CRFFN Crisis: Is Customs Behind It? Aniebonam Speaks!

CRFFN Crisis: Is Customs Behind It? Aniebonam Speaks!
Dr. Boniface Aniebonam

Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, is the founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) and a major brain behind the formation of the Council for the Regulations of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN). In this chat with MMS Plus Weekly, he explains why ANLCA is opposing the practitioners’ fee, the level of customs involvement and how government has failed to live up to the expectations of the stakeholders. Excerpts:

What do you say about the raging CRFFN issue in relation to the opposition of ANLCA to the collective bargain of all the freight forwarding associations?

As far as I am concerned, ANLCA is merely flying a kite. I believe there is something they want that is not being made known to everybody.

ANLCA asking their members not to pay the practitioners’ fee amounts to self deceit because CRFFN is a government regulatory body. If ANLCA feels so bad about the collective bargain, they can resort to court action other than the way they are going about it. However, this is democracy at work, so people have the right of expression.

How was the seme border traces resolved? We learnt that there was a problem between ANLCA and NAGAFF members who tried to enforce the regulation?

Two wrongs cannot make a right. For me, I don’t know how long we shall continue to use things to resolve professional problems, rather than following the due process. One thing certain is that nobody has the monopoly of violence. However, we have not seen where violence added value to anything. It is unfortunate that it happened.

Today, all the other associations, excluding ANLCA had a joint press briefing, what was the highlight of the briefing?

Well, I am not directly involved in their briefing. I am the founder of NAGAFF so I am not directly involved in the administration. The president should be able to give you details of the briefing. I only had the opportunity to say a few things to them but I am aware that they would be issuing a joint communiqué on the development.

However, one thing worth mentioning here is that the fee in question is meant to built capacities in the freight forwarding industry. It is to train and re-training of registered members of CRFFN, who are made of individuals and corporate members. And I want to quickly add that some of these developments should not be a surprise to keen observers of the developments in the sub-sector. Recall that ANLCA from onset never wanted CRFFN to come into being. At the public hearing then at the National Assembly, they opposed the emergence of CRFFN. But by the time we had our maiden election and they got 7 Positions out of 8, which was rigged, everybody kept quiet but we knew that the silence would soon, after four years would be broken, just like the Americans would say “politics should bind us while economics should divide us”. Now, four years have come and gone and a new governing council is about to be formed and all you see is distraction. This is not healthy for the maritime industry. Again, if one begins to unveil the action by ANLCA, one begins to appreciate their short comings. The membership of ANLCA is based on customs issuance of licences. And over the years, they have been carrying themselves as if they are solely working with customs only. But the truth is that the Memorandum or Article of Association of a licensed customs clearing agent does not present you as an agent of customs, you are licensed by the customs, and by this, the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) does not recognize any association but a corporate body licensed by the customs. Here, ANLCA carry themselves as if they are an extension of customs.

There is an angle that the customs headquarters is behind ANLCA’s plot to upturn the collective decision and resolve in CRFFN?

That is a mere propaganda by some people. Customs will be the last to meddle at CRFFN issues.

What has customs got to do with the association? Well, section 40 of the Nigeria’s constitution give you the opportunity to freely associate and all that. So there is nothing that bares customs from freely having relationship with an organization, but not to the extent of getting involved in the politics. However, if they ask for technical assistance they can give, because the customs law has provided that provision.

So, what is the way forward?

There is nothing one can pin down here other than that the Federal Ministry of Transport is not being firm in this matter as agent of government. If the Ministry of Transport were alive to its responsibilities, a lot of arrest would have been made by now in connection with the fracas at Seme border.

This issue is solely the responsibility of the Ministry and CRFFN as an agent of the government to handle; not the association’.

I have continually maintained that some people may have responsibility but how to enforce it becomes a problem. I can mention one or two organizations that will tell you they lack the power to enforce their authority. An agent of the government cannot tell you that it lacks power of enforcement, especially when somebody is breaching the peace and law. It is only the government that has the power of coercion. So, the Registrar of CRFFN, Mike Jukwe has the right to enforce the powers of government as delegated by the President through the Minister of Transport. What do I mean by this? Write a formal letter to the Inspector General of the Police, and they will take the appropriate action because there is need for peace to reign.

Another angle to this that is causing problem is:Why would the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) write a letter to an association when the Minister of Transport had given a directive on how best to administer a system under his purview of governance?

I do not want to believe that the letter emanated from SGF. If you look at that letter very well, SGF cannot write to an individual or a faction of an association. What does that mean? If he wants to write a letter, he should write a letter to the Minister of Transport, then copy the Registrar of CRFFN. That letter to me, looks forged but I think some measures are being taken as to the relevance of the fee in question. The letter is being investigated. How do we begin to look at Anyim Pius Anyim who is the chairman of the Transition Committee? What time has he got now to begin to write such letter? Alternatively, somebody in his office may have been compromised into write that kind of letter, but I don’t want to begin to insinuate things.

What baffles one is that ANLCA has been part of the collective bargaining all these years and suddenly they pulled out to the media without stating their reservations.

This is where I have sympathy for the president of ANLCA, Olayiwola Shittu.

From the beginning, Shittu knew what CRFFN is all about. So some of these guys in ANLCA changing the tune of the game don’t know anything about the rule of the game in CRFFN. And on behalf of the Association he has done what he is supposed to do. I think there is an internal fight among them, and it is all about interest. What I understand is that some of the old Council members are not comfortable with developments in CRFFN. Some of them said that they were the ones that employed Jukwe and Jukwe is no longer protecting their  interests, hence they are scuttling the process. Some have equally argued that CRFFN is not properly constituted and so has no power to do anything. But what is the meaning of that? The Registrar of CRFFN is the Administrator and he is administering the Council.

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