Recently, five out the nine-member Board of Trustees (BOT) of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) met in Lagos to announce the takeover of the Board leadership by Alhaji Taiwo Mustapha following the expiration of a 90-day transition period granted to Chief Henry Njoku as former BOT Chairman. The trio of Alhaji Mustapha, Prince Taiye Oyeniyi and Mr. Dayo David Azeez briefed the press on the crisis rocking the BOT and what they intend to do to resolve the crisis among other salient issues. Our correspondent was at the meeting and now reports;
What effort are you going to make to bring the other three persons into one fold with you?
There is one adage in Yoruba land that says that when you enter a room with your brother and you have a kind of frank talk with your brother, there is tendency that both of you will come out frowning your faces. That means something has actually happened, telling yourselves the truth. But whenever you enter the room and come out laughing and probably gisting, then, somehow, you have not been able to tell yourself the truth.
So, the issue is that under this dispensation now, the truth has been told to both sides and that is why the election that we held on the 13th of April, all of us came out actually frowning and not happy with ourselves but the issue is that it’s not about individual, even if you have the whole lot of idea about how to move ANLCA forward, you can never be so sure, somebody else may have a better idea.
So, what we are saying here is that we are not running a parallel government and we are not sending anybody out of the fold, Henry Njoku is part of us, Aare Shittu is part of us, Peter Obi is part of us and we are making effort on how to bring ourselves to the round table to be able to talk more in order to agree but then, we cannot force anybody to agree with us on every opinion. So, if I an opinion on how to move the association forward, on how to run the Board and somebody somewhere is having a counter opinion, then you let the person be for a while, probably after a while, reasons will come to play and we will be able to have ourselves back on the same table but for now, we are not forcing anybody.
I was meant to understand that there are nine of you that make up the Board. Now Tony Iju has been elected as the National President of ANLCA thereby leaving the eight of you and now I can see only the five of you. The other three members, were they aware of this meeting?
Of course, we have a platform and every meeting notice is always sent on our platform and everybody is aware and of course, Peter Obi replied on the same platform. So, he is in the picture, he knows and everybody was aware. Henry Njoku is aware, Aare Sani shittu is aware that we are holding this meeting today.
The said meeting of 13th of April, we were meant to understand that the meeting was called not to discuss election but to discuss the hand over and send forth of the immediate past administration which took place the following day and that when you suddenly brought the issue of election as against the agenda of that meeting, Chief Henry Njoku walked out in protest. How true was that?
That’s a wrong impression because how is the meeting being conducted? For every meeting we conduct, we have agenda for the meeting and in the agenda, you read the minutes of the last meeting, so, that happened in that meeting and on the last meeting, on the agenda for that day, we have the change of leadership as part of our agenda and let me take you back a little bit. The April 13th election was not even the first move, we have been having the issue within ourselves all the while, that there was need for us to have a change of leadership because when this Board came on board, right from the onset, from our inaugural meeting in 2014, we agreed that every two years, we are going to have a change of leadership even as at when Henry Njoku took over as the Chairman, we all agreed.
I was made to be the Coordinator for nine months and when I felt like okay, the tension within us had already gone down and we have known ourselves better, we threw it open that it was time for us to have an election and that was when Henry Njoku emerged on four votes against three to be the Chairman and it was agreed that after two years, that we are going to hold another election. He can’t deny that.
So, three years thereafter, we started raising the issue, we held a meeting in Port-Harcourt where this issue came up and we agreed that okay, let’s give it a little more time. We held another meeting here in Lagos and it was finally agreed that after the NECOM election, that we are going to have our change of leadership. After that NECOM election in Enugu, we wanted to actually sit down and hold that election but we felt that everybody was tired that night, we felt we should suspend it and we felt that it was going to be an opportunity on the inauguration of Tony Iju as the President, that having our own election a day before would have been a good opportunity for Henry Njoku as the Chairman then to come out and announce that with the change of leadership in NECOM, we have also have a change of leadership in BOT, so ,in view of that, I will be stepping aside on a particular date. And that would have given him a standing ovation then.
So, what I am saying in essence is that we can give you copies of our minutes of that last meeting before the one in Durban where it was expressly stated because the Oodua Maritime Forum wrote a letter to the Board requesting that in view of the fact that NECOM election was coming up and the two candidates available were our brothers from the east, the Igbos, they requested that the Board leadership be given to a Yoruba and in our meeting then, we agreed that it was going to be but then let us hold on. Peter obi suggested in his own words that he couldn’t trust the Yorubas, that before the NECOM election is held, any Yoruba man can still go and pick form for the President, so we should hold on. So, we said, why the rush and we decided to hold on. We actually wanted to have the election that same day but because of that suggestion, we said okay, after the NECOM election, when we are sure that Igbo President has emerged, then we can have the election.
