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How FX Crisis Is Crippling Port Business –NAGAFF Scribe, Oyanna

Hilda Oyanna is the Secretary of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) Apapa Chapter. She also runs her own freight forwarding and logistics company. In this interview with PAUL OGBUOKIRI, she speaks on the poor state of the APM Terminals Container Examination Bay in Apapa Port. She also speaks on the depreciation of the naira, which is crippling port business

This is an industry that is male dominated and I can say that there are few women like you in the industry. Do you in any way feel threatened or intimidated in the midst of the men in the industry?

No! I don’t really feel threatened or intimidated by the dominance of men in the industry. I know that I have gone through some form of intimidation from them in the past but it is not something serious. In fact, it is even the men that feel threatened by my presence.

When men see a young woman like me doing what they had thought is exclusive to them, they feel threatened; in some cases they come in different ways to try to bring you down. That became more manifest the time I was elected into the Executive body of the Apapa Chapter of NAGAFF. It was really tough.

It was not really easy at the beginning. We were just two women in the Executive; nobody wanted to listen to you when you bring up an idea but in the end, they saw the kind of person I am, that I am pragmatic, that I want the best for the association, before they stopped standing on way when issues are up for discussion.

Will you advise other young women to take to this profession?

Yes, ofcourse. This industry is big enough to accommodate everybody. So, I will encourage women or rather young girls in school to start studying maritime related courses, so that we can start to tap into numerous areas of this industry. It is a very big industry.

The Federal Government recently carved out the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy from the Ministry of Transportation. Do you think this action will have any positive impact on the industry?

It is a good development. I just wish the new Minister will do the right thing by ensuring that the industry witnesses the desired growth under his watch. It is an industry that needs a lot of investment for it to grow to its potential.

For instance, we have CRFFN, which is supposed to be the regulator of the industry I belong to; but I don’t know if I can confidently say that they are discharging that responsibility effectively. The Minister has to ensure these people sit up and do their jobs.

There is this recent government circular stopping budgetary allocation to professional bodies like CRFFN. Do you think they can survive with zero budgets from the government? I don’t think that CRFFN in the first place needs any form of funding from the government.

The POF levy, which they collect from every cargo that is imported into this country should be enough for them to run their activities and effectively perform their regulatory roles in the freight forwarding sub sector.

As a freight forwarder, what are your expectations from the CRFFN?

I expect that practitioners’ jobs are not encumbered by either the hiccups caused by port operators or other users. They are supposed to give practitioners seamless access into the ports where they do their job; by way of providing identity cards as CRFFN members.

Also, they are supposed to intervene on our behalf when the operating environment is not conducive or unfavourable. We pay annual fees to the body and there is nothing we get in return. For instance, the APM Terminals Container Examination Bay has for several years remained a health hazard to port users.

During the dry season, it is dusty while during the rainy season, it is waterlogged and foul odour oozes out from there. Most of us end up in the hospital after work. And this thing has been like that for several years, without APM Terminal doing anything about it.

It is in a case like that, that CRFFN is supposed to step in and use government power to compel APM Terminal to make the place conducive for work.

How does the wider economy affect the business of freight forwarding, particularly with regards to cost and benefit in the business of freight forwarding?

The foreign exchange rate instability has dealt a deadly blow on our businesses. We know that the Nigeria Customs Service is not responsible for this recent outrageous depreciation in the value of the naira; the exchange rate for duty payment about three months ago was around N420/$, but now, it is in the region 760/$.

The importers, who are our principals are the most affected by the depreciation. Most of them who got forex at 450/$ now have pay back at N750 or more going by the parallel market rate. Before now, you could clear a container at N3 million. Now, it is N6 million.

We are all affected; ordinary consumer at the end of the day find out that he can no longer afford many things in the market because importers pass the cost to them. So, the business of importing has been made unprofitable by the fall in the value of the naira while manufacturing is not possible for now as the government is yet to fix power. We need government intervention in this regard.

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