How We Are Rebuilding CRFFN For Greater Impact- Uromta, Ag.CEO

How We Are Rebuilding CRFFN For Greater Impact- Uromta, Ag.CEO
Mrs Chinyere Uromta, Acting Registrar/CEO, CRFFN

Providence was at work in February 1,2023 when the mantle to steer the ship of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria(CRFFN) fell on Mrs. Chinyere Uromta, a trained media practitioner who upon joining the service of the Council rose through the ranks to become what she is today, the acting Registrar/CEO.  Uromta was among the few in the system who challenged the unethical and ‘anything-goes’ administrative style of the immediate past Registrar/CEO of the Council, Sam Nwakohu. They fought for the soul of CRFFN. She didn’t know she was being incubated with challenges and responsibilities managed in various key departments she held. The lot fell on her as the most senior director at that time. But that must be a statement of coming to prove that it could be done better with an insider. This is why so much is expected from her, especially against the background that she is a woman, the gender factor is so serious here as the only female CEO in the Transport and Marine economy sector. She is carrying the badge of gender inclusion and diversity as well as the associated quality leadership underscored by transparency, empathy, accountability and compassion. Uromta, sure embodies these attributes. It is one year this month since she was appointed on acting capacity and a review of her activities, so far, foretells the fate of CRFFN in years to come if confirmed as substantive Registrar/CEO. CRFFN is undergoing reform of impact, vertically and horizontally. She spoke with MMS Plus. Enjoy it.  

 It’s exactly one year since you were appointed acting registrar of CRFFN. How has the journey been so far? What are the reforms you’ve been able to carry out and what are the plans while you await confirmation? 

I think it’s timely to talk about the journey so far in my capacity as the acting Registrar and chief executive officer of the Council. I was appointed to this position on 1st February, 2023 at the expiration of the tenure of the former registrar, my predecessor, Mr. Samuel Nwakohu. And the basis of my appointment was as a result of the fact that I am the most senior director, which is in line with the civil service rule, and this was done by the board, CRFFN Governing Council. So, since February till date, it’s not been easy, as a result of the fact that in 2021 we were removed from the capital budgets.

So, I took over without that.

The only thing that was left was personnel costs and the overhead to run the council. But we all know that in 2019 that the federal government gave us approval for collection of our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), Practitioners Operating Fees (POF)

So, that is one of the sources of the IGR, other than registration by private practitioners, individuals, corporate bodies and so on.  So, it’s not been really easy, owing to the fact that as a Council, established by Act of Parliament 2007, Act No. 16, we have a mandate and the mandate is to train our stakeholders, the freight forward practitioners, to set standards and bring sanity to the ports, and to ensure professionalism in the freight forwarding business. And this is one of the major functions we are expected to do, in terms of our relationship with our stakeholders and freight forwarders. So, on my assumption of duty, I looked through the files and all that, and some of the things that we observed were staff welfare, in as much as we are supposed to train the freight forwarders, capacity building for our members of staff is key, and every other thing that has to do with staff welfare, to give them a sense of belonging. So, most of them, are not forthcoming the way it should be. 

Then, the declarant fee that has to do with the declarant, as they declare and pay the fee, there was an agreement that a certain percentage should be paid. Association, 10%, the individual, 5%, our consultants, and the one that goes as revenue to the government, which was then 25%. When I took over, it was no longer 25%, it has been increased to 40%. And that is one of the reason, I deduced was probably the reason I met the backlog of arrears of the declarant fee.

So, because I asked, this is an incentive that can encourage the freight forwarders to do more and to declare what they are supposed to declare rightly. But when all those things are not there, what do you expect? So, I and the management, sat down and discussed and we realized, we can’t have it all without meeting up with expectations of our stakeholders. We must start from somewhere.

Remember I said, the capital budget is no longer there and even the collections we are doing is only in seaport. Our sources of revenue by the approval has to do with three sources;

the cargo airport, the land border, and the seaport. But with the cooperation and facilitation of the then Ministry of Transport and the NPA, we were able to start the collection in only the sea port.

So, which going by all the formula of sharing and all this, it’s not really enough to meet up to the needs of our practitioners, pay bills, and other expenses.

And it’s good that we do not lose sight of the place of CRFFN in logistics and supply chain management.  In 2010, the Council was admitted as the representative of Nigeria in the world body, the FIATA, the world body of freight forwarders. So, with the membership of CRFFN there, it is key that we must live up to expectations, the rules of FIATA, so that our stakeholders will be able to harness the benefits that has to do with being a part of the body. 

