Declarants, associations will get their share of POF on quarterly basis –CRFFN Registrar

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Barr. Sam Nwakohu is the Registrar/ Chief Executive Officer, Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN). In this interview with our correspondent at the Lagos office of the Council on Friday, he bares his minds on commitment to the earlier agreed sharing formula by the CRFFN and other issues bordering on the Practitioners Operating Fee (POF) collection. Excerpt; 

I am aware that you began enforcement of POF collection on March 1, 2021. Three weeks into the collection, what is the position now? Could you confirm that the collection is still ongoing or suspended as being requested for in some quarters?

That’s why we installed this thing (pointing at large monitoring screen on the wall showing minute by minute payment status of POF); that means that it is also digitized and transparent. You can see that since I assumed office, I have spent a lot of time on POF which is the Practitioners Operating Fee because it is something I inherited and apart from the N2.7 million which got reduced to N1.2 during the Covid-19 lockdown per month as overhead given to us by government, it comes when it comes, it is not regular. In a year with twelve months, we may get it seven or eight times, we don’t have any other means of internally generated revenue and so much effort and attention has been given to POF. When I came, I continued from where my predecessor stopped.

We had what we called a soft launch in the past and like every other new thing, there hitches here and there. It took time for us to fine tune it. As at February this year, it became obvious that we must start enforcement because we have done the launching. It was delayed because in trying to fine tune it, we got involved with the terminal operators and we had to enter into an MOU and the MOU had to go to all the terminal operators, came back to us and it had to go through my own Ministry. Eventually, we got approval and as soon as we got approval, we felt that we should commence enforcement.

On the 24th of February, we commenced enforcement. Like every other thing, it takes time to gather momentum. You can see the board for today. As at today, we had paid invoice of 224, unpaid invoice of 26, dispute created is 3. We have a total of Seven Hundred and Fifty-Seven Thousand (N757,000) collected as at today. As you can see, this is life, I am not making it up, before you leave here, you may see changes; more paid invoice and unpaid invoice may have gone up. We are on course; we are making effort to ensure that everybody is carried along nationwide. It is something that will take time, our focus at the moment is the seaport, after that, we go to the other areas; airports and land border stations. We will be taking them one by one. And our technical partners are doing very well.

What is the intent of this POF, I mean what does it set out to achieve in the long run?

It is internally generated revenue. We are regulators and part of our mandate is to ensure that we train and set standard for the freight forwarders. If you don’t have money, you cannot send your children to school. So, we strongly believed that as we generate this revenue, we will be able to discharge our functions effectively especially as it affects the freight forwarders. A whole lot needs to be done in that industry whether they admit it or not. The level of professional information that they have is very low. We can provide those things if we have the resources. The level of education most of them have is non-existent. We can support them in those areas, we have set minimum standards, we have accredited Universities and other learning centres. The whole idea is for them to go and receive that education and obtain that FIATA Diploma which would help them in what they are doing.

The African Continental Free Trade Area agreement is here to stay and if you are not well positioned, you cannot play in that market. The traditional way of carrying on this business of freight forwarding is speedily fading off. The supply chain thing, you can see people like Jumia and other people, you order goods from wherever and it is delivered to your doorstep. Can the traditional freight forwarder be part of that? The answer is no but if they are well positioned, they can participate in that. So, these are some of the things we need to use the POF money for. Don’t forget that it is called internally generated revenue. Automatically, 25 percent goes to the Consolidated Revenue Fund…

And that brings me to my next question. I know that before now, there was a sharing formula agreed upon among the CRFFN, the government and the associations and part of their worries today is that they are not even sure that that agreement still stands and even if it stands, how would they recover the percentages due to them since the money is going straight into the government’s coffer?   

There is no worry at all; I don’t see why anybody should worry about an agreement. An agreement is an agreement; we have reached an agreement, whatever is due to the declarant, at the end of the day, you will get it. I have written to all the accredited associations and say look, this thing will happen on a quarterly basis. The declarants will get their money and the associations will get their money. it is all taken care off, that is why when people were arguing, let us have Police people and some individuals to go and mount checkpoints and collect this money, I said no because it becomes difficult to Police. But if you are paying online the way it is done now, it is slow but at the end of the day, there will be no controversy and it will be transparent to everybody.

Why is it that you are enforcing the collection of the POF now that there is no governing council place especially the elected freight forwarders to protect the interest of the freight forwarders in the ongoing collection? Why wait till the expiration of the immediate governing council to start this?

