Chief Sir Ernest Elochukwu is the former National President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). In this interview with our correspondent, he speaks on Dr. Aniebonam’s comment on the recently concluded Direct Trade Input (DTI) operation training by the leadership of ANLCA, the Minister of Transportation’s intervention in the CRFFN crisis among other salient issues. Excerpt;
When you were talking earlier, you seemed not to be comfortable with Dr. Boniface Aniebonam’s position on the ANLCA’s DTI training for members recently held at its National Secretariat at Lagos. What are your reservations about his comments?
My concern is that in the freight forwarding industry as it is, people should not be making unnecessary distracting statements. For instance, the issue of training people on the operation of DTI, it is all for increasing capacity and so, for someone to come out and start saying whether it was approved by customs or not, for me, it is an unnecessary distraction because what is actually the issue? The issue is about getting people to be knowledgeable about what they are doing.
And besides, Chief Aniebonam has been very insistent or persistent in saying that there is a dichotomy or demarcation between freight forwarders and customs licensed agents and has actually try to speak to anyone that cares to listen that he is not a customs agent or a customs broker and so, if the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents which is the association of customs brokers or whatever you called them, if they are at the training of their members in the operation of the DTI, how does it become his concern whether it was approved by customs or whether customs visited?
You see, that was the area I found a little bit distracting, if news in the system is for people to make any type of noise whether necessary or unnecessary or inarticulate, to me it is distracting and I think that he should be talking about how things would work well in the industry. And this brings me to the issue of the proliferation of associations in the freight forwarding sub-sector of the maritime industry.
It is clear to anybody who knows the history that all the associations that are existing in this sector are splinters from ANLCA for the simple reason that the leadership of almost all of them has held one position or the other in ANLCA and for me I think that this is a question of deliberate pursuit of self-glory and until we call it what it is and address it, many things that are being tried in the industry will not work and I have always said, this is something I picked from somewhere, it says, when legality is no longer the issue, morality is a burden that must be discharged.
In other words, anybody or group has a right to go and register an association perhaps it is enshrine in our constitution but then, If that right can now be used or exercised without responsibility, that is where the problem comes because if everybody when they finished having a position, then you go and register his own association and then tomorrow will start jostling in the system, trying to make associations relevant, of course, there are those that are discerning that will say no.
So, for me, I understand what it is after all he have to show the difference from whatever ANLCA represents and that is the only way to justify forming a splinter association and the same thing goes for all the other associations and for me, I think this is not actually good for the industry because it is actually distracting.
Talking about most of these leaders of the associations splinting for ANLCA, has there been any time the leadership of ANLCA sat down to analyze the trend to discover where they got it wrong that led to people leaving their enclave to form as association with a view to arresting the trend?
Well, I can say yes because I have been there myself as a President of ANLCA and one of the first things I pursued was to see how we can come together under one umbrella and I can tell you that it was people like Aniebonam that frustrated that move and it became clear that it is because of wanting to have an empire of their own because probably that gives the person what he believes to be a greater visibility. For instance, it is only in the maritime industry or so to say in the freight forwarding sub-sector that you could hear something like “founder” of an association as a title.
Associations are founded by a group who is in the same profession and the issue is about coming together to protect their common interest. But now you hear and I believe that that is the way you in the press address Chief Aniebonam “founder”, in other words, it is also akin to the owner and associations cannot be owned by an individual because it calls to question the morality of existence. If an individual owns an association as it is, it means it is no longer an association.
So, as for your question, yes! Efforts have been made but because of people seeking personal glory, that effort to unify was truncated. Now they started going about it through the back door by way of forming things like CAFFA, there was one that was called JAFFAC or something like that. You see, these were all efforts at doing things the wrong way pretending you are doing it because so long as we have distinct individual associations that are being manned under a different body, of course, there is going to be rivalry and this is what we are experiencing. In other words, whenever there are issues of common interest to the freight forwarders for instance, you hear one associations especially when ANLCA says the position is right, you see NAGAFF saying that their position is left and AREFFN will say their position is centre because we are in a place where we have to contend with some forces, those forces we are contending with now look at it from the point that oh this is their opportunity, we are not together and therefore they have to do it the way they want to do it.