With the limited resources I met there, we still try to make do with what we have. So, we look inwards and look at staff welfare and with the cooperation of the management, we now decided to start clearing the backlog of debts. And it’s also good to know that after the establishment of the Council in 2007, the Council officially took off in 2009, with few members of staff appointed, nothing was working. So, in 2010 and 2011, when we now came on as the management staff of the Council, since then, till last year when I came as CEO, their entitlement were paid  within the first 28 days in office. When you’re appointed, the first thing the government should pay you is your transfer allowance to enable you settle down with your family and all that. So, as at last year, none of the staff has ever been paid.

Even though, along the line in 2019 or so, we had all those stuffs in the budgets and all that. So, i said, let us start on a first come, first serve basis. If you were appointed in 2008, any little money that comes in, we can now start paying. So, we started on that and it was a welcome development. The staff had a sense of belonging after that and are still jubilating over it. And as at today, we are able to clear from 2008 to 2012. We have entered 2013. 

And again, we had a look at the declarant fee as well. I said, how do we now go on revenue drive when the people that are working are not being encouraged and all that? But the money was limited, despite that we said, let us start from somewhere. So, as at last year, we are able to pay three months, but some of them were saying that they have not received. So, when I heard about that complaint that we were getting, I called the enforcement officers and asked, this is the feedback that we are getting, what could be the reason? So, they now discovered that some of the account details were obsolete. Some of them are dormant, some are using third parties, some go to POS to open account. So, the money paid could be going into a wrong accounts and some of the individuals are not members of any of the association yet.

So, it is really difficult to say that you are paying to the right person. So, when the field officer came back with the report, I said to them, we have to do a letter to the president of all the associations. Let them know that this is our handicap, the challenges we are having. We need to reconcile the accounts and update them in the portal. So, we did letters and sent to them to tell them this is the hindrance, why most of them are not receiving those things and that we are ready to put them through. And there was even a step designed to tell them this is how to go about it when you want to address the challenges. So, we did that and after about a few months again, I called my officers and asked what the outcome of the letters we sent was? Do we have people that updated their account details so that we know even if we are paying, we pay to the right people.

So, the report again made available to us was that at least 58 people’s accounts were okay. So, on that note, I now said we need sensitization, campaign and public enlightenment, to let our stakeholders know the efforts we are making and the challenges we are having. 

What brought all these as I earlier said, because last year when I assumed the office, there were so

many activities, remember it was the election year. It wasn’t long, after two months, there was the election, there was tension, uncertainty by some people, so, most of our stakeholders or others doing business had to leave the country for fear of the unknown. So, the revenue was affected because of the people were afraid, they didn’t know what awaited them after the election. So, that is what distorted the agenda of the acting Registrar because when I came in, I looked at the narrative, being a staff of the Council from the onset, we know where we are having the issues and what steps to take, so, that was why I said we are not really getting it right. The agenda should be a reformatory agenda.

So, I called for an agenda  of reformation, where all of us should come together and close ranks with the stakeholders, come closer to think and let everybody bare their minds so that we know how to go about it. And we did not lose sight of the place of the government that has authority and are supervising us. We made several letters on how to go about enhancing our revenue since we are no longer in capital budget as at last year. So, letters went to the ministry on how to go about that and the National Assembly. But as I rightly pointed out, because of the election year, so many programs, were distorted. So, when the election was over and the new regime came in, we now breathed a sigh of relief, at least, our agenda, we now know where to channel our needs and requests to. So, we started by courtesy visits to organizations. It’s like a town hall meeting to our accredited associations, for them to bare their minds, let us know where we are missing it and let’s go back as a family and re-strategize on how to reposition the freight forwarding subsector.

Our president and our honorable minister also have listening ear, interacted with all the agencies and we are working together. He is doing everything to address all the things we have put before him because the renewed hope agenda is a hope that everybody has been anticipating for and it has something to do with our reformative agenda also.

That is why the Council is making all efforts to key into the agenda of the new regime. So, many approaches in terms of revenue enhancement have been made to know how we can be able to source or unlock our revenues through the sources provided by the government. So, letters have been made to the authorities like the Ministry of Aviation, several meetings with the Marine and Blue Economy Ministry also several engagement meetings have been carried out to ensure a smooth integration of the airport so we can collect our revenue also at the airport. Also, requests have been made to the National Assembly for them to help in facilitating our source of IGR so that we will be able to also contribute our quota to the CRF, (Consolidated Revenue Fund) of the nation. These are most of the things under these 12 months I can say, the regime of the acting Registrar has been able to do.

I remember before now as I said about the training, I spoke about training. It’s been long that in-house training has been done within the staff but within the period four months into my assumption of duty, we met with the management, I said, charity should begin at home so that people will know why we are here. So, we did an orientation so that all staff will know the reason why they were appointed. So, we had a nationwide training, in-house induction and training. Everyone employed, has not experienced such a training, especially the newer sets. So, that training took place in all our zones. Our staff in Lagos, those in Port Harcourt office, Zonal office, Kano and Abuja and it was a very successful event.  