Nobody waited till any time. Like I said to you, we got to a point and it became obvious that we needed to carry the terminal operators along. It is a common knowledge that the terminal operators resisted this thing from day one. We have to get the Minister of Transportation to intervene, he intervened and they changed their minds and after that, we entered into another set of discussions with terminal operators which nosedived into we entering into an MOU with them. So, it took time for the MOU process, it has to go through due process. It went through their own due process, came out, went through our own due process and we signed and sealed. If you look at the day we commenced and the day we signed that MOU, you will find out that there was no time. I was being persuaded to wait till the first of March and I said three days means a lot to me even though the money may not be coming, within those three days, there might be lessons to learn.

So, it is not a question of anybody waiting for there not to be governing council. You know people make up stories; some of the things you hear people say need God’s grace for you to actually comprehend it. There is nothing to monitor because it is documented, it is digital. Any time anybody comes and said he wants to have access to the system, he will have access to it. Secondly, the governing council was on ground pursuing this process, there is nobody internally that stopped it. Everything was moving towards collecting it but this is an ongoing thing. So, we will not because the governing council is no longer there, let us wait until another one comes before we commence.  Remember that this process was on before the governing council came in.

Some of the practitioners have said that rather than pay N1,000 per 20ft container and N2,000 per 40ft container, it is taking them as much as N5,000 to N6,000. How do you explain this sir?

I hope I understand what you are saying. There is a lot of misinformation flying around, so, you as a journalist need to be careful. It is trite that a 20 foot container is N1,000, a 40 foot container is N2,000. We have bulk cargo, we have wet cargo and all that you pay in metric tonnes. Now, there is something they call transaction fee, I want to believe that that is what you are referring to. I am aware that there is transaction fee, those have nothing to do with us. There are payment gateways which are managed by other institutions not by my technical partners, not by us. You have to pay something, it got nothing to do with me and those payments are approved by the CBN. They have the minimum and they have the maximum.

I wrote to my technical partners and complained that the transaction fee was high, I want it down and they brought it down immediately. Nobody will talk about that. They were charging N450 irrespective of the number of containers that you are paying for. I think it is about N200 now. I am still appealing to them to see what we can do to bring it to the barest minimum. I wanted it completely expunged but they said that it was not them that own the service; that they procured it.

It is not really that N450 that is troubling them, anybody can give this N450 to anybody on the road. It is those who have not registered, now they see that we have blocked all the gates. You know, when you have digitized the process and there is enforcement and all the gateways, then they find it difficult. So, for those who have registered, CRFFN has been there for ten years, you have been doing business and you have not registered, you are actually an illegal freight forwarder. So, now, the thing has hooked you, you begin to cry out that you are paying N5,000. Nobody is charging you N5,000, the official fee is N1,000 for 20 foot container and N2,000 for 40 foot container and for bulk cargo, it is N300, is that the money a business man should be crying for. They give more than all these money in bribe.

We don’t know where the extra money is coming from. People made wild allegations, the only money I know that shows on the receipt is transaction fee and that is what I have explained to you which is applicable to any online transaction you make whether you pay with you card or you do transfer, they will debit you. If you go to a business centre, if you can’t type and ask for their help, they will charge you money. It got nothing to do with CRFFN. I am also encouraging business centres, we would want to accredit some so that those who do not have the technical ability to get these things done, they will have somewhere they can receive help. If they do it through our technical support staff, it will be at zero cost to them. We have a sixteen man team nationwide, there are telephone lines that are working, if you have difficulties, we encourage you to call those lines.

Some have argued that POF is fake going by the fact that there was no place in the Act establishing CRFFN where POF was mentioned while some others have argued that POF should be paid annually as obtained in other professions as against what currently obtains. What is your take on this?

Section 62(c) gives us the power to do what we are doing. So, it is not fake. ANLCA Tincan chapter circulated a circular saying it was fake, we responded immediately and attached all the approvals that we had from the Federal Executive Council, the Minister of Transportation, the Minister of Finance, all the directives, we harnessed them and presented them to the Commissioner of Police Western Ports. We had a meeting there, I addressed the issue and they calmed down. That is why I am telling you that a whole lot of misinformation is out there. People are entitled to interpret things the way they understand it.

We are government agency, we are not an association, we are not an NGO, the court has signed on that. So, everything we do, we do it within the law. This is not the first time they have taken us to court on POF, they have been to court severally and in between, they will abandon the case and go and the court will throw it out. Next time, I will be asking for dismissal and not for it to be struck out because the whole idea is if it is dismissed, you can’t come back.

That is the way it was structured, that you pay per container N1,000. This is the way POF is structured and that it is called POF, why they gave it that name, I don’t know.

Photo: The Registrar/CEO, Council for Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), Barr. Samuel Nwakohu.

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