Prince Olayiwola Shittu,
National President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, spoke with John Iwori on the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) and the way forward. Excerpts:
National President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, is a respected voice in the maritime sector of the economy.
Besides the fact that he is versed on the key issues in a sector which is adjudged as the second largest revenue contributor into the central till after the oil and gas industry, he has the experience and the exposure.
Shittu, who is also the Managing Director and chief executive officer of Skellas Group, has been involved in many government committees.
These include the Port Reforms Monitoring Committee set up by the Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, following the directive President Goodluck Jonathan to address some of the numerous challenges hindering Nigeria from maximising the huge potentials in the maritime sector.
Since his election as the National President of ANLCA over two years ago, he has made some strides to put the association regarded as the umbrella body of clearing and forwarding agents in Nigeria in the front burner.
His quest for professionalism is not unknown.
The biometric capture of the members of the association as a way of weeding out touts in its fold is unique in many respects. No other association has done so.
The highly secured biometric identity card project also serves as an ATM card and voter's card which will be put to use in the forthcoming Western Zone Chapters' election. The election is scheduled to take place in December this year.
ANLCA/Nigeria is now a member of the International Federation of customs Brokers Associations (IFCBA), an affiliate of World Customs Organisation (WCO), thanks to the foresight of Shittu.
He is also passionate about the welfare of his association's members. There is an insurance package for the members. Shittu is also vigorous in his campaign for ANLCA members to embark on regular medical check up. No fewer than four elected executives of the association have so far received N1 million each as insurance benefits.
Nevertheless, his recent resignation from the Governing Council of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) seemed to have stirred a hornet's nest.
Not a few were taken aback. Why did he resign? Coming from a clime where it is rare for people to tender their resignation letter whenever there is anything wrong about their office or position, many stakeholders wondered why he resigned.
What will make Shittu to resign from a position many freight-forwarders fought tooth and nail to occupy many years ago? That was the question on many lips. The fight for who controls the collection of the transaction fee approved by the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Audu Umar a few weeks ago was rife.
This reporter sought to hear from the horse's mouth when he approached the imposing national secretariat of ANLCA in Lagos last Monday.
What informed the resignation of Shittu from CRFFN Governing Council? Was it part of the politics that has characterised the maritime sector of the economy over the years? Why is ANLCA now working closely with its hitherto sworn enemies?
These and many more questions were in this reporter's mind as he was ushered into his office.
Shittu, who clocked 62 years penultimate Monday, however told THISDAY that his resignation was in the interest of ANLCA. He stated that his resignation was based on principle, pointing out that it was meant to give other members of ANLCA an opportunity to be in the Governing Council of CRFFN.
According to him, he resigned because of the anomalies he discovered in the manner the council was being run by its present leadership, besides the refusal to conduct election to usher in a new crop of leadership since its tenure expiration.
The widely-travelled licensed customs agent, who has offices in Nigeria and overseas, had earlier drawn the attention of Umar to the anomalies in the council.
In a position paper dated October 10, 2012, Shittu said: “It is not an alarm to state that all is not well with the management and administration of CRFFN and this has led to dis-enchantment of freight forwarders with the Council. This culminated in the proposed town-hall meeting earlier scheduled for October 3, 2012. Sir, it is not our intention to encumber you with the problems of the CRFFN and associations registered under it, knowing fully well that you have your hands full with other State matters. "However it is our intention to place before you the basic facts and the way out in order for you to leave a great legacy for the coming generations of freight forwarders,” the letter read.
Shittu, who never leaves anyone in doubt on wherever he stands on any issue in the maritime sector, drew the attention of Umar to the need to critically look at three key areas that would help him to come up with what he described as a “sustainable and enduring decision” to curb the lingering maladministration of CRFFN.
These areas include the need for election/tenure of office, funding of the council and the practicing fee (transaction fee).
On the tenure of members of the council, Shittu drew the minister's attention to the first schedule paragraph (1) of the CRRFN Act 2007, which expressly state that “a member of the Council shall hold office for a period of 2 years beginning with the date of his appointment or election”.
He wondered the exact motive of the CRFFN in their position paper during the October 5, 2012 meeting with the Minister and other stakeholders when it stated on pages 1 to 2 paragraph (7) of its position paper inter alia: “It is noteworthy that whereas the Act was signed into law in May 2007, the election of freight forwarders to constitute the first Council took place in April 2008 while the first Council was actually inaugurated in August 2008. Because it was envisaged that there may likely be some take-off difficulties, the drafters of the Act deliberately put it that the first elected freight forwarder members of the Council will serve two terms; hence while the first Council obligatorily ended in August 2010, the second Council was however constituted on November 25,2010”.
