Crumbling Houses of Nigeria’s Freight Forwarding Associations

Crumbling Houses of Nigeria’s Freight Forwarding AssociationsThe Freight forwarding sub-sector of the maritime industry is again engrossed in intra and inter-associations crises of confidence that could erode the relative peace and achievements made in recent times.

Known for their vociferation and cantankerousness, the fear pervading the industry now is that of possible engagement of members in voodoo practices, as usual that may result to spate of death of colleagues. This is a norm among them, and as such, except there are timely interventions from different quarters, especially from the Council for the Regulations of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), these raging crises may be the last of the many strong ones among them.

Too bad, according to observers, that this is coming when CRFFN is getting back on its feet to offer efficient regulatory services.

On one hand is the allegation that the National President of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu is trying to destabilize the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) to consolidate ANLCA. The absence of perceived internal democracy in NAGAFF being the second largest freight forwarding group makes it vulnerable to orchestrated destruction. Some of the key leaders of NAGAFF have been lured to undergo biometric registration with ANLCA by Shittu as alleged. There is also a version of the allegation that Shittu is allegedly converting some NAGAFF members who are the intellectual power house of NAGAFF because of his repositioning agenda and may handover the leadership of ANLCA to one of them on completion of his tenure because they are tested hands in leadership.

Over time in the maritime industry, however, stakeholders have come to embrace the brand essence and value proposition of the various freight forwarding associations. ANLCA represents the orthodox customs clearing practice like the Catholic Church in Christiandom; NAGAFF redefined and moved the frontiers of clearing practice to freight forwarding in tune with the realities of the 21st century; and therefore represents the protestants in Christian faith as well as the intellectual power house of both the customs brokerage and freight forwarding sub-sector in the country. The National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA) and the Association of Registered Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (AREFFN) are neither cold nor hot.

Nigerian Association of Air Freight Forwarders & Consolidators (NAFFAC) is a specialized group with a nitche in aviation cargo handling and unfortunately not too intellectually robust. The NCMDLCA and AREFFN, can pass for sleeping partners in freight forwarding partnership scheme. This explains why the leadership of ANLCA often believe that NAGAFF always influences their decisions on issues.

In a twist of fate, some members of ANLCA have accused the leadership of NAGAFF of instigating the raging crisis of confidence in ANLCA between the chairman, Board of Trustee, Chief Henry Njoku and the National President, Shittu.

Njoku acted on the strength of a petition by a group called “the Concerned Members of ANLCA”, alleging what they termed: Disturbing Findings At ANLCA Headquarters.”

In their petition addressed to Njoku, they accused the National President and General Secretary of high-handedness, leading to the desertion of some national executive members from the secretariat. MMS Plus Weekly findings further revealed that the National Treasurer, Alhaji Bojuri Akinsola and National Financial Secretary, JohnBull Val Oribabhor have stopped functioning as executive members, as Mr. Dada Agubanze, not elected, now acts as Treasurer, while Chief Oye Ariyo is alleged to have assumed the duties of collecting money from chapters for the executive, while Dr. Obicee Okonkwo, the National Publicity Secretary may soon be eased out for alleged lack of operating licence.

According to the petitioners, while only the National President and General Secretary now run the affairs of the association, they found out that Shittu’s leadership lack an audited account of financial transactions for the past three years.

“It was also discovered that monies received by the headquarters, especially, the over fifty million (N50 million) naira from the biometric exercise and several sums received from individuals and corporate bodies in respect of acquiring a permanent national secretariat have not been accounted for by the National President,” the petition further alleged.

According to the concerned members, “we found out that the election that brought in the present national executive officers did not follow constitutional provisions. The national election which was supposed to be conducted at an Annual General Meeting (AGM) was conducted at 6am with only chapter executives voting”, without the presence of the press as observers as usual.

