CRFFN Should Prepare For Digital Elections In 2024 –Ogunojemite

CRFFN Should Prepare For Digital Elections In 2024 –Ogunojemite
President, Africa Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria (APFFLON), Mr. Frank Ogunojemite

In this interview with MMS Plus newspaper, Frank Ogunojemite speaks on the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) after the Governing Board elections, shares insights on better electoral systems and counsels the Transport Minister on several shortcomings at CRFFN.

Ogunojemite also harps on the causes and effects of the recent freight forwarders strike on Customs VIN valuation and other pertinent maritime issues.

Excerpts:


 

What’s your assessment of the recently concluded CRFFN Governing Council elections?

 We are happy that the election has been concluded but we are still waiting for the inauguration date. I want to use this opportunity to draw the attention of the Minister of Transportation that now the elections have been concluded, it is time for the management of CRFFN to be sanitized and be assessed. They should change the way of doing things at CRFFN because it won’t help the Governing Council if it continues to be business as usual at CRFFN. There is a need to look into the activities at the Council holistically especially at the managerial level.

Are you satisfied with the way the election was organized?

Well, before you expect a change, there must be willingness to be a change. The first thing is that the individual candidates were given an opportunity in the election and this is a stepping stone. Although there have been different issues raised, one thing sacrosanct is that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a step.
We are reluctantly satisfied because based on my investigation on SW Global, I noticed there were some issues with the registration of the members. It took weeks to register some members, especially in our association and I realized this must have affected other associations too. First, that made the franchise of those eligible to vote to be belated. It also reduced the revenue for the Council itself. This is because if the portal was opened, probably a lot of people would have updated their subscriptions at that time.
The register of voters ought to have been pasted earlier. There were issues about that but all the same we have started with this process and we don’t expect perfection.
Nevertheless, we want the Minister and the Council to improve in the next election.
Two years isn’t far away and that’s why we want the Minister to fill the gap which the absence of the Governing Council created in the performance of the CRFFN. I don’t think there is anything wrong if we start thinking of automated elections at CRFFN. If there’s an automated election, you can be in your office and cast your vote. The voters’ register will be there and with your RFF number, it cannot be cloned. It will be easier for people to participate and reduce costs. The money bags around will not hijack it because the people will have options.

Not everyone was able to be present on election day. People were even scared of the security of the environment. These are issues the Minister and the Council’s management should take into cognizance in the next election.

 

You championed the fight for independent candidacy at the last election as against the 6-6-1-1-1 agreed by other associations.

However, the result of the election showed that NAGAFF and ANLCA divided the slot. Do you think you achieved your aim?

Well, we have to commend the Transportation Minister for keeping his word not to be intimated in any way. To be honest, even if NAGAFF or ANLCA took the whole slots, I would still be happy with the fact that individual candidates were given the privilege to participate. We need to understand that corporate entities and associations are not human beings. If you go by associations, it is still human beings that constitute the association. Why don’t you go straight to see the faces of the individuals that will come onboard rather than some people in the industry dictating? Of course, NAGAFF and ANLCA have taken the slots but you never made mention of some other associations who are supposed to have been allocated some slots and were not able to make it. Anyways, this is due to the actions and strength of the associations. I’m optimistic that the next election will be quite different from this.

 

There are insinuations that the Minister of Transport already has his preferred candidate to become the Chairman of the Governing Board. What do you make of this?
The election always takes place before they choose the Chairman. I don’t see this Ministerial appointment happening. We should wait for that kind of thing to happen and if it happens, there’s a way for people to raise concerns about such issues. If stakeholders raise concerns, at the end of the day, the Minister will have a rethink and realize that he has taken a wrong decision by dictating or selecting the person to lead the Governing Council.

Let’s not forget what happened in the last election when someone voted himself in but this time around it was a different ball game altogether. Today, everyone has to build his or her profile and prepare for elections. Consequently, you’ll also have to lobby and convince board members to vote you as Chairman. We would continue to strive to get it right and always seek to do better.

 

What is the latest with regards APFFLON’s bid to get accreditation from CRFFN?

You have used the appropriate word. People always say registered association and I wonder how an association can operate without being registered. This is because the Nigerian Constitution provides registration with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) which I think supersedes every other registration. Talking of accreditation, APFFLON has sent in application letters to CRFFN for over four years and there hasn’t been any response so far. However, this is of no importance to the performance and advocacy of APFFLON, especially on ease of doing business and transparency at the ports. If we have a commission or external body to come and assess associations’ performance, I think they would be able to give APFFLON a commendable review.

This association is not limited to Nigeria. It is the African Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria and it extends to South Africa, Kenya, and Ghana. Accreditation by a body in Nigeria cannot be an impediment to the performance of APFFLON and we are still going to ask CRFFN why APFFLON has not been accredited. This is because, in the Act, there are criteria for an association to be accredited.
There is no section of CRFFN Act that has limited the number of associations that can be registered. This is an area that causes cartels in the industry. Also, the fact that some associations have been accredited does not mean they are still fit to be on the Council. Prior to elections, a lot of associations had not paid their dues up to date and what the law says in the Act is that if you have not done that within six months you should be deregistered.
Can the management of CRFFN say boldly that they have done deregistering at any point in time? It is just a hypocritical affair where associations go and update their subscription when election is around the corner. I also cannot blame these associations who did not update themselves because the Council itself fails in its responsibilities.

