How to end gridlock on Apapa-Oshodi expressway –Akukwe, GFFMA boss


National President, Global Freight Forwarders and Maritime Association (GFFMA), Basil Akukwe, has proposed an expansion of rail operations and the Lagos seaports in order to end the horrific gridlock along Apapa-Oshodi expressway.

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He also commended the newly appointed Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service, Adewale Adeniyi, for restoring a cordial relationship between the Customs and stakeholders in the maritime industry.

He also set an agenda for President Bola Tinubu on how the government can improve the industry and cut cost of clearing goods to cushion the scathing effects of the current economic crisis.

How has the rising cost clearing goods at Apapa and Tin Can port affected importation?

It has never been an easy task operating as a freight forwarder in Nigeria. There has been a sharp increase not only in clearing of goods but there is rise in transportation cost. However, in freight forwarding where I have interest, we are trying to cope with the new economic reality. It is affecting the importers and those into buying and selling, but I know that very soon we will overcome this economic challenge in the maritime sector. We are not happy about the situation because we understand that this problem is not caused by the present administration, but by the administration of ex President Muhammadu Buhari.

How has trade between Nigeria and the neighbouring countries been?

Naturally, if we must make this country work, we should import goods and services through the nation’s seaports instead of bringing them through Benin Republic. Our borders are porous, hence I’m not part of those saying the closure is affecting business negatively. Majority of the goods coming through these neighbouring countries are smuggled and it is not good for economic growth of Nigeria. That doesn’t mean we should not be a little bit liberal with our neighbours.

I don’t think bringing in goods through the neighbouring borders is good to our economy. I support strengthening economic ties and trade with our neighbours which is good. But there should be strict monitoring and compliance in trade with other countries to meet global best practices and also improve revenue generation.

What is your assessment of the newly appointed Comptroller General of Customs Service, Adewale Adeniyi?

Since Adeniyi was appointed, he has restored a cordial relationship between Customs and stakeholders in the maritime industry unlike his predecessor. It was a mistake made by Buhari to have appointed a non custom officer to be the Comptroller General of Nigerian Customs.

Now we have a traditional custom officer as the CG to handle the affairs of the system and so far he has repositioned customs. You can see that things are moving well because he has opened communication between the customs and the stakeholders.

As a freight forwarder, you can now go to the Customs headquarters in Abuja and reach out to any of the officers you want and discuss issues with him or her.

But many will disagree with you on your rating of the new CG because since he took over tariff risen to 15% making the clearing of goods more expensive

If you follow the trend, you will know that it is not peculiar to Nigeria. The war between Russia and Ukraine, in Syria, Israel and Hamas has affected the global economy. Even in Nigeria, the interest rate has risen. But I believe that Nigeria’s economy will bounce back.

On the issue of why importers are no longer importing goods because of forex, when it is high, it becomes a problem not only to importers, but also to the citizens. It is left for the importers to plan on the way forward because exchange is not stable. For instance, last week a dollar exchanged for N1, 500, this week it is N1, 200 and upper week it may go up. So, as it stands no importer will take the risk and this is the reason why some importers had to stop to watch if there can be stability in the exchange rate. If it stabilises, people will start to import goods.

We all know what is responsible for the gridlock on Apapa-Oshodi expressway that has over the years hindered free flow of traffic to Apapa ports. This is a battle former President Goodluck Jonathan fought until he left office, but to no avail.

Until Nigeria’s rail lines and refineries work efficiently and Lagos seaports are expanded, these challenges will continue. We know that the government allows the owners of these trucks and tankers to park on the major expressway and this is where all the gas and petroleum products are taken from to the other parts of the country especially to the northern region. So, where are they going to park? There is no holding bay where they will park to proceed to buy diesel, gas or petrol.

If only our rail system will start working like in the past when the rail line from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri was working efficiently. Those days, PMS and gas were been conveyed to any part of the country with one train unlike what the trucks do now. So, the government should fix our railway and these problems will be a thing of the past.

No matter what we do even if they deploy all the soldiers to clear trucks and tankers that park along the expressway, the gridlock will continue. It has been done several times but it continued. So, how long would our association or our personnel continue do this? The gridlock is adding more cost to transportation of goods from the seaports to the warehouses and movement of persons along that corridor. In fact, it is a big problem.

The space where these trucks and tankers used to park inside the seaports were sold by past administrations to individuals and companies that is why these trucks are parked along the road, what is your reaction?

It is a very bad decision to have sold some our facilities in the seaports, but the decision has been taken and if there is a way to reverse it, fine. One of the ways to reverse or put an end to the gridlock is to expand the seaports. Even in Cotonu, they kept on expanding their port to maintain sanity. However, I suggest that government should expand the seaports in Lagos in order to end gridlock and also correct past mistakes.

Can you throw more light why Freight Forwarders Association of Badagry (FFAB) Freight Forwarders Association of Badagry (FFAB) which was formerly known as Freight Forwarders Association of Badagry (FFAB) changed its name and how have you achieve your main objective which is to unite clearing agents and sensitise them to key into principle of GFFMA?

We have continuously organizing workshops with the Nigerian Customs officers and other major stakeholders to sensitise our members on abiding to the principles freight forwarding and maritime in line with the global best practices in the country. Also, the association plans to make funds available to members and that is on the way. We are partnering an organization in Singapore and we are in the process of opening an academy in maritime services to teach intending freight forwarders the functions of clearing agent. The commencement of the academy is been delayed because of logistics, but very soon we will overcome the challenges. When the academy takes off it will improve the services of the freight forward business in the country. On why we change the name of the association from Freight Forwarders Association of Badagry (FFAB) to Freight Forwarders Association of Badagry (FFAB) is for it to be all inclusive in terms of membership and to widen our scope of operations.

What is your agenda for Tinubu on how government can improve the Maritime sector?

We know our main problem as a nation and that is corruption. The moment President Tinubu turns his searchlight on corruption, things will be better. And if a stakeholder or a citizen writes a petition on corruption against any agency or an individual and the anti graft agency takes drastic action against the person or agency, corruption will stop and things will improve. Corruption is what is killing maritime industry in Nigeria because before things are gets done there must be alliance and re-aligning in the sector to get through. It does not mean that there are no good people in the maritime, there are. So, Tinubu should implement economic policies that will reduce the cost of importation and clearing of goods so that essential goods will be cheap for ordinary Nigerians to buy.

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