According to Shittu, "the CRFFN Act 2007 is very clear and unambiguous on the date of appointment or election. The first schedule paragraph 1(i) of the CRFFN Act of 2007 clearly and unambiguously states that a member of the Council shall hold office for a period of two years beginning with the date of his appointment or election.
"The claim by the Governing Council members that they were inaugurated on November 25, 2010 is baseless and a clear abuse of the CRFFN Act. The Act did not envisage the date of inauguration but rather the date of election by the freight forwarders or appointment by the Minister.
"The truth of the matter is that the Governing Council members have deliberately and consciously refused to make any effort towards conducting a fresh election. They rather chose to hide under the excuse that there was no fund to conduct an election, just to extend their tenure of office, contrary to the provisions of the CRFFN Act 2007.
"This is a clear case of lack of planning and vision among the members of the Governing Council. We urge the Minister to disregard any excuse bordering on lack of funds and stick strictly with the provisions of the CRFFN Act", Shittu wrote.
He alleged that there was a tenure elongation agenda up the sleeves of the present leadership of the council as there was no evidence of preparation for any election even if the November 25, 2010 date of constituting the current Governing Council is accepted.
“If indeed they are willing to go in November, by now the process of electioneering should have commenced. The evidence is very clear because it is in the public domain that they have given onto themselves another six months extension without the mandate of the registered members congress”, he submitted.
Shittu averred that a look at the CRFFN Act 2007 did not envisage this situation. He posited that under the principle of democracy, the people are elected for a specific period, which in this case is for 2 years.
His words: “A day after that, the mandate automatically reverts to the original owner; and in this case, the freight-forwarders. The life span of the elected members is 4 years starting from the day of election.
The only logical thing to do in this instance is that the Governing Council be dissolved, and the Council management organise elections within three months as may be approved or granted by the general assembly or congress”.
He added that many have an axe to grind with him because of his principled stand on many issues.
“My brother, let me make it very clear to you and other stakeholders, my fight against tenure elongation is why they hate me in CRFFN. No more, no less”, he said.
On funding, Shittu told THISDAY that there was no iota of truth in the view in certain quarters that the council has limited sources of revenue.
He maintained that with a little ingenuity, there are many sources of what he described as “legal revenue” available to the council.
He revealed that it is on record that CRFFN has so far registered 6,000 individual members, over 1,000 companies and five associations.
Said he: “As approved in the CRFFN Gazette 2011, individual members (ordinary) annual subscription fee per annum is N8,000 while executive is N15,000 and corporate companies pay over N25,000. When computed, we have N94 million.
"The CRFFN Act of 2007 in schedule 6 provides a very wide window of opportunities especially subsection 2c which says, there shall be paid into the fund of the Council such other monies as may be payable to the Council, in the course of the discharge of its functions.
"This provides a wide latitude for our council to make money by widening the scope of its operations. Closely related to this is the need for the council to endeavour to expand its membership base by ensuring that every freight-forwarder operating at any of our ports enters its register, in order to boost its economic base.
"For now only licensed customs agents are targeted for payments. What it takes is the ingenuity and administrative sagacity of the council members to see opportunities where there is stumbling block, instead of dragging practicing fees with the associations which is their prerogatives as the agents of the principals”, Shittu lamented.
He decried a situation whereby the CRFFN is now solely deciding what goes to the associations and its members and at the same time forcing it down their throats.
“It is against all known principles of fair play and equity”, he submitted.
He maintained that those picking holes in the present rapport between the leadership of ANLCA and the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) are chasing shadows.
According to Shittu, those criticising the rapport between the two formidable associations in the maritime sector have forgotten that it was the co-operation between Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) that has brought what he called “quality representation” to Nigerian labour in recent times.
"There is nothing wrong if the two associations work together to ensure that the right thing is done in the council, nay the maritime sector of the economy.
"Do not forget that our working together with NAGAFF has ensured stability in the nation's seaports. ANLCA working relationship with NAGAFF is the main reason why there is relative peace in the nation's seaports, airports and international borders.
"Somebody should tell me if I have committed any offence in doing so. Let us face the facts. It is the delay tactics in conducting fresh election as stipulated in the CRFFN Act 2007 and not the rapport between ANLCA and NAGAFF that is creating problem in CRFFN. That is the truth. If they say it is not true, let them fix a date for election right away", he advised.