Chief Henry Njoku is the former Chairman, Board of Trustees (BOT), Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). In this interview with Shulammite‘Foyeku, he posits that despite some observed lapses, the immediate past National President of ANLCA, Prince OlayiwolaShittu, gave his best to the association.
How would you assess the eight-year tenure of Prince OlayiwolaShittu as ANLCA President?
I will say that he did well. He gave 100 percent of his time to the association. But as humans, it does not mean that there were no faults in him, there were, but he did relatively well. I have not seen any President that was as committed as Shittuin terms of his time and energy for the association.
What were his shortcomings?
In administration, we have the functions of the Board of Trustees (BOT) and that of the National Executives. There are some functions of the BOT that when he (Shittu) steps on it, we draw him back and let him know what the constitution says. We may disagree on policy issues, but at the end of the day, ANLCA is still one family. We are heading to the same place and we still find a way to resolve it to move on. Shittu, sometimes don’t look at the constitution when he does some things, and this causes friction between him and the BOT.
Outside infringement of the constitution, Shittu is a very wonderful man but you know it is good to work as a team, look at what the constitution says especially about powers. If I am to assess Shittu, I will tell you he performed well; about 80 percent, in terms of projecting the association and giving his time to the association.
It was alleged that the BOT, which you chaired frustrated efforts by the National Executive Committee (NECOM) to amend the association’s constitution in order to protect its interest. What would you say about this?
The procedure to amend constitution is not by NECOM. The National Executive Council (NEC) has the right to arrange for AGM, where the constitution can be amended. But when the process for amendment is not followed and you went and put in things that we think has not been read publicly for people to approve; that would not be termed as being constitutional. The procedure for the amendment of the constitution was not well followed. The association started since 1954, and so there is need for checks and balances. There are procedures, for instance, there are limitations for approval for money even for a National President. Some, he needs to get approval from the NEC, but in those areas, we did not follow them logically because if we follow them, he may find it difficult to function. The constitution says when you appoint committees; you bring them to NEC for ratification. But a situation where Shittu sits and put up appointment on his own without ratification from NEC simply shows he would have loved to have more powers in terms of doing things without getting order. But outside that, I will tell you he did well in terms of commitment to time and the manner he packaged the association. Pertaining to the national secretariat; it was not Shittu’s idea alone; it came from all of us. We sat down and agreed that this was what we needed to do. But being the head of administration, he engineered it and then we all put heads together and made it work. The last administration headed by Ernest Elochukwu amended the constitution, and it is that same constitution we use in electing him, so why is he finding fault in the constitution now? If it was so bad, would he have been elected? It is the same BOT who came to Lagos for a week, did consultation and brought back peace to the association. So why would the BOT be an obstacle? It is only when you are going against the constitution that the BOT will tell you this procedure is not correct because we are the custodians of the constitution.
As the chairman of the BOT, how is your working relationship with Shittu?
Our working relationship is cordial. I won’t tell you that throughout his stay, we never had disagreement; we disagree to agree. Those disagreements are normal and then we resolve them. So far, I will say it has not been a bad relationship.
Some critics have accused Shittuof ethnic sentiments. Do you share the same view?
No I won’t say he is tribalistic. But that is what people think and we try to persuade them that it is not so. After all, Shittu started his business from Port Harcourt. So, if he istribalistic, we would not have accommodated him in the East. I worked with him when he was the Chairman of the Airport Chapter (in Port Harcourt) while I was the Vice Chairman. In association matters, people will always bring up sentiments, but it is the leadership that will give assurance to all of them that irrespective of their ethnic background, we are all in the same profession and we are one family. We should be able to work together, in order to achieve success. I will say it has been a teamwork, though once in a while, those things come up but there are not things that we cannot address. We have been able to patch them.
It was alleged that you were behind the group ‘Concerned ANLCA Members’ that accused Shittu of misappropriating the association’s funds. How would you react to this?
