We are ready to comply with CRFFN over POF if… Shittu

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…Continued from last edition

Prince Olayiwola Shittu is the National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). In this interview, he continued his chat with the Practitioners’ Operating Fee (POF), issuance of customs license to individuals, planned closure of DTI Cafés by the Nigeria Customs Services (NCS) and many more. Excerpts;

Talking about sharing money between CRFFN and freight forwarding associations, it has been said that ANLCA’s opposition to the collection of the Practitioners’ Operating Fee (POF) was borne out of the internal wrangling within ANLCA between those that served on the Board of CRFFN and the current executives of ANLCA where it has been believed that the members of the then CRFFN Board from ANLCA were opposing your supporting the collection because you did not support the collection during the time it was first proposed by them when their tenure on the CRFFN Board was subsisting. So it is now a question of since you did not allow us to achieve this during our time, we will not allow you take the credit, threatening to impeach you as the President if you defy them. Is that true?

(Laughs) That is very untrue. You know the problem is that four associations came together under CAFFA (Concerned Accredited Freight Forwarding Associations), they were the ones that used their mouth to kill what they would have quietly waited get, I will tell you why. You know INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) in those days used to give political parties money, that was why my friend Aniebonam also established a political party but now that they don’t give money, what happened? Each political party is growing naturally, it is either you grow or you die.

You see this issue of money, that was why I told you that some people just want to be lazy, sitting down and not work. I am working, forget about my sitting down in ANLCA’s office, I have my offices, my office is here in Lagos but I can’t be at the two offices at the same time and I have people working for me. Sometime, I do all my preparatory approvals in the morning before I leave the house and the job continues.

There is no truth in what they are saying because the majority of the people in the Governing Council then were ANLCA members. I was instrumental to the appointment of Eugene Nweke of NAGAFF and Ejiofor of the Council to be among the Governing Council members because the then Minister Yusuf was my friend. Jukwe will agree with you that it was at the Federal Palace Hotels that the man asked for the file and said okay, during appointment who and who do we put their names? I was there by appointment. But when the time came, when we saw that why don’t we carry everybody along? Just like when I became President, I was telling people that look, this sky is big enough for birds to fly, they may not perch together in the place but it is enough for them to fly, everybody on its own world. People took advantage of that.

But who are the ones speaking for ANLCA to know if there is internal wrangling or not, simple reason, to truncate connection about who pays the money when ANLCA knows that only those who have license are the ones that will pay the money, then why are people calling themselves freight forwarders want to share from that money? What is their contribution to the purse? What modality? When you say Port Operating Fee and the declarant is the one to pay the money, how do the non licensed customs agents get money from them? And that was when they now said, okay, since ANLCA members will pay more, let them profile the number of licenses in ANLCA, to work out the percentage, compare it to the number of licenses in other associations, then whatever is your ratio that is what you get. They went to war and they started calling everybody names.

You remember lately, it was CAFFA but before then there has been other names. I was the one in-between ANLCA and them, I was trying to persuade my people and say don’t worry, we will work out something and some were even asking me and said okay since we are going to pay more because of the number of licenses in this association, we should have some advantage. Then they were still clamouring that it has to be equal, all associations are equal. But where is it in the CRFFN Act that they should share money to people. So, we now told CRFFN, we are ready to pay provided there is no sharing,that is the problem. They now kicked and said no because they were seeing money going away.

If people were telling you ANLCA members were fighting themselves, we are not, we only had a disagreement, if we must pay, therefore, and that POF is not in the Act, but it was going to be a way of raising money for CRFFN, it is either the CRFFN agrees to what majority is saying or we go to court. Who is afraid of impeachment? I have done four years, I was asked to come back for another four years. In the history of all the associations, till today, how many of those associations conduct elections? So, why would somebody say they want to impeach me if I go ahead with CRFFN? There is nothing they have not said, they said that I have gone to Jukwe to keep money out of the money for myself. Were you not aware when they said that I was sharing 1% CISS with Dikko? If that was so, why am I not in detention? That will tell you that people live on blackmail. So, there is no truth to it.

And now, we have even said that we are ready to contribute that money to CRFFN. There was a time when we want to do under 19 world cup, you remember that tickets we bought for flight and government came and added some money to it in order to raise money, we now said okay, if that is what the Minister wants to do, we will even forget about court case or no court case provided we have something already on Ministerial order that this money will go to CRFFN, let everybody go and do their work. CRFFN don’t give money to anybody because I cannot be paying for you to go and share money to people. What is difficult with that position?

It is now that they are turning round that they don’t even mind even if they use that our formular, let something be coming, after they had gone to the Minister and told the Minister that even practicing fee we have been collecting from our members for more than 30 years, they now said it is government money. But it is not POF, it is an existing thing that has been happening in only 3 or 4 chapters out of 17. Do you see anybody collect money in Tincan? Do you see anybody collect money in Apapa? And from the money we collect, we give them oh! AREFF is collecting money from us.

