Prince Segun Oduntan is the Managing Director of SettledSystem Nigeria Limited and Chairman, Association of Nigerian Licensed CustomsAgents (ANLCA) Tincan Ports Chapter. In this interview with CYRIACUS NNAJI, hediscussed the problem relating to Lagos Wharf Landing Fee Authority, issue ofcrowded port roads and other matters. Excerpts:
Let’s meet you
My name is Prince SegunOduntan, MD Settled System Nigeria Limited
For how long have you been in operation?
We have been in operation for closeto 32- 33 years now.
What is your take on what is going on in the wharf betweenPort Authority and Lagos State Landing Fee Collecting Authority as it relatesto sell of stickers, I am sure it has gotten to you one way or the other?
Yes it has gotten to us,because Tincan been the port it is, majority of the cars that comes into Nigeriatoday comes through Tincan Port. I know a lot of my members have touched theissue and I have asked questions; that I have to sit down with DG of the LandFee Collecting Authority and I told him, the Akpero approach of standing on theroad, because Lagos State we are talking about, I am from Lagos State, that iswhy I am passionate about the state. And I said no, people have been in thisoffice before you came, there is a way we do it, if you have approached theassociation and say lets seat down, I have 3000 tickets, the amount is so soamount, give it to your treasurer, for your members who are coming out from thegate, give it to them, remit back to us, nobody would even know anybody iscollecting any something, but you just come, bring tugs to the road, so maybelater they made some little adjustment, but they are still collecting on theroad. Initially they wanted to come into the port, because Lagos State cannotcome into a Federal establishment, so they were resisted. For now theirapproach is still not perfect.
Don’t you think the approach is because, been in operationfor 10 years, they have not been able to remit enough money to the statecoffers?
Then they have to go and lookinto the history, those who were there before, how much they were able toremit, look at the history, and look at your own approach. Now that he hasbrought his own approach, how much has he been able to remit, who has the auditof that department to come and tell us whether somebody, this is the margin,this is the budget, this is the income that this person made, nobody? So if that question is to be answered, Ithink it is the Lagos state government that should be the one to answer it, thereis a way that you can do something seamless, with your good understanding ofthe environment.
Igbokwe was there, Tijako was there, thepioneer DG, he did not use that approach, maybe because he was a practitioner.
What then is your candid advice because there are a lot ofsquabbles coming out from there?
My advice like I told you,when my members reported this issue, in order not to cause chaos in thebusiness environment, once there is a problem here it goes everywhere. When peoplehave their vehicles impounded, I went there, sat down with him, my candidadvice is, which he has not do is, look for the chairmen of the two major freightassociations, sit down with them, if I give you 3000 tickets, help me approachyour members, so we can give our members, we tell them if you are clearing car,ticket is here for you to buy, we create a desk for that , so if you don’t come and buy, and they now impound yourvehicle… the only thing the people should be doing on the road is just to bechecking who has the sticker, because we would have told you that once you aregoing out and you have got the ticket just put it on the car. So the peoplejust need do is to stand at the exit of the port and be looking at who has theticket or not, then we do reconciliation, pay to them, they will make moremoney than this other approach.
I want us to talk about the crowded nature of the road inTincan, is there no end to it?
If the Vice President can comeinto a situation, flew down with helicopter two times, and there is no solutionto the issue, we should not, the problem is human problem, we have had many army,soldiers, this, that; now we have presidential task force, we have been operatinghere for close to 30 years, we take truck from here to Ikeja N60,000, N65000, nowwe take truck from here to Ikeja N500,000 to N600,000. A transporter will tellyou that Mr. A is extorting him, they are collecting N100,000, N200,000 from mebefore I can access the port. We know the road is bad, government has its blameon this, for long, we are supposed to have found other alternative exit.
I was part of the system, thatsat down with a particular comptroller with my Comptroller, and we talked aboutissue of batches, and he wrote his report, that was when the batches were givenaccess, the batches that you are seeing that are moving on the water, to theextent that some terminal were not even ready to toe that line. We haveovertime containers inside this port, that have been lining, you remember whathappened in Beruit, the explosion that killed a lot of people, tell me, Godforbid, there are some containers that have stayed in that place for 5-6-7years, auction, they did not auction them, terminal operators are holding on tothem, government said, they should auction, change to warehousing, Customswrote terminal operators, terminal operators stood their ground.
