By Kenneth Jukpor & Ayoola Olaitan
Dr. Boniface Aniebonam is the Founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF). In this interview with MMS Plus newspaper, he bares his mind on a myriad of freight forwarding issues in the country as well as other pertinent port sector developments. Enjoy it:
The current Governing Board of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) has served for two years. With their administration coming to an end, what’s your assessment of this board which had no crisis?
It is true that the industry has had peace under this administration but there is no need to go about rating the board under the system being operated. We are lucky to have the current leadership that has Alhaji Abubakar Tsanni as the chairman. Tsanni isn’t a member of any association. He is a neutral person who I see as God-sent to the freight forwarding sector.
However, a lot of damage was done before the emergence of the current board. If we don’t jointly repair the damage, we would continue to build a castle on a shifting side. CRFFN is not an agency of the government but a quasi government agency. Nevertheless, today it is administered as an agency of the government which is wrong and one of the factors indicating that it started to fail from the onset.
We started to fail from the maiden election which was burgled. After the first council, 10 years went by and we didn’t achieve much. We had another election and during this period there was a high level intervention with the open minded NAGAFF as the main actor. As the agitators for CRFFN’s establishment, we can say CRFFN is a baby of NAGAFF.
On the issue of the tenure of Council members, the tenure is actually four years and not two. The tenure is four years for elected members of the council and two years for appointed members from the six geo-political zones. So, it is the tenure of the appointees that has expired meaning the government has to appoint another six members. An internal election will also be held to elect the new chairman and vice chairman among the council members.
I understand that there are certain moves being made by people to extend their tenure and I am referring to the appointed ones. It could be part of the reasons why there was this rush for the amendment of the CRFFN Act but then it will be like laying ambush for the court because there is a matter in court up to Appeal court seeking to certain issues. One of the issues is that CRFFN is not an agency of the government and we will take it up to the Supreme Court because we are sure that it is not.
What we saw is that instead of people realizing that it seeks to provide sustainable practice for freight forwarding in Nigeria anchored professionalism. Sister associations muddled up the body leading to the affinity with the government positioning CRFFN as a government agency.
Customs licensed agents are corporate bodies; they are not human beings. They are artificial and they cannot be seen to undergo professional standards while a freight forwarder is a person who can undergo professionalism. So, CRFFN tends towards professionalism which is predicated on individuals. A freight forwarder as an individual whose name is in the register of freight forwarders and such person would have undergone the training as approved by the CRFFN.
A freight forwarder should be trained to manage the affairs of the Customs licensed company. It’s like a pharmacist who is an individual who undertook training in pharmaceutical products. Any investor in pharmacy would require the services of a trained pharmacist.
If well managed, this freight forwarding chain can provide over 500,000 jobs for the teeming Nigerian graduates. The scope of freight forwarding is as it involves the door to door movement of cargoes from point of origin to final destination across the international boundaries. You need to be educated and trained to carry out such responsibility because a lot is involved. For example looking at the Customs angle that you need to be conversant with, policies, government trade matters and others you need to be trained. To play an advisory role to the international bodies, you also need to know the rules of origin on matters that concern the cargoes, local and international laws guiding international laws of cargoes, among others.
There is nothing to rate the current governing board because CRFFN started to fail ab initio and the current team is still trying to correct the errors. To be honest, nothing is working. The only thing is that there is peace and the current Chairman is doing his best but there are numerous problems.
What are these challenges facing the CRFFN governing board?
The problem is to the extent that they are doing things wrongly especially in the issue of collection of Practitioners Operating Fees (POF). Most people, especially the Governing Board rather than look at the CRFFN Act as it can be seen for Section 6 which provides an opportunity for self financing, turn to the federation account for government revenue.
CRFFN ought to generate funds via POF, but we have the issue of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) versus NAGAFF. Sometimes, I wonder the basis for this rival. NAGAFF was considerate in the last election as we had over 1200 members while other associations collectively were 200. We decided to create peace and respect our sister associations, especially ANLCA so that we could have an all inclusive Council. We settled for 6 NAGAFF members, 6 from ANLCA and1 each from the three other associations.
NAGAFF is also a body of freight forwarders in Nigeria with over 5,000 members that cut across the geopolitical zones of the country except for the little problem we are having in the North East. There is no other association you can find with the geographical spread NAGAFF has. Go to Sokoto and Kebbi, you would find NAGAFF members there.
Most people think the problem of POF collection is just the sharing formula, but the truth is that there is an internal problem in ANLCA. I don’t even understand why the matters concerning the Board of Trustees (BOT) should affect the administration of the association but it is affecting it. The President of ANLCA is the head of ANLCA’s National Executive Council (NECOM) and you would expect that this issue should disrupt the association but it is also affecting their members and subsequently POF collection.
NAGAFF has always been open-minded to get things resolved so that we can add value to the ongoing port reforms and that is why you see right now NAGAFF has taken to another angle looking at the issue of compliance. We realized that a lot of our members are losing their businesses because they do things in a wrong manner against the Customs law.
Customs can’t fold their hands to accept non-compliant trade and that is why the Compliance team of NAGAFF was introduced recently to reduce the Customs seizures that can be avoided. We are going to partner with Customs to make sure that proper Customs examination is done.
The issue of appropriate debit notes and other infractions can be avoided. Hence, there will be no need to have the Customs strikeforce, Federal Operations Units and other numerous Customs units that freight agents dread. These units became relevant because we are doing the wrong thing. That is the truth of the matter and I am sure Customs will be very happy with this development because it has to do with compliance and guarantees a lot of revenue coming into Customs.
If we have to add value by making sure that every container that comes into our port first for revenue and security issues, that would be a good development. Look at the state of the nation, if you have goods that are contraband you know the consequences so we cannot continue this way because a lot of our clients are losing their investments for things that shouldn’t have happened.
Also, we need to balance trade especially among the traders, you know we don’t have any reason to continue this way because we are distorting the market forces especially people that bring the same items from the same country of origin and the clearing cost evaluation is so much that they cannot compete.
These are also some of the issues CRFFN is expected to handle and they now have a mobile court unit. I just hope they take advantage of it. It is most unfortunate that the Chairman of the CRFFN Governing Council, Abubakar has been solving one problem or the other. He was never allowed to settle down to do his work. He has an open mind to work like the registrar but the truth is it is the rivalry between ANLCA and NAGAFF is the problem of CRFFN and I don’t know why that should be.
Most terminals and shipping companies didn’t refund monies collected as storage and demurrage during the period of lockdown, despite Federal Government’s directive via Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC). How can the industry address this?
If you make laws and regulations that need to be obeyed and are not; then you don’t have any reason to do it. Otherwise your power will be reduced, so if NPA and NSC on behalf of the Presidency were directed to do this thing and it didn’t happen, we shouldn’t be responsible to teach them what they should do. However, they should know that they wield the executive powers of Mr. President. Such powers have been vested upon the agencies. All they need to do is get involved with the Inspector General of Police and get the people involved arrested and treat them as common criminals. These companies are cheating people openly, isn’t that criminal? How do you explain that nobody has pronounced our ports force majeure aside the COVID-19 pandemic?
Somebody brought in a cargo which the destination is Apapa port and the terminal operator may be through the shipping companies take cargo to bonded terminals and ask owners to pay for the transfer fee on such cargoes. They impose charges at will and if you resist they insist that you must pay. Some of the bonded terminals are waterlogged. People’s cargoes are being destroyed because the terminals are waterlogged. Nobody is seeing that or talking about that and yet they are forcing cargoes to go there because in Nigeria anything goes.