By Sunday Okobi
A former National President of the umbrella body of licenced Customs agents in Nigeria, the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), and a stakeholder in the maritime industry, Mr. Ernest Elochukwu, has lamented that Nigeria has underperformed in almost all aspects of the economy in the last 60 years.
In an interview with journalists in Lagos recently, Elochukwu, noted that a lot of good intentions had been brought to the public domain by various administrations, which had seen innumerable committees set up and resources poured in, yet nothing substantial had come out.
“At various times, lofty ideas have been put forward on how to make the maritime sector efficient and effective as a vibrant arm of the economy, but such always end up as recommendations filed away in some archives.
“You will recollect that during the very first stakeholders’ meeting convened by the current Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, in his first tenure, one of the resolutions was that he should retrieve various reports from the archives, review and implement the recommendations, because the way, things have been does not suggest that we have a headway in any aspect in this country.
Elochukwu, who is also the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Nestello Gateways Group, expressed dismay that the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has been on a rollercoaster with regards to the various projects and measures it has been coming out in discharging its mandate.
Criticising the manner the NCS has delivere its mandate over the years, he said: “The modernisation project which involves deployment of information communication technology (ICT) in its various functions, especially in the cargo clearing has been unduly skewed to cause misery and hardship to stakeholders’ especially the importers and licenced customs agents.
“First, the NCS lobbied and got an approval to take over the contracts of the then service providers who were running the risk assessments and scanning services. Now, the NCS is the complainant, the prosecutor and the judge! “But the underlining issue is that the real modernisation which is in the man power has not yet started, and until it does, all have been mere window dressing.”
He also decried the high cost of freighting containers from Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre, Lagos, to the eastern part of the country.
According to Elochukwu, “It costs about $3,000 or less to ship a 20 feet container from a Chinese port to Lagos, and it costs N1.5 million to truck the same container from Lagos port to the Rivers State capital, Port Harcourt. This is not unconnected with the fact that we have a system of government administration that has refused to improve. It is a system that does not recognise the need for projecting into the future and planning for tomorrow which has resulted in Apapa nay Lagos gridlock.”
He, however, commended the federal government on the recent berthing of the largest container vessel at Onne Port in Rivers State despite the fact that it was on what he called ‘demo voyage’.
The maritime expert argued that the feat has put the issue of whether the channels in the eastern waterways are wide and deep enough to take larger vessels, to rest.
“It also put to rest the issue of drought or depth. However, the authorities should look at other areas of inside and outside port infrastructure to ensure that Apapa debacle does not replay in the eastern region of the country,” he added.
Speaking on the challenges facing the ANLCA, he maintained that there was no iota of truth in the allegations in some quarters that he is fighting a proxy war in the association.