Tony Iju Nwabunike is the pioneer Chairman of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) board. In this interview with MMS Plus he bares his mind on the challenges confronting the council and addresses the controversies in the CRFFN Act amendment.
What is your view on the controversies surrounding CRFFN Act amendment, especially on the appointment of the board chairman?
The chairman of the board has to be nominated by members of the board, while members of the board will be appointed by the government through presidency via the Minister of Transport. The amendment of the CRFFN Act intends to alter the representation in the board and reduce the number of people in the board especially freight forwarders so we put up our position papers.
What is the case of ANLCA?
ANLCA has taken CRFFN to court because they want to cancel the collection of Practitioners Operating Fees (POF) over the absence of a CRFFN board and I agree with them totally on that decision. The CRFFN board should be properly constituted before we talk about collection of POF.
I am also of the opinion that the Federal Government shouldn’t appoint the Chairman of the CRFFN board. I told the government to give us (freight forwarders) more strength to move further and not to diminish us. My position is that the Federal Government should really give us a stronger position so that we can work harder. The government should mandate the Customs to insist that before anybody gets license he must have been endorsed by CRFFN.
Another issue is to reduce the number of government representatives on the CRFFN board. From the Ministry of Transport, you find the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) and the Minister of Transport also has his representative which makes the CRFFN board too large. Only the Ministry of Transport has got more than four representatives on the CRFFN board while two members would have been sufficient. Freight forwarders are not in the board of these agencies so I don’t know what they are doing on the CRFFN board when they have no business on the board. Two other higher institutions also have representatives on the board and we still have the Ministry of Education on the board. What business do the higher institutions have on the board when the regulator which is the Ministry of Education is already there? If the Nigeria Customs Service cannot agree that CRFFN certification would be a prerequisite to granting licenses, then what business do they have on the CRFFN board?
The major problem of CRFFN is that everybody wants to be on the board. Everybody wants to be heard, everyone wants to claim to be big with a position on the board of freight forwarders. Once one party says this has to be done this way, another would insist that it has to be some other way and the government doesn’t like this situation. Many of us don’t know what we have at hand and this has led to underutilization. It is just like giving a child a diamond and he begins to hit it with a stone simply because he doesn’t know what a diamond is. I strongly blame the freight forwarders who have not united to enjoy the benefits of what the Federal Government has given to them.
NAGAFF says CRFFN is not a government parastatal; if CRFFN isn’t a parastatal why are they collecting the government’s money. If you don’t want government to regulate you then you shouldn’t collect monies from the government. The fundamental problem is the wrong classification of the CRFFN Act. CRFFN Act needs to undergo a total review but the board must be set-up first. After the board is constituted, a constitution review committee should be set-up so that the problems affecting CRFFN would be addressed. The National Assembly would also play a critical role in rectifying these issues so that the members of the CRFFN board can be streamlined.
I’m speaking from the vantage position of the pioneer of CRFFN; if we delete government entirely the system would be better. Can we do this? Of course, we can. But we have to start by refusing to collect monies from the government. This will enable us have powers to collect our practicing fees. The challenge is that the POF would be collected at the ports and this might make the port a volatile area. Hence we cannot fully separate ourselves from the government and the government should also treat us this way. If freight forwarders could collect this POF in their respective secretariat that would lead to the death of CRFFN, but can freight forwarder unite to do this?
What is the way forward on these CRFFN challenges?
The way forward is simple. Let us continue to parley with the government while the government gives freight forwarders more backing on CRFFN. The number of government agencies on the CRFFN board should be streamlined. There is also a need to ratify the relationship between agencies of government and CRFFN. CRFFN Act says that before the Customs can issue license, the individual must be certified from CRFFN. It is on that basis that one should pay for a license. If freight forwarders can generate so much money for the government via Customs every year, we should be able to solicit reduced payments for licenses. If we have licenses paying 100,000, we are generating 100 million. ANLCA and NAGAFF should play significant roles because the two associations are the only ones with the quality and capacity of followership. Other associations should go and get their certification without reducing the standards.
What is the Minister of Transport, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi saying about this?
You know I went there as the pioneer Chairman of the Chairman of the CRFFN board and not on the basis of any association so, the Minister is discussing with the CRFFN registrar, Mike Jukwe, NAGAFF Founder, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam; ANLCA President, Prince Olayiwola Shittu; AREFFN President, Dr. Frank Ukor; NAFFAC President, Dr. Chukwuka Agubamah and the Acting President of NCMDLCA, Mr. Ben Ndee. The Minister should be discussing with them because they represent the various associations. If the Minister calls me, I would give him my candid opinion which is what I have told you.
Some freight forwarders are saying that the CRFFN bill at the National Assembly doesn’t have their input. What’s your opinion?
It was alleged that the Minister of Transport wants to hijack that bill and at the time he was accused the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Ports, Harbours and Waterways, Dr. Patrick Asadu said the CRFFN bill was his child. I remember asking him why he didn’t bring in freight forwarders in the structuring of the bill. However, the National Assembly invited all associations to make contributions and those who didn’t show up are to be blamed.
How true is that you are preparing to contest for ANLCA Presidency?
That is a very tricky question. Nevertheless, when I decide to contest I would inform you.