But in a letter written to the Honourable Minister on this issue, NAGAFF claimed that it was not part of the collection and that if any member was found to have collected the money, such a person should be treated as a personally by the Ministry and not as representing the association. How do you justify that with this your statement that you give them from the money you collected?

What do you expect from the leader? You want to tell me that one Chairman will stay somewhere and be collecting millions and Aniebonam will throw away his face and said he is doing it on his own? Is that the story? What we normally give to them in the name of NAGAFF not in the name of individual? What are you talking about? That was why I don’t join issues with them. There is nobody that has collected government money, the monies paid were voluntary, we have records of meetings and meetings that we have had that it is neater for us, okay, if CRFFN wants to collect this money now, they are not going to put tyres on the roads but wherever they finally said that is where we are paying the money, I will go and pay and you are telling me that it is an illegal money when I voluntarily pay, is it possible?

Are you now suggesting that if CRFFN will shove the idea of sharing money with the associations, ANLCA will willing comply with CRFFN in the payment of POF?

Nobody can share money. We have done that one long time but those one who cannot benefit are the ones spitting fire, that is why you see them talking, they are even becoming personal, that what we have is a vocation, we don’t go to school. Can you imagine? When you go on Facebook you see them, they now use this one that has radio. How can you tag me six times on a story? I felt like blocking him but I said no, let me manage the nuisance because we know those who are writing for an organization. I have not begged you one day to come and write for ANLCA because I must give you the fact. The fact I am giving you now are verifiable fact. We can have our internal disagreement within ANLCA but we get over it and nobody unlike them leaves ANLCA because if they remained in ANLCA, they would have been Presidents one time or the other even long before me by virtue of the fact that they are in Lagos Everybody wants to answer President, then President is no longer fashionable, everybody is now founder. How many founders do we have? It is not one, Frank Ukor is a founder, Agubamah is a founder.

It has been said that why government had refused to give licenses to individuals as contained in the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) was because majority of the customs licensed were owned and operated by the serving customs officers. Could you attest to that?

Is there anybody that has been turned down and was not given license? The criteria for issuance of license, these people making noise to you now, they owned license at one time or the other but they used it to do gbenge, customs seized it, suddenly customs is now this, I am not the one to talk for customs. This tenure of Dikko, I was able to get 42 licenses for our members which some of them have not had license before but they have matured in the business. Do you what that means? That is empowerment to our people, that is why we are quite different.

Musa of the NAGAFF Airport Chapter just said recently that any idiot or any armed robber can pay N2 Million and get it, then why don’t you go and get it? And you are now saying I don’t need it to do my business,  which means you have been operating illegally since interface with customs and declarations is done by license, if you don’t own a license, that is if you don’t own a company that operates a license, then what are you?

Let  me even tell you, whether you are a customs broker, whether you are a freight forwarder as an individual, you have no business going to sit down at the port because part of the requirement of being a customs licensed agent is that you must have a functional office. So, if there is no bill of lading working, you gather your staff and train them on declaration, interpretation etc. what do you to go and sit down at the port for? But you are a freight forwarder without an office, where will be your office? In the port! That is the point and there is no organization in the ports today, shipping companies, terminal operators, regulatory agencies that deal with an individual, they deal with according to the document that is presented for the job because the declarant is the company that owns the license. But they don’t want that system to change, the system of roaming about the port for twenty to twenty-five years doing agbero work, looking for someone with a bill of lading and they say bring it, they will go and mount pressure, mention some big names, say okay let me sign for your and like that get a daily income, which people like us cannot do.

How many times do you come across me inside the ports? But I do serious work at the ports both here and at Port-Harcourt because I work with companies over the years and our mode of operation is quite different, sometimes you see a company give me a five year contract, over the years we have been doing their works but these ones are looking for gullible individual importers. If somebody brings in substandard product and comes to meet me in this office and say, have this bill of lading, any amount just bring it out for me here for me, will I not be thinking of my license?  I won’t do it, I will turn them down but a freight forwarder will do it. They are the ones because they don’t have anything to lose.

Do you know why it is very strict to remain member of ANLCA? Once your license dies, you can’t participate, you can’t stand any election. So, before you see anybody as an official of the association, you know he has an existing, functioning license because the person will attach two years sample of the jobs he has done. What are we doing? That is professionalism.