So, that was how that election in Durba came up and we purposely left it as the last item on the agenda. So, when it came at that point, that was when Henry felt like no, he wasn’t comfortable with that election to come up that same day. What was your reason? No cogent reason. So, we all decided that being the Chairman doesn’t mean that you can overrule everybody, you are only one among equal and that was how we had to hold that election that same day in his own hotel room.
Did he participate in the election?
Of course, he was there. Remember, Henry was the Chairman in the first six years of the Board, now when this Board came on board, in our inaugural meeting that day, the present President, Tony Iju was the one who suggested that because of the interest between Chief Elochukwu and Chief Henry Njoku, that in order not to cause division within us, that we step down the issue of electing a Chairman for the Board that day and we all saw reasons with him and felt that that will help us to know ourselves better instead of rushing it. So, we left it and it was then agreed, the same Peter Obi now said by the time we will be holding that election, we should make it two years each so that whoever is be interested will still have the opportunity of becoming the Chairman. I mean the national President was the one who made the first suggestion and Peter Obi was the one who suggested two years each and we all agreed to it.
So, after the two years of Chief Henry Njoku’s second tenure, we wanted to hold the election but then we kept postponing it for one reason or the other. But as at the time the Oodua people wrote the letter, then it was clearer on us that it was time for us now to hold this election.
You made mention that as the Chairman reverts back to the Yorubas and the Vice Chairman goes to the Igbos, I also understand that there is this gentleman agreement among you that the Secretary of the Board just as in the NECOM should come from the same tribe with the Vice Chairman or Vice President as the case may be. How come the person you introduced to us here now as your new Secretary who happened to be the Board Secretary under Chief Njoku remained a Yoruba man and not Igbo as it ought to be?
The question we should ask ourselves is this, you see the truth must be told because one day, we will give this account. Whoever is giving this kind of position should be asked, was there any second nomination when the election was coming up? We threw it open, who is interested in the position of Chairmanship? There was nomination, there somebody else to second the nomination. Who is interested in the position of Vice Chairmanship? There was nomination, there was somebody to second. Who was interested in the position of the Secretary, there was nomination, there was somebody to second. Was there any other second nomination or counter nomination? Because if it was like we nominate you as Chairman, we nominate you as Vice Chairman, we nominate as Secretary, that would have been a different thing entirely and we could have asked ourselves, why is that we did not nominate an Igbo man as Secretary? It was an election and the same people who are canvassing this position now are doing that as afterthought, that wasn’t there before, we never had that.
So, when we wanted to have the election, there was nomination for the position of the Secretary and nobody came up with a counter nomination, in other words, he was elected unopposed.
Is it not appropriate that since you agreed that the Vice Chairman and the Secretary must come from the same zone, that you could have insisted that whether or not there was nomination that the provisions of the agreement was followed to the later to encourage harmonious relationship within the association and the Board in particular?
That arrangement was not there before, it was when this little misunderstanding started that this proposition was creeping in and we have said that even if that is going to be, you don’t sit on the other side and there is food here and you expect us to eat together. My hand cannot get to the food here; your hand cannot get to the food there. so, there must be shift of positions and what we have said is that whatever has happened on the 13th of April remains as far as we are concerned. If there is going to be any change at all, that must come when eight of us have agreed within ourselves. So, you can’t be on the other side and expect us to make decisions for you.
And if you are not interested in any position whether elected or appointed, nobody can force it on you. In the case of Secretary, there was nomination and nobody showed interest for it. Who are the other Igbos that are supposed to be the Secretary? Elochukwu as our former National President cannot become our Secretary, then Henry Njoku, our out gone Chairman cannot be our Secretary, the third person is Denca that has become our Vice Chairman, the next person is Peter Obi and he said he doesn’t want to serve as the Secretary. That day he was the one who we would have said that to be our Secretary and even Peter would have said I am interested and that would have been it, but he didn’t show any interest that day. How then is he canvassing around saying that he is the Secretary of the Board today? Who elected him?
ANLCA in the past 25 years, ethnicity does not come into play, what comes to play is our license, there is no coloration there and in Lagos, I want to tell you frankly, our last dispensation before now, six Igbos were Chairman of chapters in Lagos while Yorubas had only two chapter Chairmen. Did heaven fall? I don’t want to look at the issue because I believe when you start a battle you cannot win, Board affair is an internal affair of the nine members. If we are eight, we have four Igbos, we have four Yorubas, how come the two Igbo people voted for me during the election? You need to know that it was not done deliberately; it was done with the consent of everybody.
One thing we need to know is that the position of the ANLCA BOT Chairman is not in any way in our constitution, it is purely for our own administrative purposes that we decided that there is the need for us to have Board Chairman, we need to have Vice Chairman and we need to have a Secretary. So, what the constitution simply recognized is our President and all his team. So, I wonder what exactly is the issue that after ten years, somebody will still be crying over issue like this and holding unto it? What is the basis for it?
