Dr. Zeb Ikokide is the National President of the Nigerian Institute of Freight Forwarders. In this interview with our correspondent I Lagos, he bares his mind on the ongoing debate over a bill seeking to amend the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) Act by the Chairman, House Committee on Ports, Harbours and Waterways, Hon. Pat Asadu. He calls for the delisting of the five registered freight forwarding associations from membership of CRFFN and other matters connected thereto. Below are the excerpts;
What is your take on the CRFFN amendment bill 2017?
The amendment as proposed is the right thing now as it is for the freight forwarders especially; anybody who go against it is doing a wrong thing for the freight forwarders. So, I think that is amendment is even overdue so that we can correct all the imbalances in the CRFFN Act. That is what I think that every right thinking person should do.
But there are things I think I want to make a comment on; it is the position of the associations in this thing. I begin to wonder, what is their take? They don’t want the government to appoint a Chairman of the Governing Council, if they don’t do so, there is no way we should expect to get any fund from government in respect of that. They are thinking that if that is done, the government will not give free hand to the Council which is not correct. The Council is going to have both freight forwarders and others; the only person that is going to come from government appointment is the Chairman. If that is so, I don’t see any reason why anybody will want to go against that.
From the time CRFFN bill was enacted, I have seen a lot of developments in respect of the positions of the associations, even at the Council meeting some time ago, I did move that CRFFN itself should de-register all associations, I think I am now to clear about that view now because that time said no, they can’t do that and everybody was against my view then. But now, I am very emphatic on that view now that associations have been pulling down the CRFFN. So, it is high time they are delisted from the membership of CRFFN. The CRFFN should concentrate on individuals that are members of the Council. If you are a member and you want to practice freight forwarding, it is an individual thing, you study and become a member of the CRFFN and they give you practicing license to start to practice as a freight forwarder. So, I don’t see any work the associations are doing in respect of that.
In view of that, because they are constituting a clog in the wheel of progress of CRFFN, I am proposing that CRFFN should delist all the various associations so that CRFFN will be dealing with individuals, let the individuals come out and say, yes, this is what they want not associations using their platforms as if that can do anything for the industry. All other councils like the COREN and the rest, nobody have associations that are disturbing them, it is only in freight forwarding that we are having this kind of associations that are disturbing as if they are the knowledgeable people we have. I think that we should do away with the associations so that there will be peace in the maritime sector.
In your opinion, you are thinking that the reason why CRFFN was not moving forward as it is now is because the associations are holding it to ransome?
Yes, it is associations, without associations, it will be easier to administer the freight forwarders. I was in the second Governing Council at the peak of CRFFN and I know the problems that we went through before we got to the level we are now, at least, after our tenure, there has not been any other Council constituted, it was because of the activities of the associations that they have not been able to constitute another board and because of that, there is no movement.
If you are suggesting that associations be delisted, what do you say about the corporate membership of the CRFFN?
Corporate membership is corporate membership; there is nothing they can do. It is the regulation that the council put in place that they will follow; it is just like any corporate membership. Will you go and be disturbing CRFFN? It is not possible! So, the corporate members are not there to have a voice, no, they are there to do their business, they just registered them as a corporate members of the council so that they can do their business.
I understand that you were part of the people that went for the public hearing on the CRFFN amendment bill at the National Assembly, this position of yours, was it part of your recommendations to the National Assembly or is it an afterthought?
No! I did not go to argue this one, it was when I now listened to them on what they were trying to do, that the government should respect the independent of the CRFFN that made me come with this position. Because for them to think that by government appointing the Chairman, then the independent of the council is already compromised, which is wrong. I cannot just stand there and start making noise because I did not know that was going to be their stand because I feel that the council should go forward. The only way the council could go forward is for the government to put hand in it by making sure that they budget for them.
My institute, I mean the Institute of Freight Forwarders is already a training arm of the Council, now, if it is the training arm of the council, we need to have fund to do that and because the council does not have fund, we are being stagnated and that is very wrong and the only way this thing can happen is when government give out fund for the council and in return, the council will now give out fund to the institute to work.