Renowned resource persons were invited to talk to the staff on ethics of the profession, civil service, so many other things and certificates were given to all. So, that is one of the trainings we’ve been able to do and remember that before I was handed over the post of the acting Registrar, the former director of regulation and enforcement retired also and being the most senior, by the grace of God, he handed over to me as the director of enforcement. I remember enforcement and the training director are the major drivers of how we can find revenue and all that, so, immediately the February that I took over, we trained our enforcement staff. They received the training they’ve never had before here in Lagos, in a hotel in the Victoria Island, resource person with SW Global, came and put the enforcement staff through, which after that, they were sent to the field to monitor compliance and all that. So, that was the first time we were having such training. That was just the first month of my assumption of office, as the director of regulation and enforcement.

When I was now handed over the mantle as the acting Registrar, by the virtue of my position, I am still overseeing that department, to ensure that they comply with what we are supposed to do as a directorate of enforcement also. So, these are most of the things we have done. And then, I looked also, that training is key, nobody is ever too old to learn.

And our freight forwarders, for them to deliver, for us to maximize productivity the way we would want it, education is key. So, we now looked inwards with the director of education and training. 

We looked through what our predecessors have done in that regard and we discovered that the FIATA courses that have been lectured in all the approved institutions, most of the courses were obsolete. We needed to update and develop it to meet the FIATA standards. We were able to do that but It wasn’t easy with the resources we have. We had curriculum development of FIATA courses, the ordinary diploma, where all the trainees that the FIATA people came sometime and trained in Nigeria, those trainees, we used them to train and update the curriculum. So, the ordinary diploma have been off for 13 courses, have been fully updated, waiting for validation in any of the world congress this year. We now said, because of the paucity of fund we are facing, it is equally good to see how we can update the higher diploma, so that by the time we visit FIATA for revalidation, we don’t just go for ordinary, then come back, we now said let us also continue with the update of the higher  diploma syllabus, which we have initiated.

So, any moment from now, the trainers will come over, look at the courses, and in line with the directive of FIATA, updates the syllabus.

The world congress is coming up, one is in April this year and the other one is in September. We are hopeful either before April or before the end of the year, we will be able to make a trip and to revalidate it, so that it will conform with international standards and that will be a very good plus to our stakeholders and any other person that want to engage, or go into freight forwarding business.

And it is good also for us to know that because of the way we value education as one of the directives in our mandates, 17 institutions have been accredited. We have different centers, different courses available and there is a reform we want to add because when I look through the Act, we are supposed to train some of our stakeholders, free of charge. But I say maybe because of limited fund, we have not been able to do that. But we can no longer wait, so the management is making all efforts, if our revenue is being enhanced, to see how we can, association by association, pick a couple of them, train them because that is what informed the establishment of the Nigerian Institute of Freight Forwarding.

 It’s a very big edifice owned by the Council at Life Camp, Abuja. If you have the opportunity to go there, you’ll be surprised that this good thing can come even from CRFFN, even though we are not well known like that and it’s almost about 95% completed.

It has about 90 rooms capacity, there’s hostel, there’s a guest house for lodging, and auditorium that people can rent for events and training halls as well. We look forward that by the grace of God, in no distant time, with our enhanced revenue, we’ll be able to complete it.

Also, before 1st January this year, the new regime has been telling us about removal from budgetary allocation and self-funding, especially the agencies that have third parties or that have people that pay for one thing or the other in terms of revenue. Eventually, the Council is affected. So we are part of them. 

We are self-funded now. And we are not really finding it easy, but we are very hopeful because the government is determined to assist us also. And that is why we are making a clarion call to our stakeholders and we are all equally making moves to see how the arrears of what is accumulated for them before i came, can be offset gradually, but we should not lose sight again that whatever money that is being realized in POF and registration is to be ploughed back to train, to invest in them also. So that there will be a maximum performance and productivity achieved at the end.

And this will add to the revenue to Nigeria, not just to CRFFN, so that is one of the moves we have initiated. 

And I see others have conferences and all that.

We have not had it before, like freight forwarders national conference, where all the freight forwarders come together and things like that. So that is an initiative of the regime of the acting Registrar, the information agenda. It is one of the things we are hopeful to do before the end of this year and we believe that it will impact positively in the industry also. So that is one of the things.

There are preparation also to go to the ports, the other day I was opportune to go to Apapa port, I found it difficult seeing our freight forwarders gather and trekking distance, we need to impact on them. Other plans sooner will be unfolded to see how we can help to alleviate the suffering and make their doing business easier and better.

 I have some things that worry me in your narration. Government moved the percentage of what should go to them from the declarant fee from 25% to 40% and at the same time you are being removed again from budgetary allocation, I don’t understand, how do they want you to survive?

