Tsanni Abubakar, a retired Army Colonel was on October 31, 2018 appointed Chairman of the third Governing Council of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria by the Federal Government. In this report, Shulammite ‘Foyeku takes a look at the task ahead of him as he settles down to work and expectations from industry stakeholders on how he intends to address the numerous challenges facing the freight forwarding sub sector.
Abubakar was pronounced as Chairman by the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Ameachi, under what industry observers described as a ‘special arrangement’ as against the provisions of CRFFN act which provided that the Chairman of the board has to be elected among the council members elected into the board.
Although Registrar of the Council, Sir Mike Jukwe, claimed that the new Chairman, a government appointee is a registered freight forwarder and an exporter, stakeholders have expressed doubts if Abubakar really has the capacity of turning around the fortunes of the freight forwarding practice in Nigeria.
Speaking shortly after he assumed office, Abubakar told newsmen that the CRFFN under his watch would be highly professionalised and go through regular training of practitioners.
He promised to tackle the influx of foreigners in freight forwarding practice in Nigeria, even as he assured that the Council under his watch would work with the Nigeria Customs Service to resolve the challenges surrounding issuance of licenses to practitioners.
Abubakar who lamented the influx of Chinese men infiltration into wood processing and export in Nigeria, assured that the Council would address all such challenges
“A Chinese man would go to Taraba, buy wood and come to Shagamu and do what he is supposed to do while you as an exporter is there doing nothing, you have no alternative than to collect the wood and export it for him as a third party, this is wrong.
“We would look into the relationship between freight forwarders and Customs, the port authority, the shippers council and other agencies, by God’s grace between now and December, you would see a lot of development in the freight forwarding industry. We are not here to sleep, we are not here to joke,” he said.
Mixed reactions have continued to trail Abubakar’s appointment with the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarder (NAGAFF) describing it as lacking in decency and professional decorum.
National Publicity Secretary, NAGAFF, Stanley Ezenga stated that the imposition of a retired military officer as the CRFFN Chairman is a departure from the norm, noting that professionalism in the freight forwarding sub-sector of the maritime industry should be key.
“The method of electing the chairman and the vice of the council, as stipulated by the act is very clear and unambiguous. The Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Institute of Chartered “Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and all other professional association are manned by their members, chosen according to the act establishing them. However, it is evident that the government has interest, otherwise why meddle into the affairs of a professional body?
“Some industry observers who never wanted this council to succeed will be gloating over this avoidable impasse. This is one of many problems plaguing the nation, where round pegs are put in square holes. Why appoint a non-professional as the chairman? Is it as a result of lack of qualified professional personnel? There are many persons who know their onions that are on that council. There is absolutely no reason for such an appointment, rather the council members should have been allowed to elect their principal officers using the process provided by the act,” he told SHIPS & PORTS DAILY.
Reasons for the reaction from the practitioners could not be farfetched. Their reactions stemmed from the way the Transport Minister handpicked Abubakar as the new Chairman of the board. Ameachi, it was gathered was not particularly impressed with the way the CRFFN election was held four months ago and had decided to effect a change from the usual way the Chairman was to be elected.
The Minister said the council had suffered a lot and he needed somebody he could work with as CRFFN chairman. It would be recalled that that the first two governing council from 2008 to 2012 were never allowed to function effectively due to internal wrangling, constant litigations and lack of consensus among the various associations. This made it difficult for the council to have a governing board from 2012 to 2018 when the incumbent council was inaugurated. This, some stakeholders say, could have informed the minister’s decision to name Abubakar, the new CRFFN governing board Chairman.
Although Abubakar is yet to unveil his agenda on how he intends to professionalise the freight forwarding practice and bring it at par to global standards, industry stakeholders, believe he has a huge task ahead. The new CRFFN Chairman, they say, will apparently contend with three major issues. First is the issue of unity among the freight forwarding associations, especially over the collection of Practitioners Operating Fee (POF). The POF collection had over the years pitched the freight forwarding associations against each other on one hand, the Transport Minister and the CRFFN over who gets what from the collection.
The Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agent (ANLCA) and NAGAFF are currently divided over the status of a declarant on the collection of the POF. While ANLCA said that customs laws recognised only a customs licensed company as the declarant of cargoes, NAGAFF insists that a declarant is an individual whose name is in the registrar of freight forwarders. Second is the issue of creating synergy between the council and the Nigeria Customs Service, which include the issue of foreigners encroaching into the profession, and lastly, the issue of professionalism of the freight forwarding practice.
While freight forwarders are groaning over foreign dominance in the clearing business, CRFFN and the Nigeria customs Service are yet to come to terms over who is responsible for the foreign dominance. It is estimated that the country losses about N100 billion annually to foreign operators in the sector.
The training of freight forwarders to induce professionalism in the system is also a germane issue on the front burner for the new CRFFN Chairman. Speaking on expectations from the new CRFFN Chairman, a former President of NAGAFF, Eugene Nweke, while speaking with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY, advised that Abubakar must first bridge the training gap existing not only among practitioners but among the governing council members. According to him, “Over 83 percent of the members that have been uploaded on the CRFFN register have not been trained. Among the council members themselves, I can tell you that out of 16 of them, professional qualification wise, 10 are not certified by the institute created by the council. We have achieved that aspect of FIATA recommendation of 50 percent experience but 50 percent professional qualification is lacking, so it must start with them.
“It behoves on a focused executive council of CRFFN to take a very critical appraisal of what has been the bane of actualising professionalism in the industry vis a vis the issue that bothers on non-effective training of the forwarders.
“The council chairman must ensure that among the board, every member must go back and sit for executive diploma course to qualify them as professional freight forwarders that can represent Nigeria within the comity of freight forwarding nations. In the absence of that, people will continue to do the same old thing without aligning themselves to what is obtainable internationally.
“So the chairman must stand his ground for us to achieve professionalism. Disciple, professional ethics must be revived and ensured that people comply with it. That is the only time our tribunal can try anybody because people will come with the excuse that they don’t know. But if you are trained and you get discipline, one will behave better and the era of entering the port to beg rather than engaging agencies of government on professional point of view will stop by way of regulation
On foreign dominance in the sector, Nweke, said there is need to ensure interagency cooperation between the council and customs to address the problem.
“The council chairman has made a promise that he is going to sit down with the CG of Customs to discuss section 18 and 19 sub-section 1 and 2 of CRFFN Act. Customs should not just wake up and start issuing license to foreigners without getting clearance from the practitioners. I think the new management of customs is also taking that into consideration under the new NICIS platform,” he added.