Honourable Daniel Okeke is the CEO of Express Concerns Int’l Limited a Freight Forwarding and Imports Firm, he also operates a Customs Bonded Warehouse in Port Harcourt, the capital city of Rivers State. In this interview with selected Journalists on special focus with key Stakeholders on the Ease of Doing Business in the the Eastern Zone, Okeke pour out his mind on various issues including the just concluded ANLCA election, which he described as selection and not election. Hear him.
How did you appreciate this honour?
Sometimes it baffles me how people get to know about me and my operational capabilities, it surprises me. You have done your findings before coming to my office, which means you have gathered information concerning my establishment. So I am greatful, I am not a man of many words, but I must say I am grateful for this honor, it’s a motivating factor, it’s going to spur me to do more.
Nigeria is our country we have no other country , we know that the economy is not really good for us since 2015 , a lot of companies have reduce their staff strength but our God have been faithful to us, we have not reduce, but employ more staff, I believe it will Continue this way by the special grace of God.
The government brought a template Policy of doing business to see to it that entrepreneurs, government organisations work together to ease business, how has it been and what do you think they can do more to make business blossom in Nigeria?
As a matter of fact, it is not about bringing people to do business together that is the issue, the issue is that we have a lot of problems that are not helping business to grow in Nigeria. Number one thing is power, as we speak, we have been running on generator since morning, you can imagine what 150KVA will consume in a day and you cannot tell a Customs Officer not to use light because this place is a Customs Bonded Warehouse , Customs are here and they must do their job which means you must run your generator from morning till close of work. Apart from that, we are also having difficulties as a result of the increase in Foreign Exchange. You know that our business is tide to Foreign Exchange and it has really affected us negatively, the importers who are importing goods from other countries will need to change their currency and since they do not have access to CBN rate, they. will have to fall back on black market rate and by the time they do all the conversion and the rest to bring goods, we found out that the price of the goods will be very high. People are complaining that they don’t get their salary paid in most states, people are complaining about high price of things and this importers will sell at the rate they bought which is high due to the exchange rate, at the end of the day it boils down to the consumers and this is really pathetic because if those who are very comfortable are not finding it funny, I wonder how those that depends on salary to feed their families to train their children and other necessities will be able to cope,
it really makes me sad. Sometimes I pity my staff because using myself to compare, I know that what I pay them no matter what, cannot be enough for them,but there is nothing one can do, it’s a difficult situation,because I know how the business was before 2015 , am not saying whether the government is not doing well or not, what matters to the people is as long as they have food to eat, the rest is minor. Imports and exports has drastically reduce so we are not finding it funny and customs are doing their best, but due to the policy put in place which is not there doing, it is having effect on the rate of importation in Nigeria.
Most Bonded Warehouses in Lagos has closed down, how are you still able to cope operating a Bonded Warehouse here in Port Harcourt?
It’s been God, because Bonded Warehouse is a capital intensive project that requires you putting some properties with Certificate of Occupancy in place as well as cash , because you must have at least N500million bond as well as a warehouse, which is the criteria for having one and it’s an on going thing that every year you must renew your bond, because if you do not have N500m or N600million cash because most time the bank will also add some money on top of it as a guarantee, you can not operate a bonded warehouse and when you are not having businesses there is no way you can operate a bonded warehouse. Customs Officers that are posted to bonded warehouses, you might not give them bribe, but they are human beings, after coming to work Monday through Friday, you can not just shake them and say my brother thank you, you must give them weekly allowances whether you are working or not, all this are understanding that are put in place and whereby you are not getting the job there is no way you can continue.
Even in Port Harcourt, some bonded warehouses have closed down, but for us,God has been faithful, it is not because I am the most intelligent agent in Port Harcourt , it has not also been too easy for us. For this year, the volume of patronage has really dropped down, but we are still managing at least to be able to take care of our staff and manage the terminal.
Let’s look at this last ANLCA election, what can you say about it, was there any form of flaws?
Well, am a very straight forward person and God fearing, I have not been part of ANLCA politics because of the way things are done. I always prefer to have internal democracy because it’s an association, they have their constitution which most be abide with, but the last election, both National and Chapters, because the National cannot operate without the Chapters was a sham.
This last chapter election the chairman, Kingsley Offor (Kingsoo) is my very good friend, he serve a tenure in Area 1 as a Chairman and has also serve another tenure as Chairman in Onne and according to their constitution he is not supposed to serve more than two times, but the way they twisted it and now he’s the chairman again.
He was even disqualified before the election and at the last minute, he was ask to run for the chairmanship because there are people at the top at the National level that are interested in what he’s doing, who are benefiting from him and wants him to remain.
The most unfortunate thing is that most of this people at the National level or Exco don’t really have much work to do as regards to Clearing activities, so they depend on all the deals and whatever is generated from the area and so they most put someone who is loyal to them just like what we have in Nigeria political sector.
