· Finance, Audit blackmail CEO as condition for official action
· Ex-Chairman, members, call for probe, audit
There are indications that the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) is fast degenerating into a failed agency in the maritime industry with pathetic stories of internal strife, bickering, sabotage, truancy and unbridled corruption among members of staff and the governing council members.
CRFFN was established with the enabling Act No. 16 of 2007 to essentially regulate and control the practice of freight forwarding as well as promote the highest standards of competence, practice and conduct among members of the profession.
While wide spread criticisms from stakeholders have trailed the Council’s professional inertia lately, MMS Plus gathered that internal problems may have contributed to its inaction over industry challenges.
A director in the agency who confirmed the in-house squabbles is pained about the drift of developments, saying “ There is a cabal within and unfortunately the chairman of the governing council is indifferent about it and it seems he is highly compromised that he is helpless”.
Asked to explain the word, “compromised” the source said, “if there is no commitment on his part somewhere, no chairman would watch his agency drift so rudderless without action. And unless the Minister of Transportation intervenes now, there may be no CRFFN soon. It is unfortunate. There is need for a comprehensive clean up.”
Speaking with the chairman of the governing council, Col. Abubakar Tsanni(rtd), he told MMS Plus that he was not aware of any internal strife. “ I am not aware of any administrative problem in the Council. I am a governing council chairman vested with the powers to make policy decisions and not administrative matters. I will find out now that you have told me.”
Meanwhile, MMS Plus was informed last week that the Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi has received a comprehensive report on the happenings in the Council and is already considering a major re-organization to save the agency.
Investigations by MMS Plus revealed that there are alleged cases of insubordination and blackmail of the Registrar and Chief Executive Officer(CEO), Barr. Sam Nwakohu with demands for promotion and settlement of sundry bills as condition for discharge of official duties.
Alleged to be notorious in these crass open blackmail and demand to pad up official bills for personal gains, are the finance department, audit and PR units. While the audit sits on documents without even queries raised on them to the attention of the CEO and relevant user departments, in spite of the urgency and the CEO’s interventions, it was gathered that the audit unit had demanded that it be upgraded to a full directorate with a promotion to the position of director for its head as condition for seamless operation in the council.
The directorate of finance, on the other hand, allegedly based its sabotage of the system on an alleged statement credited to them, “Will pay people who give us money” and the penchant to always pad up bills for approval by the CEO. The finance department in the whims of the managers defies the government’s e-payment rule by allowing members of staff to receive vendors’ supposed corporate payments in their personal bank account details to enable them negotiate settlements with contractors afterwards. In CRFFN, this is a norm rather than the exception.
Many of the members of staff obtain permission for absence from office for two weeks but often times spend more than a month off duty without recourse to official checks as they dare the management to complain. The practice is that the superiors dare not complain about the malfeasance of their subordinates to avoid incurring a wrath that may elicit sabotage in the line of duty.
With a staff strength of 150 and monthly overhead bill of about N3million, many workers are hardly on their offices for work, leaving a few to work in isolation and helpless when the attention of the truant workers are needed.
Consequently, MMS Plus gathered that the Council is in an administrative and financial mess with huge debt profile to staff and vendors as this affected the scheduled hosting of the head of maritime agencies by the Council in August, leaving the CEO helpless as it was taken to the head office of the Nigerian Maritime Administrative and Safety Agency(NIMASA)in Lagos.
Contacted, Barr. Sam Nwakohu, would not talk but simply said, “We have challenges but God’s willing, we will come out of them. The Minister is aware.”
The governing council board which is polarized by a serious of inordinate interests is pitched against the management and enmeshed in crisis of confidence and allegation of orchestration to extend its two years tenure without due process.
Meanwhile, a member of the governing council who is disenchanted with the drift of the council has called for an independent probe and audit of CRFFN, saying “ It has failed to show any mark of achievement in two years of the current management and governing council leadership with a combined budgetary appropriation of about N10billion in 2019 and 2020 fiscal years with capital project provision of over N5billion, yet not even the meeting venue of the council in Lagos office could be renovated.
