There’s no rift in CRFFN –Registrar

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Barrister Samuel Nwakohu is the Registrar/Chief Executive Officer of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN). He spoke with some journalists on the sidelines of the 24th Meeting of the Council held in Abuja in December 2019 where he reacted to so many issues bothering on the freight forwarding industry in Nigeria including the alleged rift between the Governing Council and the Management of the Council. Our correspondent was in the meeting and filed in these excerpts;

What are the high points of 2019 in freight forwarding industry?

Well, quite a number of high points. Don’t forget that I am eleven months old, I don’t want to tell you what I inherited but I inherited something. We have done quite a lot. In the area of visibility, I will say we have become more visible. We had a sensitization programme which the Minister attended, the Chairman, House Committee on Marine Transport came, Chairman, Land and Harbour came and quite a number of lawmakers were there. After that, we had other technical sections with the staff; the staff morale has gone up because they attended a number of training which they said has not happened in a long time.

Apart from that, we have done rebranding, not just rebrand the logo, we are rebranding human beings and you know that it takes time to change people’s orientation to life. We have a roadmap which we are working on, the things we want to do in 2020 couple of them we have done already. I can go on and on. In fact, a number of things have been achieved; I can say I have an office in Lagos now because when I came there, there was none. I can also say that I have an office in Abuja. You heard the Chairman say that our liaison office is in Abuja, so, I can say I have an office in Abuja, although I haven’t moved in but it is there, hopefully, first quarter of next year, we should be able to move in.

I have been operating from a hotel since I came and it is not easy a thing. We have taken possession of outpost offices, twelve of them round the country, hopefully, the rest of them, we will take by first quarter of next year, we should take possession of all that.

Administratively, we are putting things together, if you come around, you will notice the presence of a corporate institution which I can’t say was there when I came.

You have signed quite a number of Memorandum of Understanding with some universities in terms of training of freight forwarders, has the programmes started? 

Well, we have advertised in newspapers that freight forwarders should go and register with those universities, the best we can do is to do what we have done, encourage them. We don’t run educational institutions. We have accredited these universities with the FIATA accreditation, we encourage them to go and register so that they can obtain a Diploma.

I was the in Lagos, the other day I was briefed, well, the numbers are encouraging, I am yet to get a report from the others but I hear that Sokoto is also doing very well, the Shinkafi Polytechnic in terms of registration of freight forwarders. So, we will keep encouraging them, I am going to spend more money, specifically on newspapers so that freight forwarders will know that there is the need for them to attend those courses and obtain those certificate which is absolutely essential.

CIOTA has come onboard through its charter and also a transport university whose ground breaking has been done. We will want to know what role CRFFN can play though you have talked about partnership, you have talked about training. How would CRFFN key in in doing that?

That is not a problem. Like I said, we are not a training institution on our own but we are the only people FIATA recognizes. We will go there, ensure that a department for logistics, it is not just freight forwarding only, supply chain is set up and we will accredit them. We will train them and after training them, we will accredit them. That is the best we can do for such institutions.

How about the Chartered Institute of Transport Administration in Nigeria?

We will collaborate with them because they are a body on their own but still FIATA does not recognize the Chartered Institute, they don’t have its license, I don’t think so, I am not sure of that. Since they don’t, we will collaborate with them. If there is need to accredit them, we will accredit them but if we don’t need to accredit them, we will collaborate with them and make sure that they deliver.

Would you like to share with us some ground breaking issues from the meeting you just had?

It has been a very lovely meeting just like every other Council meeting, you saw us go from agenda to agenda until there was an executive session which I have to excuse them but when I came back, they read out the resolutions. You heard the resolutions? So, I think it is a beautiful meeting to the end the year with.

Talking about the World Bank’s significant ranking of the Ease of Doing Business, moving Nigeria up, how did the freight forwarders fared in the area of the ease of doing business?