Look at the issue of FIATA, the Council has been parading itself as a FIATA member when it’s not yet even part of FIATA. It has been a shame among the committee of maritime nations. CRFFN was delisted because it didn’t pay annual dues. That is why I said the CRFFN management itself has to be sanitized before one can expect a positive and credible performance from the Governing Council members. Charity begins at home. Leadership is by example. Let them showcase discipline and transparency. Then we will be able to know which area to address.

 

Freight forwarders have been agitating and calling for the automation of the maritime industry. But in the last three months, it looks as if the freight forwarders are not ready for automation as they kick against VIN, VREG, and e-valuation. Are Nigerian freight forwarders not ready for automation?

I will say that is a misconception. Freight forwarders are not kicking against VIN. But if you need to look at the VIN platform or e-invoicing from a legal perspective, it is illegal.

This is because that was not included in the CEMA 2003. Section 20 of CEMA states that valuation should be based on internet price and transaction value. Besides that, what we need to do is to make things easier so that there won’t be discrepancies between in prices being paid on certain types of vehicles.
Prices of vehicles should be the same amount for Mr. A and Mr. B. So with e-valuation, we can have that. It was kicked against because the duty was actually raised higher and that is unfair.
If there is going to be an increment, it should be in a little proportion. That is the issue freight forwarders are addressing. The agitations of freight forwarders are not for themselves. It is for everyone in the country. Looking at the value of Naira to Dollar, it shows you need more naira to purchase a vehicle. If duty is arbitrarily increased, it shows that the cost of living will be very high. Any increment by the government has to consider a lot of things for the citizens.
For instance, in other Western countries and even some African countries, duty was abolished for a while because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That was one of the palliatives many nations did for their citizens. As I speak to you, terminal charges have been increased. Telex and Sea Waybill was free because it was just like an email or ordinary paper but they now charge N10,000 to N15,000 on it now. All these little costs will be added to the cost of importing anything into the country. The increment is not limited to the vehicles. General goods are having the same issue.
When I was at the National Assembly, I noted that the blame is not on Customs but on the policymakers and the Federal Ministry of Finance. The fiscal target given to Customs is always going up every year and when you give them a target, of course, the target has to come from different areas. We are not even being notified before duty rates are been increased.
So, freight forwarders are not against the VIN valuation platform, E-Invoicing, or Valuation. All we are saying is that the duty is astronomically high and this would affect the standard of living and cause inflation in the country. When there is inflation, it will eventually lead to an economic recession.
Some people live on loans and by the time they import vehicles, they will need to repay the loans. There is no platform for financial assistance in this country. If you have N50million and you go to the bank to get N3million additional to achieve something, but you will be shocked at the bank’s response. There are lots of things the government needs to put in place if they want to look after the citizens of this country.
Freight forwarders have complained that the cost of duty is still high despite the suspension of the VIN policy. Can you give us the discrepancies between the cost of duty now and the way it was before the introduction of the VIN policy?
The target of Customs has increased and this has to be considered. So, whether we like it or not, there is a partial increment from the old duty. Don’t forget that during the four weeks which the protest lasted, there was a communication between NPA and shipping companies to waive duties but this has gotten to a stage where the shipping companies and terminal operators flouted the directives. This has happened before during the COVID-19 lockdown period in 2020.

Federal government through Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) and Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) was really struggling to get some rent waivers for some importers because most shipping companies and terminals didn’t adhere to government instructions. Due to the last protest, people are still paying rent as high as N160,000 to M200,000 for a car in 2008 or 2007. Where does that rent go? So, while we were protesting, the shipping companies and terminal operators were just waiting to take advantage of the situation. So, there must be a condition or clause in the concession agreements to ensure terminals comply with government directives. Government policies are very important in maintaining order, balance and fairness in the nation’s port sector.

 

We learnt that for the period during the protests, PTML gave 70 percent waivers and some other terminals also gave waivers. How many terminals actually gave waivers?

From the statistics I got from my members, it was only five days that was waived and if surely any terminal has done more than that, they can show us the proof. To be honest with you, I also experienced it and I still have over 20 to 22 vehicles down there which I’m trying to work on. If peradventure they have waived 70 percent, who is going to be lamenting on it? This is not supposed to be difficult because the economic regulator, Shippers Council ought to have handled this in collaboration with CRFFN.
Everyone should be able to easily get data on events in the maritime industry through these people but what data can we confirm from them. It is only if we decide to conduct a hypothesis or take samples from our members, that we can get data from practitioners. This shouldn’t be the approach or conduct in a sector where accuracy and accountability is key and these indices help guide industry professionals and government in planning for the sector.

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