Fight Against Smugglers Is A Collective Effort- Ozobialu

Patrick Ozobialu is the Managing Director PAKRISTO Maritime Company Limited and current Chairman, Association of Nigeria Licensed Clearing Agents (ANLCA), Seme-Badagry chapter. In this interview with ANDREW UTULU, he insist that resolving the challenges of transacting business at the border stations and war against smuggling needs Federal Government partnership with Clearing Agents Excerpt

What is your take about the government ban on importation of the poultry products without making alternative arrangement for local production which is believed to have given rise to smuggling as the smuggled products are relatively cheaper in the country?

The ban did not start today. It started very long ago, and the danger in it is what has been disclosed at the launch of operation ‘Hawk Descend’. The war against smuggling is not for one man or one organisation. It is for all of us. If you have the interest of your of your country and its economic growth, you will no doubt join this war.

My organisation both at National and Chapter level are partnering with government agencies to ensure that smugglers do not have their way at the borders, sea and airports.

 How is clearing business doing at Seme border considering the state of the economy?

Before now, business was moving in this area but the economic crunch took its toll on it recently.

We believe that before long, it will improve because there is no situation that is permanent. It is only the tough that gets going when things are not working the way you expect them to be. Importation has been slow because of the change in government and people are skeptical to import goods because they don’t know the policy that the new government will be coming up with. However, the new government is taking its time to look at things and by the time they sit well, things will get better.

There was a time your members were said to be  having problems with Certified Registered Freight Forwarder of Nigeria  ( CRFFN) in this area, were you part of it and has it been resolved?

The crisis has been resolved. All of us are freight forwarders but I am not part of it but as it is now, everybody is believed to be involved but it is being sorted out among all the associations.

 In what area can you assist the customs in reducing smuggling of frozen foods and other contraband into the country through the borders even as operation Hawk Descend is launched?

I remember very well that during my first tenure as chairman of ANLCA in this chapter, we resolved on how we could move the area forward.

First of all, if you want to move something forward, what you need to do is to sit down and look at the past so that you will be able to project into the future. We went into orientation programmes because information is key in everything you do.

We started informing people on the need to pay duties, to carry out government policies because sometimes some people do not know that what you do wrongly today may still catch up with you in future. In fact, customs can still unravel the wrong you did seven years ago when taking stock of their activities.

Sometimes there might be no much gain in smuggling; you can get more profit when you take the right route. Some people now understand this fact that is why 90 per cent of the vehicles coming from Benin into Nigeria these days pay correct duty.

On the issue of smuggling of poultry products into the country, we have collaborated with the customs to curb it . Before now, the customs had told us the need to discourage smuggling in the country and how harmful the imported products are to the health of the citizenry.

I know that most people are not aware of the health hazard of smuggled poultry products; there is need to engage the people more to create the needed awareness.

On the part of the government, something drastic needs to be done to minimise such illegal importation. This health implication of frozen foods and if you look around, people have been eating it. These things don’t come through Seme alone but through other border line areas.

I believe that a lot of people have been into the business due to ignorance, but now that we have been told that what we are dealing in is dangerous, not only to the society but to ourselves too, people will stop its patronage.

We urged the government to help reduce smuggling by creating more poultry farms so as to move people away from smuggling to rearing of poultry. Another thing is that the cost of the local chicken is higher than the smuggled ones ,and one would begin to wonder why a product that is imported is still cheaper that the ones produced here.

Government should do more to ensure that the local poultry products are affordable to minimize smuggling.

Government should also provide adequate information on the danger inherent in consumption of smuggled frozen foods because it is one thing to say they should not bring it, and it is another thing to educate the people on the harm in consuming such products.

The market women should be made to know why they are asked not to sell or consume it; and by the time the information is everywhere, people will know why they shouldn’t bring them or buy them.

Is it right for government to ban importation of the poultry products without making alternative arrangement for local production?

The ban did not start today. It started very long time ago and the danger in it is what has been disclosed at the launch of operation Hawk Descend.

What are your challenges in this area in the course of carrying your jobs?

The most important thing is that once you are able to achieve peaceful relationship with government operatives, you will be happy, but once there is no peace, then there will always be troubles.

We adopted a system in this area unlike in the past,  and any problem we have in this area, we do resolve immediately because information is vital.

Can you give us your take on the POF issue that has pitched ANLCA against other association?

I am not in a position to say anything on the issue because I am just a chapter chairman because such issues are handled by our national officers.

Suppose you are to make a suggestion on what the government should do about the POF, what would be your position?

We urged the Government to resolve the POF crisis for peace to reign

What message do you have for your members in this area?

Well, I want to thank them for keeping themselves well informed and abreast of development in the industry through trainings.

I will also want to advise them to always do the right thing at the right time. They should try as much as possible to adhere to government policies and where they don’t understand, they should find out from others.

There seems to be higher crime rate at the border line areas.  What is responsible for that?

In every part of this world, there are crimes even in every ports, but each port has its own peculiarity. The police, customs and other government operatives are trying their best to curtail crimes in the border area here.

Like I told you before, orientation is very important especially in this border lines.

What is the achievement of your administration since you became the chairman of this chapter?

The ANLCA of today under the leadership of the present president is trying to achieve something tremendous. This year, we opened our national secretariat. In Seme, we are trying to open at least 72 offices complex probably before the end of this year.

Source : Independent

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