Okey Ubah assumed office as the president of the Association of Nigeria Courier Operators (ANCO) in May, 2019. He reveals in this interview with OMOBAYO AZEEZ, the various bottlenecks limiting the courier services industry from blossoming to its full potential; his experience in the office since investiture, as well as prospects for operators in the sector.
Assuming office in May last, what are the areas your leadership is focusing on?
We have just four cardinal points. One is the issue of professionalism and human resource development; another is to sanitize the industry by identifying and having a data on genuine industry operators. On that, we have to work with the CRD to see how we can cleanse the industry as there are lot of negative things perpetrated by characters claiming to be courier operators. Three, we work towards creating harmony and synergy amongst operators on the various facets of the industry, and four, we have to engage various stakeholders to see that the federal government policy on Ease of Doing Business is actualised in the industry..
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Let’s look at professionalism in the industry?
For now, in ANCO we have had series of training but I’m talking generally on courier and logistics industry. Courier business is a business of trust, discipline and honesty. It’s not open to everybody as you are meant to convey valuables and sometimes life saving materials from one place to the other. So, it is not a business everybody gets into anyhow. A lot of times, you hear people complain of being defrauded through courier companies. On investigation, you find out that the offending companies are either not registered or outrightly non-existent. They defraud people and commit all forms of malfeasance in the name of courier and logistics companies.
The industry needs to be cleansed to bring back trust into the business. There are due processes to starting the business through registering with the relevant regulatory authority and the association. So in case of any negative issue, you’ll be able to trace the fellow or company through the Association or the regulatory organ.
Secondly, as a practitioner, you have to be abreast with developments in the industry. The professionalism here is not just about academics. It has to do with practical experience and zeal. The industry should be run by people, who are interested in doing the business and know what it takes to be a professional.
Don’t you think that lack of a fully-fledged independent regulatory body has given room to making the industry an all-comer affair as it has been reported that people start running delivery business without necessary guides?
Unfortunately, that is the situation we’ve found ourselves. The people managing CRD (Courier Regulatory Department) now are seasoned bureaucrats and know what to do, but do not have the enabling law and facilities to do the job. There have always been plans for a commission to regulate the courier and logistics industry.
The bill for the establishment of the commission has been passed concurrently by the Senate and House of Representatives and is awaiting the President’s assent. But we have the CRD now. Before the commission comes, are we going to let the whole thing decay? Why don’t we make do with what we have now? The CRD should be provided with facilities to be doing the job pending the establishment of the commission. I must warn however, operators’ presence should be factored in the establishment and running of the commission when it comes on board.
Secondly, the state governments, especially Lagos State, has contributed immensely to the negativity of this business. Lagos is the commercial hub of the nation. The law enacted on usage of motorcycle on Lagos roads seems to have gone to sleep. This had led to proliferation of motorcycle including usage as commercial passenger transportation. It becomes difficult to differentiate commercial motorcycle transporters, freelance delivery men and courier company bikes. It’s so sad.
The general public is put in confusion in deducing genuine courier companies. As a result, local government officials or touts clamp down on courier bikes the same way they do to other commercial bikes not minding that courier bikes carry time sensitive and valuable materials for delivery.
It is a big problem that needs be resolved. Even the Lagos state government and others has to up the game to ensure that laws on bike transportation and usage are enforced.
We have had cause to meet with the CRD and by extension, federal and state governments to differentiate courier bikes from others. Every courier bike has to be fitted with a delivery box and the inscription on it must contain office address, email and phone number. You will be able to know the delivery company bikes and where they are situated. The local government officials should therefore not impede the movement of courier bikes.
How is this affecting businesses?
As they are waiting, the whole thing is decaying. So today, the number of unregistered courier operators is more than registered ones. This makes people doubt the relevance of registration since anyone can operate without it.
“We are in a bad situation because those who register won’t see the need to renew their licence. We are working to see that this situation is controlled.
Secondly, you are asking the state government to implement the law that bars commercial motorcycle. How about the activities of the local government officials been affecting the operators?
It is one of the things that this EXCO is determined to fight which is actualisation of federal government slogan on the ease of doing business. When you’re talking of bringing foreign investors, what about ease of doing business for the local investors?
A situation where different local government areas have different requirements or taxation for passage on roads and transactions. We have approached them several times. We suggested that there should be a universal ticket, recognised by ALGON that covers all 774 local government areas in the country. This will help reign in the excesses of these local government officials. They need to understand how sensitive and time conscious courier delivery system is.
They see a courier man carrying time sensitive materials and then delay him for mere tickets. So, there’s need to control them and to make the local government official understand that there are saner ways of revenue drive.
We are not against them generating revenue but you don’t make it in a way that will put another person’s job into jeopardy or making it look as multi taxation. Let it be harmonised. When they came up with Joint Tax Board (JTB), it was to help solve the situation but implementation wasn’t run effectively.
Is ANCO looking at working with NIACA?
Yes, we’re forging a common front now. I have been in discussion with the NAICA chairman because what affects us affects them. It is not every company in NAICA that is a foreign company and not all are big. We are working with them to see how we can remedy this situation.
What is the difference between courier and logistics?