Okay, let me now reply the issue of whether they give license to customs officers whether serving or retired, you need to proof it because those companies, the name of which they are useing to go and get that license, may not have the names of those officers because it is illegal for a government official to also operate a customs license. So, you need to find out first, I am not saying it may not happen, but this is business. Even people in government have offshore companies that they use to do contract here. And when a customs officer retires what jobs do you give to him? I want to ask you. He could be an importer and instead of giving his job to another agent to do and he has all the knowledge  having worked with the customs over the years, he sets up a company, gets a license and operates. It is competition, you want to tell me that a police officer who retires and now becomes a security consultant to a company, you now ask for what, why must he be there? Or he establishes a Civil Defense Certified Security. You see how we are bending our opinion.

The important thing is that business has competition, if you are doing well with your clients, they will hold on to you but if today you an agbero and they are asking you where can I see you, some of the people who registered with CRFFN have addresses at the cemetery andat churches but that does not mean we did not register. I can tell you, associations are supposed to pay money to CRFFN, only ANLCA has paid for 2 years, NAGAFF paid for one year, all the other associations have not paid anything and yet they are relating with CRFFN freely and ANLCA is paying the highest amount because they graduated it amongst us. So, if you are the one saying that ANLCA is not in the same level with you, pay the money now. So, these are some of the issues of disagreement with CRFFN that this thing is lopsided, we cannot say because we are big. I heard that NAGAFF is claiming they have more licenses than ANLCA, they should have followed ANLCA’s suggestion for them to profile licenses in each association, let them share and give according to the number of licenses. It is only when they were not able to go with that position knowing fully well that it was false information they were giving out, that was why ANLCA said okay we don’t want to share anything with anybody and we are not ready to pay money that will be shared.

If CRFFN is ready tomorrow to collect money, if they like let them call it POF, let them call it CRFFN whatever and the government says they want the money, it is a government body, you have forgotten that in those days, only ANLCA recognized CRFFN as a government body, you remember, NAGAFF even went to court but suddenly NAGAFF realizes it is a government body and becomes their spokesman.

During the time ACG Charles Edike visited your Secretariat, he notified of customs’ intention of closing down all the DTI Cafés and its place issue passwords to Licensed Customs Agents by the end of April, 2016, a move NAGAFF has criticized as anti- economy thereby suggesting that CRFFN’s registration number or TIN instead of passwords to be generated by customs should be used. How would you react to this?

There is no country in the world that you have customs and don’t have licensed customs agents, there is nowhere. We travel now, I telling you that we are travelling in May and we meet customs brokers and customs licensed agents, even in India, they still have clearing and forwarding agents, all of us are going to meet, we exchange ideas, how do these things operate. You see this PAAR we are using here, they have been using it in South Korea but WCO had to give Nigeria commendation that our own system of PAAR is even better than anyone existing. Why would they not disagree? TIN is issued by whom? The Federal Inland Revenue Service, then you now compel the customs officers to deal with individuals when they don’t want deal with individual because they have TIN number. What is the safeguard in TIN number? It is your Tax Identification Number, it has been there in this country, is it relevant?

If you are talking of CRFFN registration, the only area in the Act says that any government agency that must issue licenses and permit to carry out operations in the maritime industry should demand for an evidence of registration with CRFFN. We have, they said that we didn’t register with CRFFN, I was able to show the Honourable Minister my own license from CRFFN, my company’s license from CRFFN and the man was shocked and said that was not the information I have.

You know those people are letter writers but government cannot just sit down because you suggested TIN and they won’t ask the customs what is the advantage of TIN over the license you are issuing to companies and when Edike said that he can only deal with customs licenses, that  that is their responsibility, they started calling him names. Abroad, each company has its own password, my company has its own DTI, what we are trying to do now is to assist our members who are having operations on how to get DTI, even give them soft loan to acquire DTI then you don’t need to go to cybercafé because it that cybercafé that these people go to, they now look at RC number, like my company, the RC number is public, they now use the RC number to do the job, I may not know anything about the job.

But they know that once they done declaration, customs has collected their money, customs will now release to shipping company, it will be in the of Skelas, so, there is a syndicate in the shipping company that will let them release them without waiting for my staff who is already registered with the shipping company, then they will go and carry cargo. So, you see that most of the cargoes that they are releasing at the ports have a different name for declaration, have a different name for delivery. That is the scam in the port.

So, why should I do that scam when I know that if I declare, they now said they are entitled to be in the examination area. Why should you go and examine what you didn’t declare? So, that was why they want the cybercafé to remain. It is only here they are practicing cybercafé. My password can be on my IPAD, I wake up in the morning, I change my password, even the man that is manning my job have to call me that we have jobs for declaration and I must know what the job is, I open the password, I give him the password to do the declaration after which I close it. I am protecting my company because they don’t want us to protect our companies. Majority of our members who have lost their licenses are through jobs that they don’t know anything about, people go from behind.

