The manufacturing sector is confronted with many challenges in Nigeria. Sourcing for raw materials internationally and locally to produce end products are diminishing and organisations require a partner that will help decrease its logistics expenses. In this interview with BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA, the Managing Director of Simplified Corporate Logistics, Mr. Nduka Udeh said the prospect of the business lies on simplified policy that will encourage Small and Medium Scale businesses in NigeriaHow do you rate export and import businesses in Nigeria and what gaps do Simplified Corporate Logistics intend to fill in the business?
The biggest challenge that export has is that most companies who will like to export a container load of shipment to United States and other countries do not have that capacity. So if I want to export a sample of a product, let’s say one carton, it becomes difficult. We are working with organisations such as Nigeria Exports Promotion Council (NEPC) to provide an avenue whereby irrespective of the size of your company, we are able to help you export the size of your goods. When you look at the import side; you see the activities of people that parade themselves as clearing agents. You have a lot companies that have suffered serious damage from their activities. One of the things we are championing is to give a new phase to clearing. We are helping companies transport their goods. If you are a company using agents and you are not sure if they are registered or recognised by the federal government, you could get into trouble, when you discover that a lot of duties you have been paying are not actually being remitted. So we try to give a cleaner face in that perspective. Then if you look at the export section, which to me is the biggest gap we are trying to fill, there is a lot going on in form of the federal government’s effort to push export. There are a lot of issues surrounding exports because the process is still cumbersome. It is just like import, where you have well over 14 various agencies in the port for export, it is still very complex. So we are trying to take over the export roles for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
How do you ensure that goods meet international standards?
The challenge that exporters face is that a lot of them are not aware of the rules and regulations guiding exports. The way you do things in Nigeria is not the way you do things in Europe or in the United States. In Nigeria, I can just put my beans in any bowl and take it to the market, if you are taking that abroad; you have to follow their customs. In the United States, there is a rule that governs the packaging of these products. So, when you come to us, you don’t need to go through the one-hour or two hours training that a lot of organisations follow. We already have a sample of what you need to do and how to package your products. The formats, everything is in the package to guide exporters. That simplified the whole process. We also help people in the documentation process.
What are the major challenges in haulage business in Nigeria?
I think the biggest challenge we face especially for most of the small businesses is the multiplicity of agencies and the poor coordination within various agencies. You will find out that some of the key government agencies that are supposed to inspect your goods before export, when you go to their websites, you find out that their addresses are not there. So that is one of the greatest challenges we are facing. The export proceed forms that you have to fill before you export for example, when you make request, 90 per cent of the banks in Nigeria will tell you that they do not have the forms and you will not know where to get them. One organisation that is making much impart, is the Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC), but they are not the only one involved in the process. When you have poor coordination among various agencies, for example, to get a Customs officer who is responsible for export is a big challenge for a typical exporter. So all these are challenges people are facing. What we have done is to bring all these processes in one gauge.
What roles can government play in this regard?
Obviously, government is the only one that can rectify this by bringing all these bodies in the sector together. I believe that there should be a centralised export agency that should handle everything that has to do with exports. Can this agency be in one location? Sure, it could, so that, if I am an exporter and I need to export yam for example, when I take my yam to this location preferably near the port, the various agencies I need to deal with, are all there in one location. I meet the Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC), I get the required forms, I meet the Customs, I get the required forms, I meet NAFDAC, I get the required forms, I need Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), and they are there. But a situation, whereby for example, the inspection bodies, are not even available in the South anymore, they have moved to the North. So if I am in the South trying to export and the company I need to inspect my products are nowhere there, it is discouraging. So they need to get this people in one location. They should centralise it, have one coordinating body that handles the whole export processes, if I take my goods there, it is done by one body, that is what we need to do, until we get that right, there is no moving forward.
Let us take a cue from the Chinese, when the Chinese were trying to make Huawei, the leader in telecom, they ensured that no Huawei goods should be in the port for more than 24 hours, they must have their export clearance within 24 hours while Siemens will tell you that it will take you a month for your goods to be there, the Huawei products are already there in a week or two. That is the process we need to follow.
Has government’s plan to scale down the number of agencies in the port helped in any way?
We have been talking about scaling down for a long time since Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was the Minister of Finance. She wanted to cut down the number of agencies from 21 to three but didn’t succeed. When is the plan going to be implemented? We know that there is a problem but the will to solve it has continued to be the main challenge. Take for instance, when you are bringing goods to Nigeria, you have the anti-bomb squad, you have the SSS, you have NAFDAC, you have Customs, you have SON, you have so many agencies. But the prominent agency in the port for import and export in every country is the Customs. When they see items that require them to bring in another agencies, then they bring the agency in. Not that if I am importing shoes, NAFDAC is looking at my shoes, anti- bomb is looking at my shoes. It is ridiculous and if you look at the process, there is a certain charge that you have to pay to each of these agencies at the end of the day. What should take six hours to process ends up to three or four days. You have companies that are idle and waiting for spare parts to come in, but one inconsequential agency that has nothing to do with the spare parts, will hold that spare parts down. If they can reduce the number of the agencies it will help a lot.