Consequently, the BOT Chairman, directed Shittu to respond and address the allegations within two weeks “with all the seriousness they deserve failure which they will be taken as acceptance of the truth, adding:” It is my very humble view as the chairman of the Board that the issues raised in the letter are too weighty to be glossed over, they are capable of eroding the dignity, confidence, trust and peaceful existence of the Association.”

But speaking with MMS Plus Weekly, the National president of ANLCA said, “the allegations are nothing to worry about. All the books are there. It is all blackmail. I don’t want to join issues with anybody.That trend is not new to them. That was how they had accused Chief Ernest Elochukwu, then of President of ANLCA of collecting N10 billion from President Olusegun Obasanjo.”

However, some ANLCA members loyal to Shittu turned round to accuse Njoku of master-minding the allegations, tagging the earlier group as “Faceless”.

“ANLCA Core Integrity Group”, Shittu’s loyal group argued that ANLCA membership is by corporate admittance and not on individual registration, as such, that Njoku did not verify the status of this concerned members before issuing two weeks ultimatum to Shittu to address issues raised.

The ANLCA Core Integrity Group asserted that Njoku had desecrated his exalted position as Chairman of BOT, alleging that since his re-election as “chairman board all your actions, body language, clandestine activities and caucus meetings have been exposed to a larger extent that you have not actually grasped the function of the board of trustees and the decorum required in the functionality of the exalted office. You appear to be living in the feudal lordship era of “the board has spoken” and it’s final. The current ANLCA has not only outgrown this kind of feudal lordship but has evolved and transformed into a more refined, globalised, and democratic association that operates in line with international best practice.”

However, one of the suspected issues that threw up the crisis in ANLCA is Shittu’s refusal to swear in the newly elected members of Port- Harcourt Chapter on the grounds that the election was not credible. Port- Harcourt is the foothold of the BOT Chairman and Shittu himself before he emerged the National President. This became a direct discredit to the Association Electoral Committee (ASECO) headed by Alhaji Mukhaila Abdullazeez, who took the discredit not lightly. Realizing that he had ignited a fire, Shittu then turned around to perform the swearing but the new executive refused to have him do it, saying that the election that brought Shittu as the current president was not credible.

Meanwhile, ANLCA executive members have allegedly accused the founder of NAGAFF, Chief Boniface Aniebonam of fueling the crises in ANLCA, by tutoring their BOT Chairman.

However, It is very doubtful if the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, can achieve its intended consolidation or mergers of these freight forwarding agents as being envisioned for them to leverage on bigger opportunities, given their organisational levels.

NAGAFF is grappling with the burden of impunity by some members and chapter chairmen as well as the founder’s centralized leadership system. Although NAGAFF is acting as a check on ANLCA which would have become a haven of tyrants and  enslavery machine were NAGAFF not in existence. But with all its intellectual power-base, the exit of one man could lead to its extinction and so the fear of the future is palpable here, explaining the reason some government agencies found ANLCA a bit comfortable to collaborate with. One of such is the Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON), whose one of the senior executive officers had noted this. Even the Nigeria Customs Service(NCS) seems more disposed to working with ANLCA as they assisted them to acquire a permanent secretariat worth over a N100 million but resort to NAGAFF for intellectual and professional solutions sometimes.

ANLCA has internal democracy ad good succession plan having stayed for over 60 years. They pride themselves as Chief executive officers and just customs agents but lack the intellectual depth for global modern day business, prompting the leadership of Shittu to invest heavily in capacity building of members, at least to tush them up. This attempt is yielding some dividends, especially from the younger generation of members.

The NCMDLCA has remained polarized with two factional presidents. Chief Festus Ejiofor, on one hand, Lucky Amiwero on the other hand. It came to existence as an interventionist body in the lacuna created by the government import policy in the 90’s. They lack brand proposition till date, while AREFFN is just another platform but all of them are a good check on ANLCA, and NAGAFF, even though they lack credible structures. They are registered and recognized by CRFFN but only ANLCA, NAGAFF and NAFFAC have enviable brand proposition that can entice government and attract international collaborations.

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