The statutory activities of the Council for the Regulations of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) have always been hampered by the myriad of controversies which imminently has stagnated the progress of the council since its inception.
The Registrar of the Council, Sir Mike Jukwe, had during the opening of the Council’s National Secretariat in Lagos, last year, appealed to the Minister of Transport Sen. Idris Umar concerning the Practitioners’ Operating Fees (POF), which eventually saw the embargo placed on the collection of the fee lifted.
After an official gazette by the Federal Government approving the fee collection, the Council issued a notice recently informing all concerned stakeholders that the fee collection would begin on May 11, 2015.
The fee said to be collectable on all forms of cargo entering and exiting the country through the land, air and sea borders involves a charge of N2 on one kilogram of air cargo, N1,000 on a 20ft container for sea freight cargo, N3.50 per tonne on general cargo and dry bulk cargo attracts a charge of N1.00 per tonne
Two weeks after the collection of the fee is expected to begin, the process has once again pitched customs agents against freight forwarders, the collection which was stopped about two years ago following a petition written to the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, by the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), led to the alleged resignation of the President of ANLCA, Prince Olayiwola Shittu, from the CRFFN governing council over the sharing formula of revenues accruing from the collected fees.
The feud between ANLCA and CRFFN snowballed into a formation by the other four registered associations of CRFFN, namely: National Association of Government Approve Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Association of Registered Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (AREFFN) and Nigerian Air Freight Forwarders and Consolidators (NAFFAC) into a formidable association called the Concerned Accredited Freight Forwarders Association (CAFFA).
In a bid to express their stand concerning the collection of the POF as directed by the Federal Government through the office of the Minister of Transport and their condemnation of the attack on CRFFN officials by members of ANLCA at the Seme Border, these four associations in a joint communiqué unanimously agreed that CRFFN should enforce the collection of POF immediately as approved and gazetted by the Federal Government of Nigeria, which is aimed at fast tracking the process of capacity building of registered freight forwarders in Nigeria.
Surprisingly the Federal Government has kept mute on the purported letter written from the office of the Secretary General of the federation addressed to Uchu Block ordering the stoppage of the collection of POF by CRFFN, this led to the directive of ANLCA National Executive Council to its members to disregard the collection of POF by CRFFN and degenerated into the faceoff between the association members and CRFFN officials at the Seme Border Post. CAFFA had since called on the Minister of Transport to deregister ANLCA from the Council.
The President of NAGAFF and the Chairman of CAFFA, Chief Eugene Nweke stated that investigations are ongoing to ascertain the origin of the letter addressed to Mr. Uchu Block.
He maintained that the letter is invalid and its content misleading and anyone found wanting with the intent to cause a breach of public peace will be prosecuted.
Eugene expressed disapproval at the letter which he said was clearly intended to attract undue attention.
Similarly, the President of AREFFN and Director of Publicity CAFFA, Dr. Frank Ukor condemned the harassment of CRFFN officials over POF collection.
He urged SAHCOL and all Inland Container Depots (ICDs), Terminal Operators, and NAHCO to comply fully with the FG directive and transfer all funds collected thus far to CRFFN.
Ukor cautioned leaders of various associations on the need to protect themselves and be security conscious while going about their lawful duties.
According to him “all members should be security conscious and shun all forms of retaliations pending the outcome of the Federal Government position on the matter”.
He reiterated that “as we go about our lawful duties at the ports and land borders, we want to let the FG know through CRFFN that we are solidly behind any decision taken by the Council as concerns POF as approved by the honorable Minister of Transport”.
He condemned the actions of ANLCA and urged the general public to disregard the letter from the SGF to Uchu Block as forged.
A registered freight forwarder Mr. Babatunde Shittu, stated that the root of the problem is management. “if the money is shared and CRFFN takes 50% and the registered associations take 35% then other registered members take 5% each, the question is, is this money for sharing”?
He said that this money is supposed to be used for a purposeful project such as capacity building, building a befitting office and training of freight forwarders.
According to him “the money is not much and since the Federal Government does not give the Council any allocation they have to generate money on their own through the associations”.
He opined that “I don’t think there is anything bad in collecting it as long as it is well managed, the importers will not feel it, but when it accumulates it becomes a huge amount of money and that is why they are fighting”. He added.
Reacting to all the allegations contained in the communiqué issued by CAFFA, ANLCA through its National Secretary, Dr. Emmanuel Ogu Oparah stated that “many pointed out the apparent misnomer of embarking on such momentous engagement in the absence of substantive Governing Council to which Act 16 of 2007 vested the power of running the CRFFN, consequently the ANLCA NEC decided to constitute a committee to look into the matter while liaising with all relevant interests so as to advise the association on the best course of action”.
The onus now lies with the government through the office of the Minister of Transport to take a firm stand regarding this issue as a matter of urgency to avert the looming deterioration of the situation. Perchance they want to make believe that they are on top of the matter, if so, why have there not been any arrests in relation to the Seme Border fracas.
The house of ANLCA is presently divided against itself as some wish to join the moving train of progress that the POF represents while others out of some selfish reasons choose to defy the council that has the legal function to protect them, either way ANLCA stands to lose as one association cannot war against the government.
The President of ANLCA has been in support of POF collection, this explains why the ANLCA NEC battling to manage its internal crisis had said that their President signed an agreement with other associations for the collection of POF in error.
Currently, ANLCA is being administered by an ad-hoc crisis committee, with Kayode Farinto as the Secretary.
Observers are of the belief that it is either the members of ANLCA Administration Committee are ignorant of the relevance of POF or that they have embarked on this journey of derailment to spite their suspended President, Shittu.
Whatever is the answer here, there seems to be a general consensus that ANLCA is stretching its perceived strength too far because it could soon discover that its elasticity has a threshold. But can CRFFN wield the big stick of a regulator? Can the Registrar enforce the powers to arrest the non-compliant association members in this case?