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How we can reduce drug trafficking at the ports –Nwakohu

Sam Nwakohu, a lawyer, is the Registrar/CEO of Council for the Registration of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN). In this interview with PAUL OGBUOKIRI, he said that the compliance of Freight Forwarders to trade rules is key to curbing smuggling of illicit drugs and narcotics into Nigeriafor


How does the Freight Forwarder get into the picture of the smuggling of hard drugs, which seems to have become the bane of the country today?


Perhaps, the best way to start this discussion is to identify who a freight forwarder is, and what he does. The simplest definition of who a freight forwarder is, and what he/she does is, may be, to describe the freight forwarding as the planning and coordinating of the movement of cargoes across international borders.


It is pertinent to state here that the freight forwarder does this on behalf of the shipper, at both the country of origin of the consignment and the country of destination.


Globally, freight forwarders can also assist with packaging goods for shipment, proper labelling, and preparing proper documentation for Customs officials.


Some roles of a freight forwarder include; Shipment tracking, Customs brokerage, Warehousing, Negotiating and Cargo space scheduling, etc.


While the Nigerian freight forwarder may not be involved absolutely in all aspects of freight forwarding identified above, he/she remains an important player in the logistic chain. In Nigeria, the chain includes, but not limited to Customs brokerage, warehousing and haulage.


The Nigerian freight forwarding business is also largely not devoid of some of the attributes that have been identified above.


Networking is still top among what he does. He networks between the shipper and other players in the chain.


The successful freight forwarder in Nigeria (as in other climes) must also have a long list of players, such as port officials, Customs officials and of course, shipping firms. He must (as they say) know his way around.


He also leverages on these networks to ‘negotiate’ favourable charges and expedited freight delivery from the terminals, the shipping firms, Customs and truckers, for his principal. In doing this, compliance may not necessarily be paramount.


However, it is gratifying to note that Nigerian freight forwarders are now showing a commendable level of commitment to compliance with globally established and locally-applicable standard regulatory requirements.


There is a list of statutory agencies that draw up compliance directives for importation and freight forwarding practice in Nigeria.


You were quoted as saying that Nigeria’s 110 rating amongst 160 countries on the Global Logistics Performance Index (LPI) is worrisome. What are the issues?

Nigeria, as a critical participant in African and global trade needs to emplace seamless trade enabled by integrity driven logistics that touches on all sectors of the economy. The present LPI of the country is worrisome and requires government and private sector collaboration to achieve better results and improved rating for the country as a way to promoting trade and attracting foreign direct investment into the economy.


The LPI is an interactive bench-marking tool created to help countries identify the challenges and opportunities they face in their performance on trade logistics and what they can do to improve their performance. The LPI allows  for comparisons across 160 countries.


The LPI, according to the World Bank Group, is based on a worldwide survey of operators on the ground (global freight forwarders and express carriers), providing feedback on the logistics “friendliness” of the countries in which they operate and those with which they trade.


What is your reaction to the disturbing drug scourge in Nigeria smuggled into the country through the ports?


Drug trafficking is a global phenomenon. As far back as 2012, a report by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), submitted that Nigeria tops the list with the highest trafficking and drug use in West Africa.

As recalled by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Dr. Amado Philip de Andrés, three trends and substances are of particular concern: Cocaine with 53 tons seized from 2019 to 2021 in or destined for West Africa; Hashish with 57 tons seized in 2021; and Tramadol with 77 per cent of global seizures made in West Africa for the 2015 to 2019 period.


What is most worrying is that the users, for the most part, are young people who dominate the continent’s development prospects.


The fight against drug trafficking is a huge challenge. This form of transnational organised crime contributes to money laundering, including the financing of terrorism, and is an aggravating factor in corruption and political instability.


Findings revealed that packages of narcotics are either concealed within cargo inside a container or within the structure of the container itself. They are also hidden in the walls or below the floor.


Reefer containers used for goods that need to be temperature controlled during shipping, have been discovered to provide opportunities for hiding packages in the refrigeration units.


Packages are alleged to be placed by some rogue employees working for shipping companies or terminals.


