Being a licensed Customs agent is a vocation, not a profession – Aniebonam

Dr. Boniface Aniebonam is the founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF). In this Interview with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY’s Shulamite ‘Foyeku, he speaks on the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) controversial Practitioners’ Operating Fee (POF) and suggests how the fee should be shared among the five registered freight forwarding associations.

Excerpts:

 

Do you support the position of the immediate past National president of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Chief Ernest Elochukwu that a new CRFFN Governing Council must be reconstituted before the collection of POF?

Well, it is most unfortunate that when one begins to hear people like Ernest Elochukwu speak in a manner of this nature then one would begin to ask questions: Where are we actually going to?

But honestly, I must be very frank; ANLCA members should learn how to follow their leaders. If they don’t follow their leader, they would have themselves to blame. It is not about Elochukwu because sometimes he was the President of ANLCA, he never did anything. So, what is it all about? The likes of Elochukwu, Inua Muhammed, Peter Okocha, Kamba and the others, have not done as much as the incumbent President is doing now. He is taking them all over the world in terms of capacity building; got them a secretariat and what have you? I don’t want to dive into some of the issues that are internal but I think Ernest Elochukwu should stop what he is doing, it does not make sense.  I am even surprised he accepted chairmanship of a committee, having been a member of the CRFFN Board.

You recall that NAGAFF, as a matter of fact, facilitated the emergence of CRFFN at the National Assembly and when we begin to listen to people like Elochukwu, you know, I get annoyed because as the President of ANLCA then, he was there at the National Assembly, opposing this Council. So, what is it all about? What is he doing with the Council? So I begin to say that some of us don’t really have shame. I get worried that at his level, he cannot understand there is no vacuum in governance. If he is saying that the board of CRFFN is not properly constituted as the case may be, is he saying that with the situation in Nigeria today where the President of this country is yet to appoint ministerial positions and the Permanent Secretaries are doing what they are supposed to do, things won’t go on in the country?

Section 5 of the Council’s Act stipulates the power of the Minister to give direction and character and all that. So when the board is not properly constituted as it were, using his words now, then the power reverts back to the Minister. Let me tell you, the truth is that they have not being able to tell people what the problem is.

 

And what do you think the problem is? 

The problem is personal interest. I have had several meetings with Elochukwu, even when he was the President of ANLCA, outside ANLCA and outside the board of CRFFN. I have met with the Minister with him in Abuja and I know what they were talking about. You see, this collection of POF is the brainchild of the first Council but this thing never worked out. They should know that it is all over now.  Prince Shittu has limits that he can go. The truth of the matter is that a lot of ANLCA members are beginning to understand that some people are really pursuing their personal interest in the whole matter because they don’t even understand what the whole fight is all about.

Government has given you money, what is it? I have never seen people behave like this if not because of greed. Something people are looking for, the government has graciously given you and you are now bragging that you are this, you are that.

I think the problem with ANLCA is that they seem not to have legal department because if they have legal department, they should guide them.

 

The letter from the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Transport dated July 3rdmandated that an agreement should be reached among the five accredited associations on the sharing formula. So far, has any agreement been reached by the associations on the sharing formula?

That is exactly what Ernest Elochukwu should understand. There are five registered associations and when you unveil these associations, the actual membership of the CRFFN are duly reflected in terms of individual, cooperate and associations. So, CRFFN basically, is using associations as a platform for administrative convenience. ANLCA did not attend the reconciliation meeting for fear of the unknown. The sharing formulas as agreed by the majority of the accredited associations are as follows:  NAGAFF 33 percent, ANLCA 28 percent, National Council of Managing Directors (NCMDLCA), Association of Registered Freight Forwarder (AREFF) and NAFFAC 13 percent each.

Out of five registered associations, four is saying this is the direction, one is saying no. Are we not in a democracy?  I listened to Elochukwu and he is talking about membership of ANLCA as being the largest. I don’t know where he is coming from because, the membership of ANLCA is based on licenses issued by the Customs for corporate bodies so how many licenses do Customs have? Put it plus or minus, 1200. So how many do they have? NAGAFF, AREFF, NCMDLCA and NAFFAC have nothing less than 75 percent of the licenses issued by the Customs. Aside from that, we need to stop all these propagandas because these guys are misleading the young freight forwarders. It is wrong, but the issues of election or whatever in the CRFFN has to do with the register of the CRFFN not the register of NAGAFF, or any of the association. Go and check the record, the highest membership in CRFFN is that of NAGAFF. The register is there, go and cross check it and Elochukwu as well as ANLCA members know that. Now, what is the thrust?

You know when NAGAFF did its election it was made a compulsion that if you are not a member of CRFFN, you will not stand in for election either to vote or be voted for. So, the membership of CRFFN is that of NAGAFF. So, even when we talk about distribution of wealth, what they are saying, the four associations have sat, ANLCA refused to attend and we have allotted. For instance, in the issue of the Council membership, there are 15 seats, NAGAFF was allocated five, ANLCA four, the other three associations: two each. So, even when you come to sharing formula that has been decided, NAGAFF is ahead of ANLCA in terms of spread, in terms of membership, in terms of anything you can think of.  We are up to Jibia border now, none of them is there. And we are in Kwara, Ibadan, they are not there. Then in terms of membership, NAGAFF membership cuts across individuals, corporate and what you can think of but ‎ANLCA membership is basically corporate body licensed by the Customs. ANLCA should understand that we are talking about global changes in terms of freight forwarding business as a global phenomenon.

In case you don’t know, Customs and Excise means simple collation of Customs duty at entry points so ANLCA does not move out of Nigeria and freight business is a global thing also, Custom licensed agents are limited in responsibilities that have to do with cargo in, out and within Nigeria and they just have to understand that. The collection must continue and the sharing formula has been discussed so it is left to them to decide. ANLCA has a committee that is moving for them. If they call a meeting, we would attend and will let them know but if they don’t, they can’t even go anywhere because the four associations are definitely against ANLCA, so it cannot work. The law is there, and what ANLCA may not know now is that the government is talking about blocking loopholes as far as revenue is concerned and one of the major reasons that one can talk about revenue leakage in port has to do with licensing regulation of the Customs because it is based on cooperate bodies and it is only a Court that can unveil it to know who is behind it. That is why you see foreigners involved in license Custom agency work which is even a vocation, not a profession.

Customs should start to think about developing the WIFI concept where you can go into interaction with the Customs directly without going through anybody and if you have any intention to cheat, you cannot cheat because you are endorsed. Freight forwarders need to be identified and that is why CRFFN is there to proffer solutions to prepare freight forwarders with higher version of knowledge that can handle Customs formalities. Let me again say that the Customs has done so well, they have done everything they could do, but there is something remaining and that is the aspect of modifying licensing regulation.

 

Concerning the status of CRFFN, the court has ruled that it is a government agency. If that is the case, do you think there is need for all these disagreements over collection of money that is due to government and some for the associations?

You rather ask Elochukwu that. If CRFFN is an agency of government by the virtue of the court ruling and order so what point is he making? I heard him talking about the issue of paying money into the federation account or what have you, but that does not relate to what we are talking about. If that is the case, who is fighting who?

If government is to receive their money, so what is the problem? Does government not spend their money? So, what is he talking about?

You know, sometimes you try to listen to these people but you don’t know where they are coming from. The next thing is that they have gone to court. Which court? Court what? What is the court number? Which particular judge is handling the case?  But you know that after the stakeholders meeting, the same Ernest Elochukwu who represented ANLCA was there and it was agreed that this collection should go on while the associations should go and discuss further and they should go and withdraw the case from the court. That was what was agreed upon.



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