CRFFN: Freight Forwarders on Warpath over Tenure Elongation

09 Dec 2012

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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”.

Way Forward
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”. 

Tags: Business, Nigeria, Featured, Freight Forwarders

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