Chief Festus Ejiofor is a factional leader of the National Council of Managing Directors of Customs Licensed Agents (NCMDCLA), in this chat with Segun Oladipupo, he states how 20 members of the other faction decamped to his camp, why Amiwero was rejected by popular demand, the litigation struggle between the two factions and many more salient issues about the association and the operations in the port.
What is your appraisal of Port Operation in the last eight months?
The problems of the ports are still there, the freight forwarders are still suffering; nobody seems to come to their aid, so the situation of the port is still the same.
Tell us about the last visit by the Nigerian Institute of Freight Forwarders and Customs Brokers, how do you think you can encourage your members to participate in the training they came to introduce to you?
I have said it before; the way to encourage them is for the leadership of the Institute of Freight Forwarders to make sure that their asking price for training is lowered.
After their visit, we have held meetings and the members have indicated that they are ready but that depends on how they tag their price. The other time CRFFN called for training and the main people that were supposed to train could not afford the amount.
Looking at the CRFFN being in moribund state, what do you think can be done to revive it in the area of instituting the government council?
Well, it depends on the Minister of Transport. The whole thing is between the Transport Ministry and the Transport Minister. So, it all boils down to government bureaucracy as it is affecting the CRFFN. That is it.
How have government policies been affecting the freight forwarding subsector of the industry?
Well, I have no answer to that. We are the people, we are the masses. Whatever g policy the government comes up with, we follow it because we have no power to challenge the government; even though we make input. So, government policy as it affects the port is what we are following.
Since the commencement of the auto policy, the NCMDCLA has not said anything. What is the position of the Council?
I don’t know if you know MAAG; MAAG is the amalgamation of freight forwarding associations. We have already taken our stand and in due course, you will hear it. We are even making our stand known to the National Assembly, Federal Government, so I cannot jump gun, until it is rolled out. And as for the National Council, since we are members of MAAG, I will not give you details until we are in position to talk about what they are writing, what the various Associations and the press are writing.
You have been President of this faction for about four or five years now, when are we expecting an election?
Lucky Amiwero was removed from office by popular decision at Mobil Pegasus and he said his removal was not by due process. He was invited to come and give account of his leadership and defend some allegations; he did not come and he was subsequently removed. He went to court to challenge his removal. In the court order, he was to revert to status quo. He requested that we should be restrained until the termination of the case. Now the case is yet to be determined, if the case is yet to be determined, how would I call for election, it is not possible. We are waiting for the determination of the case. I don’t want to be charged by the court for contempt, I am a law abiding citizen. I am not a propagandist. If the other side chooses to use propaganda, then good luck to them all I know is that since he felt that he was removed unjustly and went to court, let the court finish the process. My answer to the question is that we are in court and the process is still on.
It is assumed that the National Council is only based in Lagos, how true is that?
The National Chapter that I lead have branches all over the nation. I have a text on my phone to our chapter chairman in Abuja, Alhaji Kamal; that is an example that we are in the whole federation.
What is the rough estimate of your staff membership strength?
We are well over twenty thousand spread across the country, confirm it. Anytime we are going to any chapter, we will invite you to have a view of what we are talking about.
In the last stakeholders’ meeting at PTML, the CAC made mention of the need for the opposing factions in the Association to come together as one big association. Do you want to reconcile?
I have been after reconciliation, the problem is my opponents. The other time they arrested me and charged for membership certificate forgery. At the court, the magistrate saw the need for us to reconcile and provided that opportunity for us but unfortunately, my opponents said I should renounce my membership of National Council if we are to reconcile, is that possible? Our lawyer wrote to him to come for reconciliation, he refused and since he had refused, I no longer want to reconcile, let us resolve through the court process. I won’t say much on that but initially I was after reconciliation until he bunked it by not coming to the reconciliation table.
He claims to be the life president of National Council, that it starts and ends with him, but it is unfortunate National Council is not Eyis Resources, it is not a private enterprise, it is national, one person cannot be there for two decades. He refused to shift but we said let other people try. That is the crux of the whole thing. He went to the extent of doctoring our constitution to make himself a life president, even Obasanjo who did well for the country wanted to go for third term, Nigerians rose against it. A term is four years and if he had presided for twenty years, then he had ruled for about five terms. So, if anyone now said that I am into my second term, it is not true because we are still in court, then the term will start counting. This problem has led to a lot of our members leaving the association, some of the people in Amiwero’s camp had pledged their allegiance to me, they want me as their president, not Lucky anymore.
How many of them?
More than twenty of them from Amiwero’s camp, they are coming here to officially recognise me as their president.
ANLCA has commissioned their national secretariat, what is your message for them?
I wish them well, ANLCA is the father of all the associations. All of us started from ANLCA, they did not invite me but all the same, I wish them well.
President Shittu is now in his second term, what is your assessment of him?
He has done well. If he has not done well, will he commission the national secretariat? So, it is one of the landmark achievements for Shittu. He is an orator, he is intelligent and that is why people like him. If he is not doing well, they would not have allowed him to go for the second term. He is doing well.
What does MAAG intend to achieve by combining all the associations together?
In recent past, the five registered associations were struggling to outwit one another by each implying that it is better than the other or even bigger. But what MAAG intends to achieve is to make sure that all the associations including the unregistered ones like Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Save Nigeria and some others like that can speak with one voice instead of segregating.
Tell us about the challenges facing the association?
We have financial constraints; we are not making money from anywhere except through our members with the little they can contribute. We do not go to ministries to tell them lies to get money; we do not collect money from the ports. A big organisation like this needs money to finance it. Without money, we will find it difficult to proceed progressively; we are working very hard, training our members and at the same time, making inroads into the difficulties in the port. We fend for one another but we do not condone evil or crime.
What is your perception of PAAR?
PAAR is very good, Dikko and his management has done well. I often see people criticising PAAR in the press, and these people are agents of service providers that were asked to hands off the project. This country is full of intrigues, paralysis and decadence. People use blackmail or name dropping to make money; I, Chidi Ejiofor do not belong to that group. PAAR is relatively new and anything new always has some challenges.
If there is any ambiguity about PAAR, you protest to Customs and they will listen to you. Then, why are people, criticising PAAR? Those who do not like PAAR are those who do not want to pay Federal Government duty. They know how to manoeuvre during the service providers’ time but with PAAR, you cannot do that, you must pay your duty.