I discovered that there was an attempt by the Minister to re-unite all the freight forwarding associations and solve whatever the problem might be but that attempt was not to be because after the fact finding committee set up by the Minister to unravel some truth visited Lagos, nothing was heard again. What could you say truncated that move by the Minister of Transportation?
The issue was not about bringing the freight forwarding associations together because if it was…
I mean to bring them under their regulatory agency, the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN).
You see, the POF is a different topic altogether but then what the Minister was meant to call the practitioners together was about the POF (Practitioners’ Operating Fee) not really about coming together as one. Then it brings to the question what the POF is and of course, the role of CRFFN in the whole saga. Now, CRFFN was supposed to be private sector initiative to regulate the practice of freight forwarding alongside what is obtained in the whole world because sometime we even get confused about certain usages. Many people have tried to tell the Nigerian public including civil servants in the Ministry of Transport that there is something different called freight forwarding which is different from cargo clearing but I can tell you that this is a matter of semantics.
There nobody that is doing any other thing that is distinctly freight forwarding in Nigeria today besides clearing of cargo. Freight forwarding came up as a result of international name and it came out as a result of the fact that what is being done in certain countries is different from what is done in others. In the developed manufacturing countries, they are merely exporting, they are not importing. And as you may have heard, the term “clearing and forwarding” is not a repetition neither is it a tautology, clearing is about inward bound cargo, that is goods being imported in a country. Forwarding is about outward bound cargo and then in the developed manufacturing countries, why it is freight forwarding is because there many things that are involved in their effort. They have developed their economy in such a way that it is a business; it employs a whole lot of people including collecting of manufacturing goods from factories, packaging them, taking them to the ports, exporting them and all that. So, it is a business of its own.
But in our own situation, it is merely one thing, clearing of imported cargoes and so, that is why it has always been like oh! Clearing is a different thing and so, when people come up to say oh, I am a freight forwarder, we are not clearing agents, the question becomes what is it that they do? Because not just name, what is it that they do? If eventually all that calls themselves freight forwarders are also involved in clearing of goods from the ports, then what is the purpose of that distinction of we are freight forwarders, we are not clearing agents?
But if I may cut in here, I recall that most of the time your people in ANLCA seem to disregard that they are freight forwarders because it happened few days ago when I attended ANLCA’s inauguration of the new Tincan island chapter executive and you need to see how the outgone Chairman was emphatic of the fact that they are not freight forwarders, that they are clearing agents. I want you to clear this, is it not your members that are misunderstanding this term freight forwarding?
No! You are getting it wrong. What happened is when you find a name that is supposed to be used with dignity being abused including family name; different people would want to dissociate themselves from that. If somebody come up to say I am a freight forwarder and that as far as I am concerned, I am not a clearing agent, in an ideal situation, a situation where you talk about freight forwarders as encompassing all the activities in the ports, yes, one can say oh I am a licensed customs agent as freight forwarder. But then when you want to give ambiguous description of a name, for instance, you have not really identified who a freight forwarder is, when you now say that a freight forwarder includes the transporter, includes the food sellers at the ports, includes the vulcanizers and all that, would you want me to say I am a freight forwarder?
So, the issue is not licensed Customs agents, it is those that have been bastardizing and abusing the name of freight forwarding, trying to create a dichotomy that they are freight forwarders, they are not customs brokers or customs licensed agents.
If I should take you back to the question I asked you earlier, you seemed not to have answered the question. What really brought the effort of the Minister at re-uniting the freight forwarding associations under one regulatory agency, the CRFFN? Should we say that some people were too powerful to have influenced the Minister out of that move or what?
No! This is all part of insinuations that are going on in this sector. You see, sometimes, people who have the opportunity will move first to mislead the authorities. For instance, the Minister was given a different wrong picture, the Honourable Minister was told that ANLCA members do not belong to CRFFN, that ANLCA members do not support the operation of CRFFN and as someone who just came in, he felt why that? That was why he called all the stakeholders.