You said that you weren’t aware that their position at the National Assembly was going to be their position, but I am aware that you were part of the people to meet with the freight forwarding associations at the CRFFN headquarters here in Lagos to harmonize your position before going to the public hearing and that you saw the initial drama put up by some of the invited associations as a pointer to what was going to play out at the National Assembly?
At that time, some of them came at that point, some of the points that were articulated by the Chairman as proposed amendment were read and they discussed areas they were in agreement and areas they were in disagreement, that was what was done and nothing more…
But I understand that some of the associations’ leadership staged a walk out following the absence of the Registrar, so when did this review take place as you said?
Yes! Some of them staged a walk out but it was not a problem because the second time they were supposed to meet, we were there and the Registrar came and explained why he was not able to make it to the meeting the previous day, that was good for him to come on the last day so that he would be able to know their views and to see how he can comment on the view that everybody made and because of that, they did not put forward any view that suggest that they were against the government appointing the Chairman of the Council. It was their secret bullet.
These people were of the opinion that this Act was being hijacked from them, that this Act was put together by the freight forwarders to regulate them as a private member bill just as we have ICAN, COREN and the rest of the private councils, that allowing government to come into that now is like taking that which belonged to them away from them. What is your take on this?
Well, I think that they misconstrued the well thought out issue. They are misunderstanding the government; I think that a lot of people do not know even the origin of this council. The origin of this council came from me, I am the one, if you have time, go and ask Mrs. Mfom Usoro, she was the first consultant for the institute because the institute put a bill for the National Assembly to give us a charter to control the freight forwarders but when that bill came up, the associations learnt of it and said no, the Institute of Freight Forwarders cannot regulate them and they started making problem and that was how this thing came up. When the problem was too much, a lot of meetings from the National Assembly and the freight forwarders here in Lagos, they now came to the conclusion that everybody should hold their names, that they (legislators) will come up with their own name and that was how they converted our institute’s charter status to the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding. That was how it happened and when that thing came up, we now teamed up with the associations to make sure that the thing comes up.
When the first reading came up, we were all there, even ANLCA was not happy about it, it did not want that thing to come up but at least, we were able to convince them to allow the thing to come up and now, the thing has come up and they are now holding their different views which is wrong. The freight forwarding business cannot move forward with this type of thing and that was why I am suggesting that the associations should be removed form everything so that CRFFN will now be handling the individuals, register individuals for them to practice as it is done in other climes. So, there is nothing wrong with that, let them be holding their associations’ meetings, determine how much they should collect from their members but let the CRFFN be on their own and they will be dishing out rules and regulations, if you cannot follow that rule, then you go.
Now that your suggestion of delisting the freight forwarding associations from the membership of CRFFN was not part of your submissions to the National Assembly, how do we get this done if it was not raised at the public hearing and perhaps was not touched in the amendment?
No, that is within the council to do, it was the council that recognized them, it was the council that registered them as members…
So, the Act did not clearly stipulate them as members of CRFFN?
No! The Act did not mention them, the only person the act mentioned is the Institute of Freight Forwarders as a member of the Council, that is all.
But I am aware that the Act recognized three categories of membership namely; individual, corporate and associations, but could it right for an administrative fiat to say that associations are no longer members of CRFFN?
Of course! They can delist, the CRFFN can delist anybody’s name…
Even without effecting that in the Act?
Of course because it wasn’t put in the Act that they should register associations, everybody mentioned in Act was recognized as individual and you will be member of the Governing Council of CRFFN as a registered individual. But because of their wahala, they wanted them to be close and the CRFFN the decided that they should register the associations. How many of them would they recognize? And they now recognized five of the associations and that was how they came in but that was within the power of CRFFN. If by tomorrow the CRFFN board sits and says no, we are not recognizing associations again; that it is individuals that we want to deal with, nothing will happen.
And you don’t envisage a lot of court actions if this happens?
Well, there had been court actions and what have they done about it? Is it easy for you to go to court and say that what government has done was wrong, it is not easy but this they had been doing and keeping the council down and the council cannot work.
