NAFAFF Founder, Boniface Aniebonam and Alhaji Olayiwora Shittu, President ANLCA
Freight forwarding industry stakeholders aggrieved over poor administration of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) are pitted against Board members of the Council recently forced out of office by the Transport Minister, Senator Idris Umar. The bone of contention is the plan of the CRFFN Board members to remain in office even after their tenure had expired, among other issues, reports Francis Ugwoke
The much awaited peace among freight forwarding practitioners which the establishment of Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) promised is far from being achieved. The practitioners are now at war over the decision by the Board of the CRFFN, drawn from prominent freight forwarding associations in the industry to remain in office months after the expiration of their tenure. The decision is currently creating simmering dissension among the freight forwarders. Leaders of agents associations are accusing the board members of flouting laid down rules and regulations on tenure. The board members and the management of the Council are also being accused of lacking direction as far as the objectives of CRFFN are concerned. Tension on the matter heightened last week when the Transport Minister, Senator Idris, was reported to have intervened by dissolving the board after months of agitation by aggrieved association leaders. The associations leaders had applauded the decision of the Minister as a welcome development and a bold step for the interest of the industry. But the CRFFN Board members are fighting back, claiming that they have not been served letters to that effect. A top member of the board who does not want to be quoted described the report about the dissolution as the make-up of some people in Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA).
He referred this Reporter to the Registrar of CRFFN, Sir Mike Jukwe. But the Registrar on the other hand has been playing smart. He refused to pick calls put to him. He also refused to reply text messages on the issue. Sources said that the Registrar may be in a dilemma over the bidding of the Board members who want to remain in office. But the intrigues by the board members have further infuriated association leaders who accused the Registrar of failing to do the right thing for selfish purposes. One of the leaders, apparently aggrieved about the poor handling of the situation in CRFFN, including the issue of the sharing formula on the professional fee being expected told THISDAY that the elders of the freight forwarding profession want to draw the attention of the Minister to the ills in the council.
The CRFFN Board is seen as influential for members. It is also said to be money spinning even with the crisis being suffered by the Council on funding. Observers believe that the current confusion has further slimmed the chances of resolving the disagreement on the collection of professional fees by agents. Agents associations, including ANLCA and NAGAFF are protesting the proposal by CRFFN that it collects 80 percent of the fee while other associations get 20. The President of ANLCA, Alhaji Olayiwora Shittu told THISDAY that the proposal is ridiculous since the practising fee is the idea of associations and from members to be able to take care of administrative costs and other logistics.
Why CRFFN Was Established
For decades, freight forwarders have been at loggerheads. It was one power tussle after another. It came to a point that every customs agent, which is the popular name for a freight forwarder, wanted to register his own association. The attraction to lead an association may not be unconnected with the benefits enjoyed in the ports and border stations from the Customs Service and other agencies of government. Jobs of association leaders are said to be treated expressly even in cases of some malpractices. Where an ordinary member is expected to ‘settle’ heavily to have his goods cleared, it could be an easy one for an association leader. With this, he enjoys more patronage than his other freight forwarders. This explains why some are interested in leading some associations, particularly in the past.
One major problem that discredited the agents associations is the tendency to blackmail one another in order to enjoy some favour from relevant quarters. The agents, because of rivalry, have never been united. When there are national issues, they never had one voice, as each association reacted to issues from personal point of view. It was based on this that government thought of bringing all the associations under one umbrella body. This again failed, with government deciding to establish CRFFN to regulate the various associations. But the arrangement was for CRFFN to be made up of practitioners who will be elected into the body. The administration of the Council is however different from the elected officers. CRFFN is headed by a Registrar who is the Chief Executive of the Council. He is a permanent staff unlike others who are elected into office or appointed by the Transport Minister. The Board of the CRFFN cannot remove him without the approval of the Minister, a position that makes the CEO very powerful.
Election into the Council
With the establishment of CRFFN in 2008, two major associations produced most of the Board members. The associations include ANLCA and National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF). But NAGAFF was bitter that ANLCA produced at least 90 percent of the Board members. The association had cried out over electoral malpractices in the election that produced the former Chairman, Iju Tony Nwabunike and other council members. Nwabunike, a strong member of ANLCA ended his tenure in 2010, having assumed office in 2008. He was succeeded by Hakeem Olanrewaju. NAGAFF had gone to court but later withdrew the case for peace to reign. However, it has not been happy about this situation. The tenure of the council members is four years, except that of the Chairman who spends two years and is entitled to re-contest.
Tenure Elongation Crisis
Members of the CRFFN board had on the expiration of their tenure in August 14 this year sought the approval of the Minister of Transport to give them more time to leave office. While some said the council members asked for November 2012, others said the Board members asked for a much longer date. This was said to have been granted by the Minister as against the wishes of other industry stakeholders. It was therefore good news when it was reported that the Minister finally dissolved the Board of the Council, even as the affected members are said to have conspired with some officials in the Ministry of Transport and CRFFN not to make the issue public.
Task for the Transport Minister
President of ANLCA and a former member of the CRFFN Board, Shittu told THISDAY that as far as he is concerned, the problem of the Council is the Registrar, Jukwe. He expressed dismay that while the tenure of the Board members ended in August, they were allowed up till November before the dissolution. He said that what is more disturbing is the claim by the CRFFFN that there is no money to organise election. According to him, it was the duty of the Board and the Registrar to look for ways to generate revenue to run the Council, and particularly organise elections when due. He accused Jukwe of romancing with the dissolved Board members and failing to do the right thing. Another top member of NAGAFF who did not want to be quoted also accused Jukwe of disappointing the freight forwarding profession, adding that he is the one promoting all the confusion in the industry. Shittu who confirmed the dissolution of the CRFFN board disclosed that so far, about 6,000 members of the Council have been registered without verification. He said that the registration was aimed at the forthcoming planned election since qualification to vote will be based on the registration. He recalled that this was the case in the past when people who were not members of associations were registered in favour of some candidates interested in the election.
Similarly, founder of NAGAFF, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, who also spoke to THISDAY on the issue said it was an opportunity for the Minister to ‘right the wrongs’. Aniebonam lamented that CRFFN has been messed up, adding that it was for the Minister to do a ‘clean sweeping’ for the interest of the Council.
Both Aniebonam and Shittu were bitter about the registration of three more associations which CRFFN had earlier objected registering. They opined that the idea was to ensure that these associations challenge ANLCA and NAGAFF on issues affecting the Council, particularly on the sharing formula of practising fees.
According to Aniebonam, “among these associations, NAGAFF and ANLCA and constitute 95 per cent of the freight forwarders in Nigeria covering corporate and individual members whereas the other three associations, NAFAC, AREF and NCMDCA duly registered by the Council may have 5 per cent”.
Aniebonam maintained that the only way to resolve the crisis in the industry is for the Minister to call a stakeholders’ meeting. “To have peace in the Council and avoid the mistake of the last election that was rigged, the Minister is advised to convene a stakeholders’ meeting to resolve the issue of management of the council by exclusion. This is exactly the problem in the Council”.