And when he invited everybody, the fact was made bare. I believe the Minister knew better and then asked that those who know better should give him further information of what is the real situation of things because first, he got the information that was false alleging that ANLCA is working against CRFFN. What the issue was, was that some people had actually earmarked the POF as their own means of settlement. In Nigeria, we have been hearing about scams, we have heard about Dasukigate, Diezanigate, so to some people POFgate is their own and they believed that they have the capacity to force it down everybody’s throat and then we said no, that first and foremost, we know the reason for the formation of CRFFN, we also know what the Act that created the CRFFN said and that we shouldn’t go outside that Act in doing anything.
It was then that the Minister too saw what we saw and then hat was why it will appear that those who were trying to use or cajole the Minister into giving a fiat, into forcing everybody to say oh, but for your information, CRFFN was not conceived to be a parastatal under the Ministry of Transport, it was not like what is being put forward today, where the Registrar is now addressing himself as the Chief Executive. For your information, we, that is the Council employed the Registrar. Now in all the other parastatals, they get appointed by the government but we interviewed and employed the Registrar to be the Registrar for the purpose of determining how that Council will operate because the purpose of the establishment of CRFFN is to regulate the practice of freight forwarding in Nigeria.
If I should take you on thins appointment of the Registrar, are you now saying that because your Council was the first on the saddle and that employed the Registrar, he no longer have to exercise his powers as given him by the Act and as obtained in other parastatls and institutions where their Governing Councils approve appointment of heads or Registrars of the parastatals or institutions as the case may be?
No! If it is purely government agency, there is a way that government employees are engaged. That is the much I know but then, the idea was that the Council should employ the Registrar, the Registrar has a definite duty as specified and stipulated in the Act and it does not include being the Chief Executive.
According to the CRFFN Act 2007, in the absence of the Governing Council, who is responsible for the day to day running of the Council as it is?
In that case the management under the headship of the Registrar but that doesn’t mean that they should run the CRFFN because people are just mistaken the word Council, the Council does not mean the CRFFN, council mean the Governing Council, they cannot run the CRFFN outside the Governing Council. They have to run it under the direction of the governing council, that is what the Act says.
So to who do blame the absence of the governing council on? On the government or the on the freight forwarders themselves?
I think it is the government, the Ministry of Transport because it is the supervising Ministry and because there is nothing that envisages any situation whereby the governing council will not be on ground. And so, the failure to constitute the governing council bearing in mind that the governing council is made up of the elected freight forwarders which is not up to 50% of the entire membership of the council, that the majority of the council members are appointed by the Minister, so having that election that will bring in the elected members of the freight forwarding into the system ought not to have been any problem at all.
But somewhere along the line, there are some people who took positional interest and make sure that first and foremost, the CRFFN would not operate the way it was envisaged by the Act. They put up a whole lot of issues to confuse the system and at the end of the day truncated the idea of having a council since 2012. Now, they are the same people who are now hoping that the CRFFN can go on even without a governing Council and that everything is okay.
Would have supported the idea where the Minister will appoint those he is empowered to appoint into the governing council by the Act, inaugurate them to carry on without the elected members of the freight forwarding associations pending when they resolve their differences?
That would have been against the Act because the Act in a composition in section 2 said that the council shall comprise of a Chairman elected from the council, in other words, it is only the Chairman elected from freight forwarders that should actually be the Chairman of the Council. So, if that vital component is not there then it is also as good as nothing is being done.
But I am trying to say that it is not difficult for this election to have been held even if they did not apply the Nigerian situation of not ever wanting to do anything right and if I should also say, from the word go, the same rabble rousers started a campaign of calumny against the council, from the moment they lost the election into the Council, they started that campaign because someone said once that all over the world, you hear terms like without exception to the rule but in Nigeria, exception is the rule, anybody can get up, start any propaganda and then rather than being ignored, the attention is focused on him.
There were a lot of things that were done wrong because they were done in clear violation of what the Act said and some people are so good at blackmail in such a way that some people who don’t know themselves are really always of what they would say. For instance, the stipulations about qualifying to be registered is clear but then some people who didn’t qualify started blackmailing people and they got registered and once they got registered, that was the problem.
…To be continued.
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