Well, we are working on that, that is part of the reasons we are doing all what we are doing to make sure that we key into the ease of doing business very well. You can see that at the port, there is control. We are saying it is no longer the business of all comers, people have to be licensed, people have to be regulated, you don’t have to go to the port unless you have business at the port and you are an authorized person to do business there.

Could you confirm that there is no crisis between the members of the Governing Council and the Management of the Council headed by you?

I can confirm to you that I have a wonderful relationship with the Chairman, I have a wonderful relationship with the Vice Chairman and I have a wonderful relationship with most of the Governing Council members. You know, we are large, thirty-two, I don’t problem with any of them and they don’t have any problem with us. Day to day, even two brothers at home, you may have difference in view but you sought it out, isn’t it? That doesn’t mean that there is permanent quarrel, does it? It doesn’t! I can confirm that there is no issue.

There is this alarm from NAGAFF, few days ago that the Council has been threatening to delist the association from the list of accredited freight forwarding associations by CRFFN because of its insistence to pursue their case up to Appeal Court on the status of CRFFN. Could you throw more light on that? Is there any such threat as it is?

Well, I am not aware of any alarm, all I know is that we received a letter from NAGAFF and we responded that there set out procedures for everything. I will give you a good example. In those days, before you take NEPA to court, there are certain things the law said you must do, if you don’t do it and you go to court, they will throw your case out. So, all we are saying in all this, if you feel dissatisfied or aggrieved with anything, let us utilize the internal dispute resolution mechanisms as set out by the law first before you go outside. Is there anything wrong with that?

But this matter has been dispensed at the Federal High Court, why is it that the advice to withdraw the matter and come for internal dispute resolution mechanism coming now when it should have come before the matter was taken to the Federal High Court?

Let me ask you, when was the matter filed? You see, you are mixing two things up. I read a letter, we are not talking of everybody, we have court of first instance, we have the appellate court and we have the Supreme Court. Nobody can stop you from exercising your right in those courts. There are two different things here, the issue of Appeal and the issue of you going to ask the National Assembly not to treat the matter we have presented before them. You need to draw a distinction here.

I understand that it was the issue at the Appellate Court that forced them to write that letter as some of the clauses for review before the National Assembly are the issues in contention at the court.

Now, like I said to you, the internal mechanisms are there, if you are pursuing a matter in court, without first using the internal mechanisms, the question is, are you not in default of the extant laws which have brought into being? Most of those people, we accredited them. There five of them but I am not saying that they don’t have a right to go to court but they should follow the procedure.

Sir, but the question is why now?

Well, I came now, I came 17th January, 2019, I assumed office 10th February, 2019.

Sir, sometimes ago, you mentioned that you will be pioneering CRFFN to explore opportunities for freight forwarders in the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement. We will like to know if it has commenced.

Yes, there is, it is just that the year is coming to a close. There is a seminar that is on the drawing board, I have even sent it to my Governing Council for them to look at and make input. I doubt that we will be able to do that this year but I have hope we can by first quarter of next (this) year, you will hear about it and you will come for it. The topic is something like “The Role of Freight Forwarding in AfCFTA”.

It is end of the year and we know there are challenges. We would like you to share some of them with us, how better you have managed the affairs of CRFFN?

Well, just like in every other thing, we all have our challenges. For me, this is my first time in the industry. Obviously, I would have had difficulties in one or two things, we are all human beings but I think it is a learning curve, we all learn every day. The same thing administratively, you have to learn how the system works. Yes, some of them are bound to be challenging but it is nothing that does not have a solution.

Someone told me some time ago that because of the way CRFFN became a government agency, it has been having issue with funding. How true is that?

There is no government department that does not have issue with funding, funding can never be enough even in our homes. Some would say you are not giving him enough money. You make use of the resources available to you. Our overhead is very small, it thirty-three point four million naira or so in a year, so, divide it in a year; it gives you two point seven million naira. All the other projects are capital projects locked in capital projects.

Photo: CRFFN Registrar, Barr. Samuel Nwakohu.

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