Chief Ernest Elochukwu is a pioneer member of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) Governing Council and immediate past National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA).
In this interview with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY, Elochukwu speaks on the rift between ANLCA and CRFFN over collection of the latter’s controversial Professional Operating Fee (POF).
Why exactly is ANLCA kicking against collection of the Professional Operating Fee (POF) by CRFFN?
ANLCA is kicking because the issue was presented to the National Executive Council meeting as demanded or required by the constitution of ANLCA and the majority of the NEC members felt that there are issues that need to be clarified about the collection. Hence, there was the resolution to set up a committee, which I was made chairman of. While at the same time, that the association should be further advised and that was the position before we now started getting a lot of hostile reactions both from the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) management as well as the other associations.
Is it true that ANLCA’s opposition to the collection is because it wants a large chunk of the 35% of the POF approved for the associations by the former Transport Minister? We heard ANLCA wanted more than half of the money accruing to the associations whereas it is only one of five registered associations.
Well, get one thing clear. If ANLCA wants a larger percentage, ANLCA deserves it because no matter what ever that has been put forward in the public domain in form of propaganda, ANLCA still controls as much as, if not more than 75 percent of members of the practicing freight forwarders. I mean practicing freight forwarders as in licensed customs agents’ because that is actually the only thing that is the freight forwarding that is yet being done in Nigeria. So if ANLCA had actually even demanded for a higher percentage, yes it is well deserved. But that is not the issue. The issue is that the majority of ANLCA members felt that there are issues that are not yet well ironed out in that issue of the POF collection. And the principal among that issue is the fact that there is no Governing Council in place.
Now the Act 16 of 2007 was principally about the Governing Council. It was not envisaged that the Act would be operating without the Governing Council. And if you look at it, Section 2 of the Act, in its beginning said the council shall comprise: (a) The chairman elected from among the freight forwarders, (b) The vice- chairman, and so on and so forth. So the question that many ANLCA and NEC members were asking, why would this very monumental project be undertaken in the absence of a Governing Council? So that is the first thing and apparently, some people have been going about with this impression that CRFFN is a government agency that is under the Ministry of Transport just like may be, any of these other agencies like National Inland Waterway Authority and all that. But we believe it is not so, that the government interest in it is to give a direction. But by the structuring of that Act, especially by the section that I have just mentioned that the major thing will be driven by the freight forwarders themselves. And so, that is a major issue, and we are now saying that it would not be a good thing just because the issue is money and people would now rush on to collect money without doing the right thing.
So, ANLCA in essence, is insisting that the right thing be done. Now, since the commencement of this controversy as I would call it, there has been a lot of meetings, a lot of invitations, including the ones that ANLCA members were reported to the police headquarters. And when our members went there, they explained to the police what the situation was and even police on their own part, felt that it wasn’t right that there would be such operation without the existence of a Governing Council. And yet, the people who are bent on these are still moving on, trying to insist that this money would be collected. And we are saying that money is good. Whatever ANLCA gets there is also equally good, it would be helpful in running the association but we are insisting that the right thing should be done, which is the existence of the Governing Council.
We got conflicting reports about the outcome of the meeting convened by the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Transport on 3rd July to resolve the controversy between ANLCA and CRFFN. Since you were at that meeting, can you tell us what exactly transpired?
At the meeting, every party said their own bits. It started with the CRFFN, talking about the history of how the issue of the POF collection was done during the time of the last council. By the way, the last council was way back in 2012 and how they have been having meetings and all that, and why ANLCA suddenly decided it wasn’t going along with it for whatever reason or the other. Now, when it was the turn of ANLCA, we presented our views that yes, maybe the President (of ANLCA) as the chief executive of the association could engage in certain discussions on any matter but for those things that would require the membership of the association in implementation, that he is constitutionally bound to report to the National Executive Council meeting. And having reported to the National Executive Council meeting, the NEC took a decision.
It wasn’t as if we were saying ANLCA is against the collection of the POF, no. It is that we should do it the right way. Now, there were issues about letters from various ministries including the ones that was supposed to have come from the Ministry of Justice, Attorney General’s office. So when they talk about that, we also talked about the one that came from the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and there was this issue that Ministries should not be writing on issues that doesn’t concern them. But the summary of it all was that at the end of the day, the Chairman of that meeting, which was the Permanent Secretary, said ok, that everybody should go; that he was going to take a decision. So there was no directive to ANLCA to compulsorily comply. Of course, that cannot be. So, it was thereafter that this issue of ANLCA members being reported to the police came.
And then, we equally went and answered the charges and then the police in their general meeting that was collectively held, agreed with our position that the Governing Council should be constituted and they felt that they should suspend any action based on the report while they gave some three months to make sure that everything is put in place for the election to be held.
Some of the other freight forwarders associations have called for the deregistration of ANLCA over this POF controversy…
Everybody is entitled to his own opinion and as you can see, people are always taking flight of fantasy; anybody can even make any call because as far as some people are concerned that is a project from which they are expected to make a kill. We are not asking that they shouldn’t make the kill but that it should be done the right way. So, I want to say that calling for deregistration of ANLCA is only an exercise of the jaw which anybody can do, exercise of right which anybody can do. But the funny thing is ok; remove ANLCA from the freight forwarding, who is there? But that is by the way.
The Director of Maritime Services of the Federal Ministry of Transport has written a letter directing immediate commencement of the POF collection despite your opposition to the collection and the court case you instituted against the Ministry and the CRFFN. What is your view of this directive?
Honestly, I want to express my surprise if that is the approach that is being adopted. But I want to caution everybody involved in this, whether the person is a government employee, as in working in the government that everybody should be careful because there are many issues that have not yet been sorted out. Principal of which is: what is really the status of the CRFFN? If CRFFN is a government agency as is being peddled about, then I can easily say that government knows how to collect its revenue, they don’t need meetings, they don’t need consultations and they don’t need consensus to collect the revenue, that is, the government.
But however, for the fact that this needs the consensus or the cooperation of the people, then it means that people should be careful. It wouldn’t just end about giving the orders or directives as it is. We also don’t want to take up issues personally with anybody. But if our association says there are issues we want sorted out, all we need to do is that every avenue should be given, every chance should be given for those issues to be sorted out.
For instance, there was a recent Presidential directive that said that all monies collected from government agencies should be kept in the federation account. So if CRFFN is a government agency, what stops the money that is collected being paid into the federation account? And why would we now put an additional burden on the port users or the freight forwarders if it is only for the government to collect extra revenue?
However, if it is for the purpose of running the freight forwarding industry as it is, then it should be discussed, it should be agreed upon. And this air of authority as is been bandied about should be discarded for the interest of everybody.
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