By Kingsley Anaroke
Developments in the freight forwarding subsector of the maritime industry following the forth coming elections into the governing council of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria(CRFFN) leaves no hope that the sector can ever develop for the better. It is all tales of confusion etched in savagery. It lends an eloquent credence to the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi’s unwavering assertion that the maritime industry is peopled by uncoordinated people who are largely unpatriotic.
The seeming unanimous position by the progressives in the sector today is that CRFFN has turned out to be a curse than a blessing! It started with statutory miscarriage of objectives and focus and then centralization of the usual internal crises in freight forwarding associations into a national problem. It lacks the bark let alone the bite of a supposed regulatory agency. Conversely, it is controlled and directed by the associations it pride itself of having accredited. Its rudderless nature gets worse with every new governing council membership and election year.
The leadership is pathetically weak and embarrassingly deficient in ideas and management. It begs for a total cleansing! It has no standards within for workers and sets no operating standards for the associations it claims to regulate! An agency whose leadership cringes in fear at a mere threat by an operator, it regulates! A leadership that makes untoward sundry promises at a threat by associations?
CRFFN is the only agency where placement of workers in skills and qualifications don’t count. Anybody could be anything in line with the whims of the leadership and body of influencers. Now, testimonials abound that their professional training content is worthless. No doubt, this remains a subject of debate but the message here is that CRFFN needs an overhaul. It is even more uncoordinated with internal cleavages and crisis than the accredited associations associated with high volcanic politicking and violence.
Unfortunately, the quality of candidates angling to fill the next governing council seats is nothing but an apology, leaving no hope for a change, soonest.
One expected CRFFN as a regulator in the sector to set a standard for the quality of freight forwarders that must make up the governing council to ensure quality representation and crisis free tenure. Rather the order of the day is politics of pocket. While the management of CRFFN prefers to have gullible and semi-illiterate council members on board to aid their conspiracy of financial mismanagement, the freight forwarding associations are encouraged to compromise capability and professionalism for deep pockets. Double tragedy! CRFFN has no standards for candidates and the registered associations lack same. Many of the candidates for the elections lack the capacity to make meaningful contributions on the board and so the circle of doom and confusion in CRFFN will continues.
Two weeks ago, the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders(NAGAFF) announced that it had set aside a NI00 million to ensure a successful capture of 10 seats at the CRFFN governing council elections. Those cleared to pick form were mainly green horns but were asked to drop N10million each. This financial sealing was later lowered to N5million.
While the song is not different in the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents(ANLCA), where election candidates have been tasked to provide N5million each, other registered associations ,which include the Association of Registered Freight Forwarders of Nigeria(AREFFN) have registered voters with N5million. The National Association of Freight Forwarders and Consolidators(NAFFAC) and the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents(NCMDLCA) have registered voters and raised money in similar sums for this election.
It does also seem that the Federal Ministry of Transportation is encouraging the unholy groupings in the name of associations as against the provisions of the CRFFN Act of 2007 which provided three categories of membership into the Council. Upon the postponement of the election screening process, the Director of Maritime Services(DMS), Mr. A.D Suleiman acting for the Minister of Transportation, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi invited the five accredited associations earlier mentioned to a stakeholders’ meeting on Wednesday 29th September,2021 at Eko Hotel, Lagos. The letter added, ”The meeting which will have the attendance of the Permanent Secretary will discuss all issues relating to the election and come up with an all inclusive decision on the matter.”
The letter did not say it invited some corporate and individual stakeholders as recognized by the Act to the meeting. These are all stakeholders in the eyes of law who also can vote and be voted for in the election but no premium is placed on them.
It is this negligence and emphasis on associations by the Ministry and CRFFN that have given the associations the temerity to always usurp the rights of independent individual members or candidates and corporate members in election matters. A good example here is the planned sharing of the elective positions into the governing council on formula 6-6-1-1-1 basis. This presupposes that the two big associations-NAGAFF and ANLCA have appropriated six seats each in the board, leaving three smaller associations-AREFFN, NAFFAC and NCMDLCA to claim one seat a piece on the board. This same scenario played out in 2018 under the guise of numerical strength but how did it boost the image and the objectives of the Council? It produced the worst governing council in the history of CRFFN.
The questions however here are: What then are the fates of independent candidates in the election? While this is not defined, can this be called election? It gives no room for the best to emerge. The associations sell the positions to the highest bidder and not capability, experience or professionalism. From the records, many of the associations’ candidates already awaiting to make the governing board are professional smugglers, drug couriers and characters that fly containers with duty evasion! It will amount to legitimizing criminalities with government seal. They have nothing to offer, so CRFFN, beware! The argument here is equally not to have paupers on the board, but men and women of character and intellect who should be able to make meaningful contributions to decisions that can reshape the industry for better.
We often recall memories of the first and second governing council membership of the Council. It had the likes of Prince Olayiwola Shittu, Hakeem Olarewaju, Iju Nwabunike, Peter Obi, among other professionals who fought to give the Council direction from no previous experiences. They disagreed on many things in ignorance because it was their first time but agreed on putting the Council, industry and the nation first. Certainly, their sacrifice was enough to put the Council on a fast mood today but what we see is rabid decay and retrogression. Today, drug peddlers and men of questionable character are taking their seats! There should be a criteria on the quality of representation on the Council. Enough of trials and errors!
While it is important to note that the confusion in the Council today arose from a faulty foundation laid by the former Registrar and his body of influencers, the new Registrar seems to be submerged in the confusion that he fuels it with his personality disposition and the usual deceitful and acrimonious management as well as the intervening unpatriotic governing council members.
As the ministry heads meet the stakeholders on Wednesday, it is expected that they insist that the election must take place in Abuja to avoid the planned violence among some associations. Some accredited associations have registered miscreants and mandated them to foment trouble if the election goes against their plan. Of course, the Council needs money and everything walking on the streets was registered as freight forwarders.
The challenges of logistics and security as observed by NAGAFF and the Congregation of Registered Freight Forwarding Professionals of Nigeria (CREFFPON) are valid but the integrity of the election and its process is more plausible if CRFFN must survive and add the expected value to the industry. The election should take place in Abuja, let the candidates show professionalism. It is not about crowd but value.