflation we have in the country emanated from the port because 90 to 95 percent of what come into this country come in from these two ports, only five percent goes to the other ports.

 So, any little thing here affects the whole country and inflation keeps on going up. These are the major causes because we are import dependent nation.

Q.  Have you petitioned the federal government over giving the Council power to carry out its regulatory functions?

A.  In National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, we have written several letters to the concerned government authorities as in looking into the case holistically so that they can know where the problem lies but in this country, to push a case to the point of implementation is not easy.

Q.  What do you think such action of collecting tolls on the road portends for the country?

A.  Economically, it is not good for the country. If we allow that, it will go deeper into the economy. That was the more reason I challenged them and write to the appropriate quarters.

Q.  NICIS 2 of the Nigeria Customs Service has been downplayed by some people saying it is not living up to expectation. What is your view on this?

A.  NICIS 2 is a good platform because it is generally accepted all over the world  and Nigeria cannot be an exception. The problem we have here is our personnel, the people refused to change their ways and the Customs officers who are supposed to regulate are playing the game with all these people.

 If not, how can a server be hacked? A customs server for that matter where several billions were lost.
This thing has been going on for years. Many agencies’ licenses have been blocked because they used many agencies to carry out their acts. I am not saying all customs officers but there are some bad eggs among them that they are still using and I don’t see an end to it now because the situation is worsening by the day.

Q.  The National President of your association, Mr Lucky Amiwero, people say he is long overdue in office. What do you think about this?

A.  Our platform is not a political platform. It is an association and we have our constitution which says we nominate all the executives. In as much as you are still capable of holding that position, we leave you there but if we can have a replacement that is better than you, we will remove you and another person will take up the position.

Q.  Are you saying you are not yet capable to handle the position despite being the Deputy National President?

A.  The capacity differ from individuals. If you want to look at it in my own status, you may say I am capable but I know for sure that I am not better than Lucky Amiwero.

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