Chief Peter Obi is a member of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) Board of Trustees (BOT). In this interview with newsmen in Lagos recently, he explains how the crisis rocking the Board started and the position of Chief Henry Njoku on the whole matter, the court action by some members of the association on the matter and many more. Our correspondent was part of team that interviewed Obi and here is his report. Enjoy it!
ANLCA Board Chairmanship is the problem now and we also understand that there was a gentleman agreement within ANLCA as an association that when you have Igbo man as the President, automatically, the Chairmanship of the Board falls on a Yoruba man, the same with Vice Chairman and Secretary which are ceded to the Igbos and vice versa. Now, what is really the issue with ANLCA Board Chairmanship as it is?
Let me answer you but you know, it is not everything that I will talk about because some interest groups have gone to court to avoid contempt of the court. You know that if one discusses any issue before the court, it amounts to subjudice. So, there are areas I will answer and there are areas I will not answer.
Like you rightly said, yes, we have an arrangement going on in ANLCA from the onset. If you check this thing in the presidency now, the Vice President is Farinto, a Yoruba man; the Secretary is a Yoruba Man. That is how it has been all the while, when a President comes from a divide, the next divided will produce Vice President and the Secretary. Now, ask Taiwo why he is claiming to be Chairman of the Board and Taiye Secretary of the Board…
Yes, I asked the question and they told us that Taiye was the Secretary because no other person including you as an Igbo man indicated interest to run for the Secretary on the day of the election…
(Laughs) You check whether somebody is telling you the truth or not. What do they mean by indicating interest? We have never discussed anything about election before somebody will say election. Election supposed to have been conducted by the outgoing Chairman, that is how things are done. We came to discuss issues about the inauguration the following day, somebody would rise up from the background and say election because they have ganged up, they met somewhere before coming to that meeting.
In the normal sense, we are human beings, there are ways to go about things. Henry Njoku is the authentic Chairman of the Board, his Vice is Sani Shittu, the Secretary is Taiye Oyeniyi, I think you see the arrangement. So, now, somebody is somewhere telling you that nobody indicated Interest and so one divide will take everything and in that Board, one divide produced five Board members and the other produced four. Out of that five, nobody indicated interest?
Let me tell you, Tony Iju was one of us and he had gone to contest and won an election, there is need for us to have a mini NEC meeting to replace Tony Iju before such election will happen but when you are telling somebody something, because there is an embedded interest, they blinded themselves, they don’t want to see reason in what you are telling them. At a time that night, I told them, tell me what you stand to lose if we don’t do this election today, let us face what we have come for, it’s an emergency meeting which was purposely summoned for activities of tomorrow.
But they maintained that election was part of the agenda for the meeting?
No, it’s not; it has never happened in the history of the association that whenever you finish NECOM election, you will do this, no! Systematically, these people will take over, the NECOM will be given time to settle down, somebody will be guiding them, then ours will now come. What they are saying you cannot have one divide as the NECOM President and the same thing at the Board, the other divided will take over the Board but it has to go through the normal process.
We understand that when Mustapha was the Coordinator and eventually, you had the election that produced Njoku as the Chairman for the second term, that you agreed within yourselves to rotate the Chairmanship position within you every two years and that after the two years of Njoku, that you have been trying to have an election as agreed but was stalled each time for one reason or the other till after three years. Don’t you think that there is need for Njoku to cede the Chairmanship position having exceeded the two years mandate given to him by the Board?
What you are saying is correct but let me ask you, has Njoku disallowed conducting election or moving out? That is where this question will come up. Njoku is ready to move out at any time but let the due process be followed…
So, what you are against is the process…?
The process, it was hijacked, nobody can take it. Njoku is one hundred percent gentleman but you can’t eject him out of office and don’t forget that, because if it is me, I won’t take it. Njoku is ever ready to leave but he has to conduct an election that will produce who will succeed him, though it might be from the other side. I want to tell you one thing, when we gave this Coordinator position to Taiwo, remember that it was Shittu that was the President then, we were not bothered, we didn’t care, for you to see how free we are, nobody complained.
Why must it be that night that we are planning inauguration that will take place next morning that the issue of election came up? That was my annoyance, knowing fully well that for nine months, we appointed a Yoruba man to serve as a Coordinator, working with Shittu who was the President, we didn’t bother. We felt embarrassed.
The agreement and the election that was conducted must have come up as a result of a majority vote, five members against three…?
(Cuts in) Is it normal that we are five here now, we come for a meeting for a purpose, we want to have inauguration of the new executives and the send forth of our outgoing executives, then that man sitting down there will stand up and say, election, let us change the Board?
Will it be right to say that we have two BOT Chairman in ANLCA today?
No! We have Henry Njoku as the Chairman of the Board of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents. We have a court proceeding here, some interest groups have gone to court, and when one’s matter is in the court, you maintain status quo pending the outcome of the court proceeding.
But is there any court injunction to that effect?
There is no injunction yet but somebody has gone to court. Look at Ojukwu and Lagos State in the 80s, if you continue, everything you are doing will be null and void, so, we maintain status quo pending the determination of the court, that is why it is always very good that whenever things are coming up, for people to nip it in the bud before it escalates.
Wouldn’t this affect the progress of the ANLCA?
Not at all, it is only understanding, ANLCA has no problem.
But why all this fight about who becomes the Chairman of the Board since the constitution of ANLCA did not recognize such a position?
See, let me tell you, it is not provided for in the constitution but when three or four are gathered, there must be a leader. Let me make plain for you, Henry Njoku is ready to conduct election tomorrow and leave, he is a complete gentleman. These people were insisting that there was no going to be another election outside the one they conducted on April 13th, let me go a little further, when all this things were being internally handled and the thing was getting out of hand, then the President of the association now called for a meeting in May 12, he now asked for ninety days for him to look into the issue and settle the whole thing which all of us agreed to give him ninety days. My brother and sister, from May to July, is it ninety days?
For somebody to be so over ambitious to get into what he doesn’t know about, he has not served in any…
According to them, they counted from the 13th of April.
Does it make sense? They should have told the President that it was sixty days that they were giving him. If you want to give President sixty days, you give him sixty days, they would have told him, no, we are not giving you ninety days, we are giving you sixty days and if the President wants to regard the election, he would have said, okay, give me sixty days.
What is the way forward out of this crisis?
The way forward is that Henry Njoku remains the Chairman pending the determination of the Court. That is it.
In essence, we have to wait until court delivers judgment on the matter before a new election is conducted for the Board?
That is it. If they want, I am not the persons that went to court, if they want, let them go and meet the people that went to court, then whatever they agree, so, long as the matter is out of court, we can discuss it.
Photo: The Chairman of ANLCA BOT, Chief Sir Henry Njoku.
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