Your account of how CRFFN came to be seemed to be at variance with that of NAGAFF which claims that CRFFN was its brainchild, would you want to highlight more n that?
Don’t mind NAGAFF, most times when they talk, we keep quiet because we just want peace. The only person will go and meet is Barrister Hassan Bello, who was at that time, the legal adviser to the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, then Chief Adebayo Sarumi was the Executive Secretary and Usoro was a consultant to the Shippers’ Council and from there, they gave her paper to handle our registration with the National Assembly. So, if you meet those people, they will tell you the story, what I am telling you now is the correct thing.
There is no way that the freight forwarders can come together and present a bill, hey didn’t present any bill to anybody.
Apart from your position on government appointing a Chairman for the Governing Council of CRFFN, there are some other issues raised in that proposed amendment bill of the CRFFN which includes the change in the nomenclature of the CRFF Registrar to Executive Secretary and that the President should now appoint the Registrar rather than the Governing Council, what is the position of the Institute on those?
I am in total agreement with the amendments as proposed by the Chairman, House Committee on Ports, Harbours and Waterways because it is only that that will enable people to follow the instructions and the rules that are coming from the CRFFN. Like the Shippers’ Council today, it has its own Executive Secretary and almost all the rules that comes out, the government will support it as its own law and it is at that level that we want CRFFN to work so that the profession of freight forwarding can work properly.
In essence, you are seeing the council as a government agency?
Yes it is, it is a government agency and that is the only way we can do this business of freight forwarding.
Now that NAGAFF has gone back to the court to resuscitate the case… (Cuts in)
There is nothing going to happen from that type f court matter. It cannot stall the amendment. You know that the law says that anything that is being done at the National Assembly, the court cannot adjudicate on it. They are making law for this country, how can the court come to say they should not make law? The court can never say so, maybe their lawyers want to make money from them, so, they can agree with whatever they tell them so that they can make some money out of the associations.
Instead of them to use those money they are taking to court now to help their members to study and be well equipped to do the freight forwarding work, they are using it to pay lawyers. You can see what is happening.
Do you think that if this amendment sails through, that it will be an answer to the myriad of problems bedeviling the CRFFN?
It will be the answer and everybody will be put in their own place and when the council meets, by the grace of God, if I am a member of the council, that will be the first thing I will see to, they should deregister all the associations.
Per adventure you are not a members, what happens?
There is no way I will not be a member, I am the National President of the Nigeria Institute of Freight Forwarders, so, there is nobody they will send from the Institute of Freight Forwarders if not me.
And your office has no tenure?
No! Because it is an educational institute, when I am old and I will go. There was a time I even ask people to look for a replacement for me and they couldn’t see, they said they could not see. You see, people will like to come and do it as if it is an association matter, no! it is not, this is an educational institute, you need to be educated to be at the top of an education organization like the Nigerian Institute of Freight Forwarders, it is not for everybody.
They themselves are now afraid that if they allow government to appoint a Chairman, they may go and bring one farmer to become the Chairman, what about that? If they bring a farmer, the farmer will not be working as if he is on the farm, he will be working along with his people.
That is where the problem is because if the Chairman is to come from another background, he may not really appreciate the profession that he finds himself in and being a Chairman appointed by the government, he may not take advice from them and would like to lord it over them.
No, he will not do that, have you seen any of the Ministers do that? The Minister will still look for you and he will still learn on the job. Most Ministers of Transport are not transporters and they appoint them. Hon. Rotimi was a Governor and he came here to become the Minister of Transportation, what is his background?
And would you say he is doing well on the job as it is?
Well, there is nothing that you can do well with the present government that you will raise up your hand and say that I am doing well. It is the circumstance and who are the people they are looking at? The citizens of the country are the people they are governing, once he has a group of people that is supporting him and they are praising him, he is doing well, then other people criticize him, they will say there is no time you will not get criticism and of course, that is how it is. Bu in every aspect, he is doing well.
That is how it is, so, if you are a farmer and they bring you to Chair the CRFFN Governing Council, he will learn. There is going to be a Registrar that is a well refined person in the trade and in the industry, so, what is your fear?
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