Transporters would say theyare hooking us, they are taking so so and so amount from us; they are extortingus. Before we used to go at 70,000, now you say they are collecting N200,000 asa bribe before you access port, you now take the truck inside., you now chargeus N550,000, we give you 550,000, the 550,000 we give you is coming from theowner of that consignment, the multiplier effect is that the owner of thatconsignment, when he is doing his margin calculation, will put all the cost, whereis the consignment going to? Is it not the market? The man that took N150,000bribe, and the man that give, that they extort you and you too extort us, themanufacturer too will come back and extort everyone of us, with his price, soif we can take a stand and say for one, two, three, four days, that we are notgoing to give this bribe, this is what we are going to do, we have to accesseven if we are going to talk, because if you give N150,000, you are coming tocollect N500,000 or N600,000 from us, so that is why you see all these liningcoming into the port and to be holistic about it, if today, Nigeria ShippersCouncil said there is no container deposit and because we are not in a warzone, what are you collecting container deposit for?
Shippers Council is theregulator, why can’t they say, I bet you, if they say there is no containerdeposit for these shipping companies today, this thing you see will vamoose byhalf, they are the regulator, why is it difficult, for all these years, you sayyou are doing one meeting or the other, for how long? Let the owner of the consignmentbring insurance bond, give to shipping company, no money deposit, because youdeposit N300,000 on a container, take out that consignment, before you accessthat port, that N300,000 would have burnt finish, in fact you will pay N450,000.How many of us that they were writing to? I have about two or three of them, becauseI am the one that is taking out their consignment, their deposit, they areowing me so so and so, I am waiting for them in court, I have taken two tocourt, those are what we call human elements, these are what are causing thesethings. You see officers that are on the road, you think they are doing it becausethey like their job, if you know what is going on there, my brother.
The squabble in the Port union has it settled?
Whatever happens in the unionis a family affair. People are talking and the elders there are talking witheach other, and you see when you have people from different background, evenwithin family, husband and wife, they quarrel, but where there is genuine law,we settle it because if not for anything you say because of the children, inour case we say if not for anything we say because of our job or because of ourfollowers, what are we leaving for them as a legacy? It is almost 80-90%resolved and very soon we will see us as we used to be as a force.
This is your second tenure as Chairman, ANLCA, after this,what next?
Where next after this, well, Ihave my work. Even when I am coming into this; ask anybody, the associationdoes not make me. I came in to serve, and I have been able within this littleperiod to give my own quota to assist people, to make people have a sense ofbelong, that is my joy. What next is about what my people decides, when I wasto come in here, it was my people that came to me and say Segun please, we havelooked left and right, when your people say this, it is better than when you wantto, so that is my position.
In your union and outside union, people talk good aboutyou, what is your strategy?
Managing people is what I justtold you about, I don’t take 100% confidence in people, I give you room toprove yourself, so when you go wrong, I will not be surprise. When you dosomething that is out of place I will not be surprised, and I don’t say thisman is from Igbo, this man is Hausa man, the only person in my office here thatcan bring a check for me to sign is, that I may not look is a Moslem, I am aChristian, not even a Moslem, if I am here, he is here with me, if I am here 8 o’clockhe is here with me. It is only when I have closed that he will close.
In what way has the coronavirus affected your business andwhat are your lessons?
We only pray for God to helpus recover what has been lost. And all over the world we know that this yearcannot be the same again, it is when business is supposed to settling down thatthis pandemic came in. Our own sector was the only sector that was permitted bygovernment that we must come to work because of some of the essentials that wehandle, no palliatives for us, if government can give them billions Nairapalliatives to Transport association and so so and so, we it is only God thatsave us during the pandemic because some of us and we are the first contact toanything that is coming from outside. So the business has, like all over theworld everything is not fine at all.