That is why we are making clarion calls. Since that day we have not rested, the management has not rested. All hands have been on deck to make memos, to ask sister agencies, government to come to our aid because it’s not easy. And once any revenue enters, it’s automatic, the thing leaves immediately, before whatever is remaining is shared. Then what is it that is remaining for us to pay salaries, then again to fund FIATA and to train the freight forwarders but one thing we know and believe is that if supported by the stakeholders and facilitation by the government is given to us to initiate our collection at the border and cargo airport, we are better off and the freight forwarder will enjoy more. All these things will be reviewed. I think the move is a good move if we can get all the support now and government will still have their own. So that is why we are calling all the freight forwarders, those that have not registered should come and register. And we are going to have call centers and more sensitization campaign of what we do, we are going to create awareness because we have not been there in terms of publicity. We want our stakeholders to be aware of the ongoing, some don’t even know how to pay to the system portal, we want to teach them the shortest code to do all those things. We are here to close ranks, form synergy and collaboration.

 The 40% allocation to government was it done under your tenure or under you predecessor’s tenure?

It was done late in my predecessor’s tenure, October 2022 and it was 40% as at then , but from 1st January 2024, it is now 50%, we are not the only one involved, there are over 30 agencies affected.

 Are there plans towards the amendment of CRFFN Act, if yes, what are the clauses being contemplated for adjustment? 

When the Minister came, a fact- finding committee was set up to find out all the challenges and proffer solution and according to the committee’s report, it was advised that the Act should be amended, there are some sections there that need to be amended and the Minister has given his approval and that’s why he also approved the relocation of the administrative department to Abuja and not the headquarter per say. The operational unit is here because Lagos is the hub of the business while the administrative unit is in Abuja.

 I understand that when an association fails to pay accreditation fee for 6 months, they automatically get disqualified as a member, is it true? 

I need to clarify the number of months but just as we did in training, there’s a timeline that the Council set for freight forwarders to aquire the minimum qualification, we will soon start enforcement, that is why we are still calling on people to avail themselves the opportunity to learn in the various centre. I will get back to you on the least number month you remain a member without payment but we are still calling on people that have not paid to make payment because this money is used to invest on them.

 The training is said to be expensive and it is channeled towards big men in the industry. When you talk about freight forwarding, you are talking about even those who have just started, what’s the cost component like in relation to the people you intend to catch? 

Maybe I have to avail you with the courses available for younger people, we have it.  The one they are talking about is the one we call Executive Professional Diploma, that is for  Chief Executives of all those big company and industry. There are other lower ones that every other persons can avail his or herself of. We have a list of those courses. Remember I said we are expected to give some free of charge, if this revenue improves we would select from the association from time to time.

 A good number of people who register directly and without being under any association, do you still capture them as freight forwarders?

Yes, but we are advising it better they belong to an association, we want uniformity and that will help them to get the dividend that will be coming.

 APFFLON were saying that they registered 126 people as freight forwarders, what can you say about that?

You know I came on board last year, and not only APFFLON, I met  other associations files unattended to. The last time the management met, I made them understand that there are agitations from groups to be registered but I need to go through the Act also. I won’t just come in and start that immediately, but we have that intention of calling them soonest, just like we have taken it upon ourselves to go round and talk to them one by one, we will attend to their case soon. This application was done before I came in, I am asking questions why my predecessor didn’t look into that, so I am asking questions so we get it right and to know the criteria, because there are criteria for registration and accreditation, and there are rules.

 What is you relationship with the Council’s Governing Body, lately we rarely hear of bickering and fighting because before now it had always been a hot place but there are still allegations of you having issues as well, is it a pressing one or a minor?

You know the Act stipulates that the Registrar is the Secretary to the Governing Council, they are to drive the process and to know who to hand over to, they are expected to consult the files and follow the rules and they did all these and my predecessor handed over to me in line with the rule and the governing Council conformed to the rule. It wasn’t long, the dissolution came which we are still waiting for the clarification of their status because of their structure. So what I have to say, I cannot say I met them in chaos because they drove the course.

 So for now they have not been functioning because of government decision? 

Yes, the letter of dissolution came and dissolve the board, we made a memo for clarification, so we are awaiting the result now that the Minister is here because it is a presidential order. So for now we are yet to get clarification from our supervisory Ministry, the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy.

 For some time now, CRFFN hasn’t been part of FIATA, what could be the reason for this hiatus? 

Well, like last year we were almost there in Belgium for the world congress but we observed that it wouldn’t be prudent to just go there and revalidate the ordinary diploma, then how about the higher diploma? So our plan is, when we are done with updating the higher diploma, we will be in FIATA come April or in September, because it not just enough to update it, if you don’t revalidate, you cannot use the syllables, so we are working towards achieving this.

Check Also

Why Insecurity Is Spreading Across The  Country-Admiral Jaiyeola

Admiral Jaiyeola The Nigerian-South African Chamber of Commerce recently held its monthly forum in January …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

× Get News Alert