Hon Iju Tony Nwabunike is a man a journalist can stroll to his home or office and will leave with fond and memories that will remain ever green for a life time. Nwabunike in his characteristic nature sent out a goodwill message to his compatriots who are moslems and the message was loaded with kind words and demonstration of patriotism. The Editors who were having a meeting decided to call him to request for an interview to talk on maritime related issues in the face of the lockdown and what is happening at the nation’s borders. He graciously agreed to grant the interview despite the fact that he was in Kaduna for a meeting.
For Hon Iju Tony Nwabunike, National president of Association of Nigeria Licenced Customs Agents, ANLCA, the nation’s leading freight forwarding group, he tells the story as it is without mixing words. In this interview with Ovie Edomi, the ANLCA National President who is also the Chairman /Chief Executive of Mac- Tony Nigeria limited as well as a major player in the oil and gas sector in addition to being a key stakeholder in the maritime industry spoke on a wide range of issues. Excerpts
As we celebrate Sallah many of our fellow compatriots have been sent to early grave, many others are lamenting job loss and inability to celebrate. What is your message to fellow Nigerians in the face of the lockdown?
This year 2020 came with very unusual challenges that the world is managing. Whoever survives this year should consider it a great achievement and give all glory to God. I don’t know of any lockdown again because things are easing up and there is hope for a better future. Let’s be optimistic and uphold our believe in God for better lives.
Freight forwarders have contributed in great measures to the nation’s GDP. But the current closure of the nation’s land borders is biting so much on them. Do you see an end to this soon given your level of consultation with the Customs and top government officials?
I think border closure has served it’s purpose. This is not the first time our borders were closed but the difference now is that the closure got caught up in the middle of Covid19 pandemic. As soon as we fully adjust to addressing Covid19 issues, we expect Government to consider opening the borders for trade in the spirit of ECOWAS and in furtherance of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) agreement which Nigeria is party to. It may also interest you to know that two weeks ago I led top members of ANLCA on a courtesy call and bilateral talks visit to the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and this border reopening issue was part of the highpoint of my presentation.We are hopeful that Government attention on the matter soon in the interest of regional integration, trade facilitation and non compromise of our national economy and security.
Without the support role of Freight forwarders in the logistics chain what would have happened to our fatherland?
Trade would have been stagnated. It’s as simple as that. People just see goods, imported products move from ports to warehouses and markets without knowing that it takes professional logistics services to achieve seamless and hitch free movements.We are an unsung part of the total value chain in the economy.
There are people who say that what is happening now is beneffing some Customs officials, What is your reaction to this?
If I understand you well, nothing bad benefits overall interest of the country. I believe in total and holistic approach to solving ethical, economic and social issues without playing the blame game. We all share in the blames of our national imperfections and I will be unfair to be casting aspersions or singling out any sub sector of our industry for public blame
If you were to put a value to what freight forwarders have lost since the closure of the border, how much would it be?
I am very careful with figures. I have a unit in my office that monitors statistics of happenings. Since the borders are not open, it is premature to come out with dependable figures because we are still evaluating the entire events while looking at volumes of trade across borders affected by the partial closure which happened since August 2019.
If you are to meet President Buhari what would you tell him?
I have recently passed our position on issues affecting our industry to the Comptroller General of Customs. In our interaction, I talked about unfair charges and practices of shipping companies and terminal operators.
Over time I have been engaging appointees of President Muhammadu Buhari on issues affecting us through their sectors. Before now, I have created corporate interface with Standards Organisation of Nigeria and Nigeria Shippers Council on several matters and I can say the matters are receiving attention from Government quarters.
What do you make of the exchange rate and what does it portend?
You are asking an obvious question with available answers. A reduced value of the naira puts pressure on the country’s trading community especially on Importation. It calls for urgent positive attention
Do you think we can find solution to the Apapa traffic gridlock?
We have been discussing Apapa gridlock for over 2 decades. Government is presently working on the roads. That is a solution in itself
With Covid-19 pandemic are your clients still involved in mass importation?
We can’t be talking about mass importation when no business person traveled out of the country in the last four months. China, a strong trading partner with Nigeria was the epicenter of the pandemic talking about outbreak of Covid19. Importation may be happening but not in a mass volume.
Do you think we are in for food shortage next year?
No , I don’t think so. Nothing suggests that
As a key stakeholder in the maritime industry what are we not doing right yet in the maritime sector?
Our policies and legislations require overhaul. We need good laws that are in sync with modern realities. I am getting ready to push for a Chatered Institute of Customs Brokers Bill to address many issues of standardisation, training and global best practices in customs brokerage. The National Transport Commission bill that has been hibernating between the National Assembly and Presidency is overdue for full regulation of our sector. I am aware it suffered setbacks in the eight Senate after presidential assent was withheld. I am hoping it gets presented again. Even our Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) is due for amendment for obvious reasons to address present day realities.
If we get our laws right, we may just need a further adjustments in our individual and corporate attitudes. Attitudinal change is one thing that can change our fortunes for the better. This is where compliance comes in. I earlier talked about having better laws to better our industry but we all may not have done very well in obeying the available good laws on ground. Adequate compliance by Government agencies, investors, professionals and individual citizens will take us farther than we have come.