MINDLESS EXTORTION VIA ALERTS HAS BECOME A NEW NORMAL —— SONNIEL ONOCHIE
RECENTLY, THE PRESTIGE BLENDED MAGAZINE CREW ENGAGED THE VICE CHAIRMAN OF ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIAN LICENSED CUSTOMS AGENTS (ANLCA), TINCAN ISLAND CHAPTER, MR.SONNIEL EBONYEM ONOCHIE, IN AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW IN HIS LAGOS OFFICE. HE TOOK HIS TIME TO DISSECT SOME ISSUES BORDERING ON OPERATIONS, NOT EXCLUDING THE RECENT CRISES THAT ROCKED TICT TERMINAL PENULTIMATE WEEK.
ENJOY THE EXCERPT.
*Sir, recently,there was a crises at TICT, what would you say fueled the crises ?*
The crises was as a result of accumulated grievances. We have been doing our best to manage it for over one year now; we have really tried not to allow it to explode beyond our control. Go to work in the morning you meet a different Customs Officer, go again tomorrow morning you meet a different person, in a relatively small terminal. A terminal that was stemming over two hundred containers some years back, today, stems less than ninety containers. People are visibly angry.
The major problem that resulted to the crises was that Customs Police came to the terminal, though they have made it a daily routine. They come to distort examinations while as each time there are infractions noticed in the course of examination,the DCs take charge and decide on what should be done. This time around Customs Police came in with their cameras taking pictures of containers that were being examined, sending it to nobody knows where; and when we tried to get explanation on why they were doing that, the response didn’t go down well with agents. And having been very uncomfortable with the presence of so many units that line up at the examination bay; you know what happens when you push men that are hungry and angry to the wall, their actions are better imagined than witnessed, they go out of their ways. But thank God for the timely intervention of the Chairman of TinCan Chapter of ANLCA, Ojo Peters Akintoye. It would have been a full blown crises if not for his intervention. He quickly interfaced with the three DCs and then called the Agents to order. Frankly speaking, people are angry, we have been so pinned aground that we find it very difficult to breathe, we have too many units disturbing our operations as freight agents.
If you open your container today, before you know it, the number has gone every where. Who are the cause of it, Customs Police is the cause not agents. They have no business policing us. But they are doing that ; pinning us aground to the extent that we cannot breathe again.
We thank God for the Chairman, Ojo Peters, whose timely intervention saved the situation. His presence quailed the crises and returned orderliness.
Nevertheless, that is not the basic thing. As far as TinCan is concerned,we have numerous problems that if we start talking about them, we will not leave here today. TinCan used to be a port admired so much by everyone. People craved to have their containers routed to Tincan, but today, it is a different case ; everybody is singing in a different tone. I want my container out of TinCan, please don’t ship to TinCan; don’t bring your container to TinCan; what are the causes . The causes are known even to our finger tips. If stakeholders cannot sit at a roundtable to iron it out, it will remain that way. People no longer want their containers in TinCan; they don’t want to go to PTML either, because of numerous alerts. If l punch my entry now, before l know it, CIU alert; Valuation alert; Q&A alert; Headquarters alert; CAC’s alert,on one SGD. But if you move your container to a Bonded Terminal, you wouldn’t have any alert. We don’t have more than two alerts in Apapa Command , but TinCan has 5- 7 alerts on one SGD. Who is to be blamed, the authorities, Government policy, because if you an appointed CAC of a command is allowed to do his job accordingly, he would know what to do.
When the CAC of TinCan came newly, Agents welcomed him with thunderous ovation believing that a TinCan thorough bred has come to make things right. We said yes, our own has come to take charge. we were happy because we felt he knew what and what to do to create an enabling business environment at TinCan; we felt he has come to put smiles in the faces of clearing agents and also do his job as a Government’s Rep.,but today what is happening. For the past three years agents have been passing through very difficult situations here in TinCan. But I can’t blame the CAC, this is the first government that gives target to Customs Commands. Since my 32years in this industry, this is the very first time the CACs 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 100billion,200 billion 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 attendant to 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 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 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 as generated revenue.
Why l chose not to blame any CAC is because their hands are tied, they have no option than to meet the targets given to them. But strangulating us to meet their targets is way too bad.