So, customs has now seen it because they discovered that most of the exit of cargoes, they bribe these young officers, young officers who have not seen money before, you give them N5 million to N10 million, he steals the password from his Oga, you know some of the help their Oga to do those jobs inside customs, he gives you the password which he knows that his Oga might change in the morning, you go to the cybercafé and exit the cargo. The Oga comes in the morning, he changes the password, he doesn’t know something has gone wrong, that his boy has collected N5 Million or N10 Million, you have carried cargo. Some of them now have cybercafé, you discover out there, at every point, there is a cybercafé.

That is why customs are now considering we don’t need this commercial cybercafé and it would have worked during the time of Dikko but the beneficiaries of these cybercafé  who are also retired senior customs officers who were their bosses when they were in office, that is the area because every declaration you make, you give them N2000, they see something as income, you know they should be reluctant but eventually it will happen because all over the world, like your e-mail now, apart from hackers, can I just open my IPAD and get access to your e-mail? It is the same thing with the password. It is now left for me to keep my password to myself just like your password to your ATM card.

So, why are they always against innovations? That CRFFN number is enough for you to go and declare cargo, can you imagine what they are talking about? Is it practicable? If you go to customs and tell them that some associations, of course you cannot mention names but I can mention names because they know it is not ANLCA, are saying let them use TIN number for them to declare, then you have to change the CEMA.

So, if you write to the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Finance will just say oh, I declare now, with your TIN number, go and make your declarations with customs, I give them 3 months, customs revenue will nosedive because there will be nobody to hold.

Do you think that an amendment to the CRFFN Act is the way to go now?

No! I have never thought like that oh! Just like I have told you before, ANLCA has registered with CRFFN now. One of the reasons why people didn’t come around to renew their membership or their firms people can do, some of our members are capable of doing five or six years in arrears, these people cannot do it oh! So, if CRFFN now says they are ready, everybody go and pay your money, we are issuing a new register, we are going to register after all we were the ones that registered first, you will discover that my company’s registration number is 004, ANLCA is 001. Ask these people what is their registration number.

They only want to create crisis upon crisis but the crisis itself, the Minister himself has seen that it was not so. We were the ones that ask the Minister to set up a committee to be headed by the legal adviser, we demanded for that in their presence, Agubamah was there, Frank Ukor was there, Ejiofor was there, it was only Eugene that missed the meeting. But inside the office there, we said no, this story they are talking about Honourable Minister, we don’t want you to listen to one side of the story without us being given a chance, invite all, give people the chance and there must be a good reason why the Minister refused to give a go ahead order for this money, allow us too to sit down with a committee of your choice, let this Madam head it for us, let us now bring our own side of the story, which we have done. So, maybe that is why we are not hearing any story from Abuja.  Maybe the Ministry officials have now seen that they were being misled by the representations made by these people who are always running down there.

NBA, they pay annual dues annually, they now said for any case they handle, you are going to pay money according to that case, is it practicable? These are part of the arguments we had with CRFFN, you issue me license, you issue me permit, I renew every year, you now said that for every job I do declaration, I must get a percentage and give to you, but you see that argument came up because these people were giving wrong information and they teamed up with CRFFN and regarded ANLCA as an enemy. That was why all those reasons were coming up.

I want to ask you one final question which was the question I asked the Honourable Minister when I had an opportunity of one on one with him, if those CAFFA people are sincere in all the stories they are telling you, they send you e-mails, if they said ANLCA refused to pay money to CRFFN, what stops the other associations paying the money? I said because they are not the declarant and it is only the declarant that can be able to pay CRFFN. So, what is their noise? I was expecting that they have a brainwave amongst themselves, in order to shame ANLCA, since we are 4 to 1, let us be paying, why can’t they pay? Rather they are asking for ANLCA to be proscribed.

We are now in the second quarter of 2016, what would you want the government to do differently as it affects the Nigerian maritime sector?

Government needs money, we should cut our taste for everything foreign because if we cut our taste for everything foreign, the pressure on our reserve will reduce and Naira will start gaining and it is only when you have a strong currency, that your sovereignty, your nationality is assured, that is when people are ready to make investments.

Secondly, we should stop waste. Government agencies like NPA that are buying brand new cars every year, whenever you see them; you see them with a new car, what are all those things for? When the MD now was going to Ikorodu, he entered a bus and go to Ikorodu. In our association where I am the President, we have only one bus at the Secretariat and wherever we are going, not because we cannot line up cars, we need to reduce wastage and priority must be given to the maritime sector because apart from oil, maybe maritime is where customs are getting its own revenue and government makes money from shipping companies and terminal operators by virtue of concessioning. So, priority should be focused on what will make these operations go peaceful and then they should control touts at the ports, apart from giving us bad image, it destroys the system, the average importer does not know who to trust. So, government should really spend time on the maritime industry and all of us should key in. Countries have gone through all these things before, even America just came out of a serious recession, there is a recession in Nigeria but we will bounce back.

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