“Imagine that the meeting of heads of maritime agencies was moved to NIMASA because some people cannot manage an office? So, where are all these funds? Is it not the sharing that is creating problem among the management members of staff?” The source, who pleaded anonymity stated.
In his derisive reaction to the tides of absurdities and alleged leadership rudderlessness in the council, a former chairman of the governing council board, Aare Hakeem Olarewaju, accused the current 31 board members of unprofessionalism, financial recklessness, moves to illegally elongate their tenure and grand plans to collect and share the practitioners operating fees(POF).
Describing CRFFN as QUANGO in administration, Olarenwaju condemned the clandestine moves by the governing council to extend its tenure which expired in July, 2020 having been elected in July, 2018, asserting that a focused council should have rolled out elections time table instead of embarking on a late minute plans for mandatory qualification for professional training programme.
Quango in British parlance is a derogative term used for a semi-public body outside the civil service but receiving financial support from the government, which makes senior appointments to it.
He called on the management to” Withdraw the present notice issued, rather issue a notice in relation to seeking compliance to training and retraining programs in this regards. Take adequate care not to throw the industry into undue confusion. Do strategic consultation and communicate adequately, you are dealing with professional and not civil servants. Stay away from any form of political permutations. Advise the Minister alright and set up mercenaries for immediate elections. Avoid a repeat of what transpired in 2012 with the last governing council.”
According to him, “One obvious fact, that must be stated and put straight, is that the CRFFN Act 16 of 2007 is an extant law of the Federation, as such pending the conclusion of the amendment process presently on going at the National Assembly relevant provisions subsist. Most importantly, the Council remains a professional council with clear legislative intents and purposes. Therefore, the governing council members are hereby encouraged not to truncate or make mockery of the its two years statutory democratic elective succession as provided in the Act, for mere parochialism.”
Explaining the twist in the management system, he confirmed “the noticeable inadequate administrative cohesion between the Governing Council and the Management team. A true reflection of this is pronounced where standing and ad-hoc committees are created as enshrined in the enabling regulation but were not funded due to a general paucity of funds. But internal misgivings arose where and when some of the Governing Council members now lately raise an eyebrow or query the performance and administration of the yearly budgetary allocations”
On POF, the former chairman said that while the preoccupation of the council is to fleece operators of their funds in the guise of POF, “Many have strategized themselves into subgroups elements, waiting, monitoring the effective collection of the POF with a sole aim to be in possession of an evidence to the effect, to fast track and support their intents to challenge its application before a court of competent jurisdiction, this in another phrase is called “spoiling for a fight”.
Writing on the impact of CRFFN over the years, a former Secretary of the Association Registered Freight Forwarders of Nigeria, ARFFN, Comrade Chidi Opara noted, “ Is CRFFN beneficial to the industry? Please, give us the benefits, if any? Also, we may like to know where in the world, the country that has the equivalent of CRFFN. To me, CRFFN was established to give legal backing to collections of more illegal fees and monetary dues.”
Moreover, the management of CRFFN met with the heads of Seaports Terminal Operators of Nigeria (STOAN) on Thursday, last week, in Lagos, on how to integrate terminal operators in the collection of POF. While STOAN insists on having a stake of the collection as a vehicle for its collections and disbursement, CRFFN is said to have insisted that it was a government revenue which by its nature does not call for sharing with the terminal operators. An insider however told MMS Plus that STOAN bluntly noted that they are investors who are in Nigerian ports to make money, and so could not embark on POF collection as a vehicle without parting with a percentage. The Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA) is said not to be disposed to supporting its collection and the involvement of STOAN because of the absence of an enabling legislation, a situation that would trigger a deluge of litigations from freight forwarders and other stakeholders. Already, former chairman of the governing council, Olarenwaju has threatened court action if the collection is enforced without due process.