Times are changing and people will want to give things different names. For instance, you don’t call anybody a carpenter anymore, rather you say wood engineer or wood technologist. Courier is the umbrella name for transportation, logistics, warehousing, supply chain management and packaging. Logistics is just the process of carrying out courier activities. In countries where we have the military mentality, logistics is the most popular division in military because of its importance. So people now replace courier with logistics. If you want to take a parcel from Lagos to Maiduguri, that’s where logistics comes in to determine the means of movement at various
Another is people misconstrue courier with the man on the street by calling bike riders courier. It’s not wrong as they’re actually one of the most important segments in the organogram of courier company personel.
On innovations, we have seen some young startups trying to disrupt the ecosystem. Some have the money, like the Kobo360 and others. What’s the future of courier in innovation?
The future is bright just that many people are doing things as they like due to lack of proper regulation. It is a multi billion-dollar industry. When you want to be organised, there are always issues because of the way government sees some segment of industries.
ICT is applying technology into businesses which is very good. Every business now needs technology to operate.
When we used analogue, we had only physical or geographic hub. This is an area where cargoes and parcels are percolated and taken to different destinations, but we now have added digital hub or what you can call a web hub, where you buy goods online, engage a courier company online and make payments online. You can also track the movement of your goods online till it gets to the consignee. It makes things easier for business. Technological innovation is a good adoption. It is a welcomed development.
Let’s look at the border closure, the Africa Free Trade Act, how has the border closure affected the business?
It has to affect the business. Every government policy affects certain set of people positively or negatively. For this, yes. It may have affected the business volume along the border axis but on the other hand, the business activities within the country ought to have increased. For instance, you stopped importation of rice from the border into the country and then increase the production of rice internally. More quantity of rice will be moved internally, making more business for it.
You must understand that Nigeria has been a consuming nation without production. For proper national development, the government have to say enough is enough for this unguided importation. Even with the border closure, genuine trade still go on across the land, air and sea borders for exports or imports. Secondly, with necessary infrastructures in place, the closure will elicit greater manufacturing in the country leading to increase in movement of raw materials and finished products both for internal consumption and export. So in the long run, the closure will be beneficial to the courier industry.
Sometimes, the courier players have been accused by the government for aiding smuggling and prohibited item. Can you say your members are isolated from this claim? Or do you attribute it to those who are practising without licence?
Is there any part of the economy that the government has not accused of aiding and abetting?
The government agencies have the statutory right to check vices in business transactions in all sectors and are entitled to such claims. However they should be mindful of making such claims as it turns out to be an indictment or exposure of inefficiency.
I’ve heard such claims by government before, but for the records, none of my members had been indicted. We are organised and members are always reminded on the laws in the industry and the Association in terms of carriage of prohibited items. New members go through induction and are lectured on the guiding rules relating carriables and the non carriables.
If any courier company carries any contraband item, it is the duty of the security agency to take action. I can vouch for the members of my association that they won’t carry prohibited items and that’s why we are talking so much about sanitisation. A lot of companies that are not registered may commit such crimes since they are not in the purview of either the Association or Regulatory authority and thus no image to protect.
Has the industry given up on the Postal Reform Bill because since 2004, some of the bills that were sent to the National Assembly like the Customs Bill have been passed but this Postal Reform Bill has been going back and forth. Are you still hopeful about this?
No we can’t give up. It is a live wire of the industry. The bill is waiting for the President’s assent. Once he signs it, the process of setting up the commission by the ministry or Presidency will commence. Truth is that, the former PMG Barr. Bisi Adegbuyi tried so hard to actualise the postal reform. The Postal Reform Bill is a catalyst for the development of this very important micro or medium scale sector of the economy. Every government that wants to develop must support the micro sector and medium scale businesses of the economy. And the postal industry is one of them.
The bill would have impacted negatively on the industry. Some of the people that coined the bill didn’t understand the workings of the industry until ANCO stepped in and made inputs that will help the government reap bountifully from the industry when the commission comes into being. That’s why I posited earlier that ANCO and operators should be factored in the establishment and running of the commission.
I must reiterate that in the interim, CRD should be provided necessary facilities to do the job before the rot in the industry gets to an uncontrollable proportion.
What is your projection for the industry during the year?
“All things being equal, especially with proper regulation, and removal of multiple taxation by various levels of government, the courier industry have a better outlook especially with the development of ecommerce. That is why technology has also aided growth of the industry.
“But the problem is this, because of poor regulation in the industry, the ecommerce activities are hampered by quack operations. A lot of Nigerians may have their fingers burnt through the activities of fraudulent and illegal e-commerce outfits and delivery fellows, if it is not well regulated.
We have a new post-master general of the federation, Dr Ismail Adebayo Adewusi. What is your message to the New PMG?
Yes, we welcome the new postmaster general Dr. Adebayo Adewusi. He is an experienced administrator and technocrat. We have no doubt that the President appointment a good man for the job. We expect to meet with him when he resumes and have a dialogue with him on how best to run the industry. We expect that he’ll have a cordial relationship with the supervising ministry and make the ministry understand that the postal sector is a very important arm that needs proper support to maximize the potentials and reap the benefits therein.