For over one month now, the freight forwarding community has been engulfed in crisis over the collection of practitioners’ operating fees by the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN). The Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), in a twist of resolution derailed the train of progress with a sudden refusal to support the collection of practitioners’ operating fee, claiming that the Governing Council Board of CRFFN is yet to be constituted. This seeming betrayal gave birth to a coalition of associations called, Concerned Accredited Freight Forwarding Associations (CAFFA), under which other registered associations are saying that ANLCA must be whipped to line or get de-registered. While other associations want the collection of the fee as enshrined in CRFFN Act, ANLCA is angling for a higher sharing ratio. It has even got to a point where ANLCA members allegedly maimed people while fighting other associations’ members. This gave birth to numerous shades of impunity and threats to lives.
The other associations waiting to throw stones are: National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Association of Registered Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (AREFFN), National Association of Freight Forwarders and Consolidators (NAFFAC).
But this crisis has raged for long without an end in sight. So, in seeking solution, MMS Plus Weekly cornered the pioneer chairman of CRFFN, Hon. Tony Nwabunike to speak on this and the way forward. He speaks the truth and what is it? Find out! Excerpts:
As the pioneer chairman of CRFFN, What do you say of the current crisis? People have been expecting your intervention.
You are right but I have started working in that direction. Although some people have refused to appreciate the level of contribution we made when I was the chairman. Coming from the private sector to work in the public sector is not easy. Most of the things, especially the key employments were done under my tenure. I was called names that I made CRFFN a parastatal but that is the only way it could survive given the industry we operate in. Today, those who condemned the decision are now seeking money from government because it is a parastatal.
As the pioneer chairman, the problem they are having now is association politics and you know I don’t play association politics, not minding my being a board member of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). I am like a father to all the associations. The five associations were registered under my leadership and I can tell you that they are all equal; none is greater than the other irrespective of the number of people therein as members. Now, they are having the problem of sharing formula. So far, people are saying I can’t continue to keep quiet, which is correct. What I have done is to contact my vice-chairman during my tenure, who later became chairman, Hakeem Olarewaju, and I have also contacted the Registrar, Mike Jukwe, for a meeting.
I want to set up a team of the pioneer members of CRFFN. The former chairman who was my vice-chairman, the Registrar to meet, and later we will invite all the presidents of the associations to a meeting to find the way forward. The most important thing about the issue is that the money must be collected because the Council must not die. I understand that the problem is associated with sharing formular. Let them sort themselves out while the Council is collecting the money. Their money can be in the custody of CRFFN so that when they sort themselves out they can come and pick it. So the meeting with the association presidents will produce a blue-print on how which step to take next. I have told the Registrar to manage the crisis and he has to be careful with the issue of sharing, especially in this current government. People in other sectors of the economy are collecting money and no one hears about it but in the freight forwarding sub-sector it is being over-blown in the public.
I would like them to be calm because this regime has zero tolerance for corruption and bribery. I think it is high time I did something to end this crisis because if I keep keeping quiet it will send negative signals out.
The Ministry of Transport’s quietness on this is not helping matters.
The position of the CRFFN on this is very clear. It made reference to the position of the minister as directing the affairs but here there is no minister. The freight forwarders seem to have forgotten that the practitioners’ operating fee is government money. When government gives you money it expect value from that not just to share because it is for capacity building. The problem here is that most of them see the practitioners’ fee as money to be shared on a round table. You must make reasonable justification on how the money was utilized either through capacity building or workshops of value. In fact, I need to educate the presidents of the associations on the collection and disbursement of this money. Most of them are perceiving this from the standpoint of private sector. It is totally a public sector thing and they will likely have their hands burnt.
Apart from the Federal Ministry of Transport, there are about five other ministries that are interested in CRFFN and its funds. You have Ministries of Education, Finance, etc. So it is important that all these ministries come to agree on how this fund will be administered. These ministries are represented on the board. In fact, I feel pained that we have not started collecting the practitioners’ operating fees.
What is your take on Buhari and what you think he can do in the sector?
Buhari, from my own assessment came into a place that is highly disorganized, so he is trying to see what he can do and the best people to use for result. I think we should give him a little time to come up with a blue-print and then we look at it. To me, he is slow in naming his cabinet because of the mess in the society. But the important thing here especially in this maritime sector is that the right people should be made to occupy the relevant positions. The industry is one of the most corrupt industries in the country, so it requires a system over-haul. From the customs to the freight forwarders, shipping firms and all other government parastatals, system audit is required if we must get it right. There is large scale corruption in NIMASA, and NPA, and Buhari’s government is expected to do thorough clean-up in these agencies. His government should use insiders who understand the dynamics of the institution to create the needed change, not political appointees who know next to nothing about them.
Lets wait and see what he is coming out with and we take it from there.
Are you looking at a particular kind of reform within your own sub-sector, what are they?
One good thing the government has done for us is to give us CRFFN, and we must not allow it to die. So, I think that we must use the CRFFN to reform the freight forwarding sector by building capacity. Also, I think that the import guideline should be looked into.