Aniebonam @ 60

In 1999, I was a young reporter, fresh from the university and bubbling with new ideas. I was saddled with the responsibility of producing and anchoring a 30-minute weekly programme called Maritime Diary which aired on select television stations including NTA 2 Channel 5 Lagos, RSTV Port Harcourt and DTV Warri.

In no time, Maritime Diary became the most watched and most respected shipping program on Nigerian television. We had over one million viewers across the country per week.

Every week, I interviewed one or more prominent individuals, usually highly placed people in the maritime industry. We produced incisive reports and conducted interviews from the studio. I also interviewed people on-site in their offices, in the ports, onboard ships, in their homes, hotels and other unique locations. It was a lot of fun for me as I met with great personalities in the industry. That period created the foundation for what I am able to do today in the maritime industry.

One of the personalities I met back in those days was Peter Okocha, then newly elected National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). I met him at an occasion and couldn’t help but notice his poise and style. He was tall and dressed in all-white attire. Even his shoes were spotless white. He did not cut across like the regular clearing agent I had come across at various times.

I didn’t waste time in introducing myself and asking for an appointment which he promptly granted. Two days later, I was in his office in Surulere where his beautiful Secretary (I couldn’t help but notice. I was young and single after all)  ushered me into his vast and immaculate office after a brief wait.

Okocha was pleasant and eager to speak with me. After about an hour, the interview was over. He gave me a small note to his accountant but as I made for the door of his office, he asked if I had ever interviewed one Boniface Aniebonam.

“No, I haven’t,” I said.

“That’s good. Make sure you don’t interview him. Anytime you do, I won’t grant you interview again,” he said.

That sounded strange to me. I thought it was a free world. Anyhow, I shrugged and left his office.

But he had piqued my curiousity about the man. Who was this Aniebonam and why was he so important to Okocha? I determined to meet (and interview!) Aniebonam as soon as possible.

Dr. Boniface Aniebonam’s office in 1999 was the direct opposite of Okocha’s. It was a small 12 square feet space located in the busy NPA Commercial building near the Apapa Area Command of the Nigeria Customs Service. That building has since been demolished after an inferno about 10 years office.

I met Dr. Aniebonam who surprisingly accused me of not featuring him on Maritime Diary because, according to him, I was on Peter Okocha’s payroll. I was taken aback and vehemently denied it. I was new to the waterside game and didn’t understand such tactics but I now know better. If anyone says that to me these days, I won’t even bat an eyelid.

We had a good interview session. He told me that he was a member of ANLCA and headed a very important unit of the association until a few months earlier when he had to pull out and formed NAGAFF. Indeed, I remember him saying despite forming NAGAFF, he remained a valid member of ANLCA.

Suffice it to say that I was able to maintain cordial relationship with both Okocha, for about six months until he resigned as ANLCA President and Aniebonam, till date.

Dr. Aniebonam is a man many love to hate and hate to love. You simply cannot ignore him in the industry; he won’t allow you to.

Aniebonam it was that popularised the phrase “freight forwarding” in Nigeria. Many scorned him when he set up NAGAFF but like a prophet, everyone now identifies with freight forwarders and agents call themselves freigh forwarders.

Aniebonam has paid his dues and matured into a great leader over a space of 15 years. Many people have bought into his vision and the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders which he formed on 31st November 1999 with a handful of followers has grown to become the largest freight forwarding association in Africa.

Aniebonam is a man of the people (apologies to the late China Achebe). You will always see people flocking around him everywhere he goes. NAGAFF Village in Apapa is the melting pot of freight forwarders – the successful ones and the upstarts alike. His greatest investment is in people. I am not sure anyone can boast of ‘dragging’ as many people into freight forwarding as Aniebonam has done over the past decade and a half.

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