I don’t see them as people I can relate with due to lack of integrity, that is why I don’t too much associate with them. Precisely last two years, I decided to keep away. I told them I am not paying the dues because I don’t see what they are doing with the dues since I am not under obligations to pay dues or to be a member, I can decide to be or not to be a member and they knew I know what I was saying. I told them to go to court if they feel am wrong, so I stop being active in their activities. But after a while Kingsoo came to talk to me to start paying the dues as.a way to help them grow, of which I obliged, but with this recent election I got more discourage because I thought they will do a free and fair election, where people will come out and use their Licences to vote.
For instance, I have two licenses, but was never consulted to use those licenses to vote for the election. So what are we talking about,.where did they get those 38 Licences,? Who are the people that voted ,? I even heard from credible source that they use peoples licences without their consent, what do you call that, is it a credible election?. People came, spend their money, print posters and at the end there was no election, somebody was appointed, anyway am not surprised because it has always been like that.
Sir, apart from the license, was there any other criteria used to qualify, like up to date payment of dues . Were you really interested in being part of the election, because you said you were not being called to vote, was there no specific date chosen for the election?
What happened was that there was a date chosen for the election, later they changed it and there was no proper communication. Apart from that, my people were there, there was no proper voting, because they have already made up their mind on whom to put there. As far as am concerned what they did was selection, there was no election which is not supposed to be. Election should be a situation where People come, queue and vote, after which they count, but there was nothing like that.
Because what we saw from the national level, was 35 against 38 and we begin to wonder if ANLCA members that have licences are less than 100 or were they selected and only qualified ones voted in the election.
Well, these are some of the twists, because if your license is up to two years you are qualified to vote, and ANLCA has over 1000 members with licenses
Apart from the election, if you want to advise people in the profession what would you like to tell them, maybe concerning elections and the job as well?
What I will tell them is to be more serious with their business other than elections. Election is important, but a situation where people depend on election to make their living is very pathetic. Our profession is a noble one and you must take it serious, put a lot of machinery in place to ensure you build your career not just talking about elections.
I have never been part of election and will never be part of it, even outside association. Nigeria has not mature to the point where people like us can come out to contest because if I chose, you will want me to spend money bribing my way through, but I expect people to vote me in for who I am and what I have done for my people and what I will do for them not expecting me to go in there to settle this and settle that which is not proper.
I don’t believe in that, it is not democracy, am very sure Nigeria will get there so I advise my colleagues to be more dedicated to their clearing and forwarding profession which is a very noble one, aspire to have more customers, build your business. You know there are two types of clearing, one is normal clearing and the other is executive clearing which is called cooperate clearing for oil company, multinationals whereby you have agreements with them and the likes.
That is what I do, but majority of the Agents amongst us have soil the integrity of this profession, which makes me feel sad to tell people am a Clearing Agent. I always tell people in this profession to diversify, it’s good to diversify. Experience has shown that a lot of colleagues who were doing well in the past are nowhere to be found today , some of them don’t even have house of their own, because they believe that the business will continue to flourish forever.
So is good to diversify so that if one is not moving well the other will. The same customer that makes you a millionaire today can end up making you poor tomorrow, that is how risky the business is.
hat brought us to the issue of agencies in the Ports like SON, NAFDAC etc, is there anything you think they are not doing right?
You See, I am not proud to be a Nigerian, but I am one. And don’t have any other place to go because this is where I am a king, outside Nigeria I am not,but a third class citizen.
The way we do things in Nigeria baffles me, imagine the vice President made an Executive Orders that all agencies should leave the port and come in only on invitation, but they are still there, I don’t see any business SON, NAFDAC, SSS, Quarantine has in the port, because Customs have put the system in such that you can view all transactions online and anything not done properly they can put alert and it will be stopped. So they don’t need to go to the port to see the job physically before you know what to do, it is wrong, it is not done that way. In overseas everything is done online and in less than 24hours your cargo is gone. But here, it is not so.
A lot of importation drop because of SON, you can quote me anywhere, in a situation where you have 100 items in a Container, they will expect you to get SONCAP certificates for the 100 items, is it possible? . They are talking of quality goods, how would they expect oil industry to bring in substandard products, when they know it will affect their business, but SON will want them to get SONCAP for all their products and these things cost millions of Dollars, because of these, some of my clients stopped their importations, Who is losing? Nigeria of cause, the money that is supposed to be generated are loss.
But SON has always said that they are not in the Ports except when invited?
SON is in this Bonded Terminal, which is an extension of dry port, if SON is here are they not also in the ports, but let me not argue with you that they are not in the port, all I know is that SON is here and they do examination with us and if they are not call for examinations they make trouble.