Until the advent of the NDLEA, the Nigeria Customs Service and the Nigeria Police were the major drug interdiction organs of the government.


You will agree with me that, even if the NDLEA had not been very effective previously, events of the recent past have confirmed the agency’s effectiveness in bursting drug smuggling cartels.


It is instructive that arrests that have been made by the NDLEA have shown a mixture of barons, importers, couriers and unfortunately freight forwarders.


According to Mr. Femi Babafemi, Director of Media and Advocacy, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, accounted for 8,979.869kg of drugs seized between January and March.


Operatives of the agency also stated that early in April, 2022, they failed attempts by Brazil-based drug cartels to smuggle large consignments of Cocaine into Nigeria through three major international airports in Port Harcourt, Abuja and Lagos, leading to the arrest of seven traffickers.


In like manner, the NDLEA also in February this year, intercepted 40,250 kg of Codeine worth over N2bn imported in two 40-foot containers from India. This is in addition to a similar seizure of 14,080kg Codeine syrup and 4,352.43kg cold caps used to conceal the former in a 40-foot container imported from the same India, at the Apapa seaport.


The consignments were brought into the country in two containers marked HLBU 2239792, with 1,125 cartons of the drug, and HLBU 1067338, with 1,751 cartons, with a market value of N2.012 billion.


The NDLEA also intercepted three million capsules of opioids at Jaelith Bonded Container Terminal under Tincan seaport in Apapa area of Lagos State.


The drugs at the bonded terminal were discovered during a joint examination of a 20ft container, SUDU 7774749 with men of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
The list is endless.


I refrain from unraveling the identities of the many freight forwarders (clearing agents) who were arrested in connection with these seizures, because the cases are already in court.


Most of the government agencies in port believe that the main cause of influx of banned, contraband and illicit drugs into the country is low compliance to trade rules by importers. Do you share this opinion?


In any business, compliance is the standard benchmark for measuring integrity, trust and global best practices. It is the same in the freight forwarding and logistics industry.


However, more specifically, compliance in freight forwarding means the forwarders’ strong commitment to fulfilling customer requirements; adherence to existing regulations, laws and standard procedures governing the movement or management of air, sea, land freights across diverse local and international boundaries.

There are standard rules guiding the importation into Nigeria that must be totally complied with. This means that the importer must process a Form M and PAAR; obtain a SONCAP Certificate (from origin country), product certificate, local insurance certificate; accurately declare the value of the cargo; ensure that cargo is packed or stored with the right material; properly classify them; pay the appropriate duties, taxes, levies, terminal charges and other applicable paper works before goods can be cleared at any sea, air or land ports in Nigeria.


What legacy would you want to leave behind in the Council as its second Registration?

Our commitment to the transformation of the industry is total. There is a lot to be done to professionalize the industry and equip practitioners with the knowledge and skills to operate like their contemporaries in advanced maritime countries. CRFFN under my watch is working on overcoming some immediate challenges affecting freight forwarding operations; like issues of training and standards.


The Council will ensure a transformation of the industry in Nigeria for seamless operations and to add immense value to the facilitation of international trade and growth of the nation’s gross domestic product. The Council plans to leverage on modern digital technology and current trends in global operations to achieve its vision for the industry.

For the freight forwarding business to contribute its quota to national development as envisaged by the government, it must first be repositioned. Some of the specific measures CRFFN has taken in this direction include setting minimum educational/professional qualifications for freight forwarders, professional training, sensitisation and accreditation; registration of practitioners for ease of supervision, monitoring and discipline; establishment of operational standards and guidelines, the introduction of welfare programmes for freight forwarders and CRFFN, amongst others.


For the first time since its establishment, CRFFN, under my watch, has been able to determine the minimum qualification to practice freight forwarding in Nigeria.


This is the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA) Diploma in Freight Forwarding and Supply Chain Management or its equivalent, the Executive Professional Diploma in Freight Forwarding and Supply Chain Management.


Three new institutional accreditations have been finalised for the purpose of increasing freight forwarders’ access to CRFFN’s approved qualifications and are accordingly available on the website of CRFFN.

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