And after the election of 13th April, the President called us that he wanted to meet with the eight of us and the President was now pleading with us to give him (Njoku) four months for him to round up but some members were pushing for thirty days and we eventually agreed for ninety days to show that we are not ambitious and to show that there is nothing we are fighting for.
The ninety days that you granted Chief Njoku to exit, when was the commencement date, was it from the day you held the meeting with the National President? Because some argued that the timeline was not specified.
No, whoever told you that is not telling you the truth; he is just being economical with the truth. Eight of us were in the meeting and for five of us, the position initially was that we were not going to shift ground, that that election has come, it has come and it was supposed to take effect immediately. But when the President pleaded, of course, the remaining four people wanted to walk away but eventually, we decided to listen to him and eventually, we agreed that let the remaining five people go and let myself, Henry Njoku and the President remain so that the three of us could have a better talk.
So, it was at that point that I came up and asked the President what he was pleading for and he replied that we should give Njoku four or five months and I said no. You see the rest was not ready to concede even one additional day but let it be three months. And I said that I am going to use my position since they have given me their mandate to convince the rest to agree for three months. The talk we held is within ourselves, that wasn’t the election day, so, how come he started calculating the ninety days from the day we held the meeting?
Assuming the National President, for whatever reason decides not to recognize you as BOT Chairman, what happens?
He is a mature man; he can take decision on his own. Just as we have said, it’s not a question of fighting, we are not going to fight with him but at the same time, we know that nobody is an island when it has to do with this ANLCA and at the end of the day, just like I said, we will surely arrive at somewhere.
We wrote a letter to the President dated, this is the letter with the heading, “Assumption of Leadership of the Board”, addressed to the President and we called the Secretariat that we are coming to hold a meeting here, are we not having meeting at the Secretariat now?
As a follow up to that, the Board does not need his acceptance or approval of the leadership of the Board because it’s not constitutional. It’s when we have it in the constitution that you will now be saying have we followed the constitutional procedures before we can have access to the Secretariat. The Constitution was silent about the leadership of the Board, what the constitution recognizes is membership of the Board.
I don’t think the President would even say he wouldn’t recognize this new leadership, I don’t think so. why I said so is that for whatever reason anybody must have canvassed, each time we meet, the President has not given me the impression that probably, he doesn’t want me to be the Chairman of the BOT of ANLCA, all he kept saying is that he wants peace in ANLCA, he wants ANLCA to move forward. So, I wouldn’t want to believe that he would say, he doesn’t want to recognize this new leadership.
The second one is that, you see, as someone who strongly believes in destiny, I strongly believe that whether anybody recognizes this new leadership or not, as far as we are concerned, God has recognized this leadership and it’s going to stay.
It has been said that you, Chief Denis Okafor, Hon. Tony Iju and one other person were not members of the Board because your names have not been submitted to the Corporate Affairs Commission. Is it true?
Ask them who supervised the election that brought in Tony Iju as the President, the Board of course. We supervised the election and I was part of the Board who supervised that election, Denca was part of it, President Iju was part of it and today he is the President. So, what they are seen is that the election we supervised that produce Tony Iju is null and void.
We quite agree that the registration process is ongoing but that doesn’t nullify the fact that we were elected in Warri in 2014 into this Board, nobody can erase that. More so, when this election of the Board was conducted, when Chief Henry Njoku became the Chairman, who were the people that voted for him to become the Chairman? It was Tony Iju and Peter Obi who nominated me to be the Coordinator of the Board when Elochukwu and Njoku could not agree over who becomes the Chairman immediately after our election for which I held for nine months, which means that all the actions taken by Alhaji Mustpha at that time were nullified.
What are your plans to unify all sections of ANLCA now that you assume leadership of the Board?
For every organization, especially one as big as ANLCA, there is tendency for misunderstanding at one point or the other. We have seen worse than this in the past and we came out of it stronger and I believe this one is a question of a little more time, we will come out of it stronger.
When there is crisis like this, what is more important is for the President who happens to be the leader of the administrative running of ANLCA is open minded and being objective when there is issue on ground, that makes it easy for all of us to actually come together and resolve it. There are stronger issues to be resolved within ANLCA even stronger than the one we are talking about now but the sincerity of purpose is very paramount to resolving disputes and I believe very soon, you will see ANLCA coming out stronger than it used to be.
Is there any possibility whatsoever that if the President invites the other three members and they insist that they want another election conducted within the Board, that you will agree to another election?
We are not talking about election again, it’s done, it’s done. We are only talking about how to move forward on other issues to resolve within ourselves. So, when we call for any meeting with any other Board member, we are not talking about election again. That one is gone.
Photo: New ANLCA BOT Chairman, Alhaji Taiwo Mustapha.
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