Well, just as I said, the constitution stipulates that for every regime, there are times you must audit accounts. An audit committee was set up and the audit was given to a man that has been working for them. In the process of doing the audit, they stopped somewhere and then they could not conclude it. Even now that Shittu is leaving office, there is supposed to be an audit of the association’s account. But when you call for such things, it will be as if you are witch hunting somebody. But that is not witch hunting. What happened then was that some people wrote a petition and even though it was addressed to me, I sent it to Shittu and asked him to respond to those things they talked about. The way public funds are, whether it belongs to the association or not, you have your right to give account of what you have done if you managed them well. So it was those people who wrote the petition and they were not faceless because they wrote their names and they appeared in person. So why would they say they are being instigated by somebody? I don’t think that is right. You know in associations, so many things happen. If I have a disagreement with the President and an incident occurs after, they say it is me. If he has disagreement with me too and anything happens, they say it is him. So that is the way it is. But those things do not hold water at all. Shittuand I are like brothers. I see him as my brother because he knows me even up to my mum and she knows him too well too including every member of my family. I know his family the same way. So we have come a long way.
What do you admire most about Shittu?
Shittu is a very sociable person. Anything he is committed to, he tries all his best to make sure that it is done. In terms of relationship, he works so hard to maintain it. I admire him because he is a very intelligent man. At any time you bring Shittu to talk about association matters even if he is sleeping, he will be able to give you a good account of the association. That is Shittu for you.
What do you consider the greatest challenge of ANLCA during Shittu’s tenure?
The greatest challenge could be managing tribal sentiments. Of course, not by the President’s making but from time to time it happens, especially during election period. But for me, after election, ANLCA is one big family. Before Shittu’s tenure, ANLCA had different factions but I led the delegation of the BOT and we resolved the differences among members and brought them back to the association.
Which of Shittu’s legacies you would like thenew executives under Tony Iju-Nwabuniketo emulate?
I have talked about Shittu’s commitment to ANLCA; he gave his 100 percent to the association, so I would want the new president to do the same thing. Shittu came when we had no secretariat, even though before his election, the board bought a parcel of land and our intention was to develop it. But when we saw that the land was a bit swampy, we left that place and they sold the land. When Shittu came on board, he called us and we had a meeting and we all started working on that. Every arrangement to raise the money was done not by Shittu alone, but with commitment from all of us. In fact the BOT made it compulsory that every licensed company belonging to ANLCA must pay N50,000 each, part of which was used to complete the payment of the secretariat. So it was a general sacrifice and his commitment as head of administration that led to the success of that. However, I read in some newspapers where it was published ‘How Shittu raised N120 million for the secretariat’. Those things Shittu said are not correct. In fact, the first payment we made for the secretariat was ANLCA’s money, which we paid about N20 million to N40 million before Dikko now gave the money. So most of those things he said are not true. And where he said in the interview that he took some of us including our wives to Dubai was not his making alone. How can he say such a thing? We only said those who want to go with their wives could go if they want to buy ticket for them, so for him to come out and say he sponsored the trip is not true. Dikko helped in sponsoring the trip to Dubai and part of the money for that trip was brought from our association. I also read in that publication where he said that it is the board that appoints Association Electoral Commission (ASECO), but he nominated the present ASECO secretary. When Mukaila was brought in, Shittu was aware of it so there is no way they will bring anybody in as ASECO member without Shittu’s contribution in the nomination. If he brings the secretary, and others bring members, I do not see any big deal about it. Or where he says the chapter chairmen listens to those who elected them, how can he say such a thing? The chairmen were very loyal to him, they worked with him but they all know the truth when anybody is saying anything that is correct or not. For example, the usual way we have our election is by AGM but Shittu pleaded that he wanted it to be collegiate because people will spend too much money. We agreed and allowed it. If I don’t allow it, then I will be a very bad man. The association was in my hands for about six months even before Shittu’s election and it was during that period we brought peace to the association. My own position is that Shittu has done well but he has his own fault and I have my own too. I don’t say I am perfect in the things I do. But in terms of commitment to the association, he has done very well.
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