Before Government started giving targets, TICT was stemming over 220 containers a day for physical examination, but today, it is not up to 100 containers. Go to Ports& Cargo and see how many containers are positioned for examination. As l am talking to you now, go to TICT and see things yourself; containers are being moved from TinCan to Bonded Terminals on transire from TinCan; people are loading their containers out of TinCan to Various Bonded Terminals why, because of numerous alerts. They should be directed to the top. It is now a competition amongst the CACs ; Apapa wants to surpass TinCan, TinCan wants to surpass Airport, and it continues that way to the detriment of the rest of us. We are being choked. Everyone is in business to make profit and not to lose everything he worked for to a Customs Officer who wants to please his superiors, and then goes home empty handed. If l know that I won’t be able to make profit at TinCan after clearing two containers, I would prefer taking them on bond, I would process my transire and move them elsewhere so as to make some profits; there are no two ways about it.
*What’s your take on the recent dislodgement of ports users by NPA and the Lagos State Government following the destruction of office structures and the Container Complex at PTML ?*
Honestly, it was a painful one, a lot of people are stranded, and if you look around you see frustration, you see hunger, you see anger, people are not happy. But we don’t really have to blame the authorities because there has to be sanity within the ports environments. But it is quite unfortunate that it happened at a time people are gasping for financial breathe. The economic situation is so tough that anything can spark off crises. People have been dislodged, offices destroyed. For instance, the PTML Container Complex; those who had offices there are stranded at the moment while a good number have lost their jobs; it’s really painful but one thing we all should know is that Government is not run with sentiment, if you are trying to favour a particular people you won’t get it right, and you cannot please everybody at the same time. But those in authority should always device a means to carry people along, people are hungry and angry.
*What is your take on the incessant server breakdown and where do you think freight agents can channel their blames?*
Web Fountaine; the Federal Government should terminate the contract and get a new service provider. Years back we were told that Web Fountaine were training officers that would take over from them ; since that time till now they have not handed over to the purported officers because they ought to have taken over before now. Since 2010 till now. Web Fountaine has its offices in all the commands and we don’t see any officer working with them in those offices. We went for a seminar then in Abuja and another one in Ikeja years back, and we were told that the company would hand over to Customs after training them,and up till today nothing like that has happened. I advise the Government to terminate the contract and get a replacement.
There are things that are not done in other countries but we see them being done here on daily basis and we tolerate them. Web Fountaine can not continue to hold everyone to ransom, both Customs and agents have been at their mercy all these while and nobody does anything about it. There has to be an urgent solution to this challenge because it is not helping anybody.
*Sir, just recently, the factional Chairman of ANLCA, TinCan Chapter, disclosed that they have found the alleged ‘stolen’ vehicle belonging to the chapter at ANLCA National Secretariat, what’s your take on that ?*
As far as l am concerned, TinCan has no factional Chairman. Ojo Peters Akintoye is the Chairman of ANLCA TinCan Chapter. Mojeed is a BoT Chairman atTincan. He is my friend, and l have told him time and time again to go and take up an appointment from the National Secretariat, come to think of it; what was written on that bus and whose logo is there, is it not ANLCA and its logo. So how would a sane man open his mouth to say that ANLCA bus, was stolen and was found at ANLCA National Secretariat, is it not rediculous. Some people keep making spurious claims that do not hold water. I lost my money but later found it in my bag, how does that sound. Mojeed is talking like a child and l don’t know him for that. I am highly disappointed in him, what kind of statement is that. It is high time we the progressives call our elders to order, enough is enough ! They are all happy that agents are suffering, they don’t even care. The crises on ground has done more harm than good, and none of them cares. All the agencies and units in the port are happy with what is happening in TinCan because agents have no one to fight for them.Our big men should swallow their pride, all the associations should tell their big men to swallow their pride so that TinCan can move forward.
What is happening in ANLCA today is unacceptable; the elders should be called to order . Everybody knows the genesis of ANLCA problem as well as the solution, yet, nobody is talking. ANLCA made virtually all of them and now, they are happy to destroy an association that made them. I am calling on all the progressives in various chapters to talk to their elders so that we put all these nonsense to stop.