The internal crisis rocking the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) has recently attracted the attention of stakeholders in the maritime community. The crisis came to a head recently when the executives of the country’s largest freight forwarding association suspended some prominent members including the Board of Trustees Chairman, Taiwo Mustapha and a former National President, Chief Ernest Elochukwu.
ANLCA Deputy National President, Prince Kayode Farinto, in this interview with SHIPS & PORTS ‘ Tosin Aribisala, admits that the crisis is taking a toll on the association. He also blames some unidentified Customs officers for fanning the embers of discords within the fold of the association.
It appears ANLCA is embroiled in crisis. How did the association get to this boiling point?
Let me start like this. During our swearing-in sometimes in April 2018, we noticed that there was division amongst members of the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees of ANLCA comprises nine members but Tony Iju pulled out of the board to contest for the position of National President which he won. This led to a big row where the board began to see the National Executive Council (NECOM) as partisan. Then we also discovered that some board members were not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). Investigating further, we learned that one of them was given money to register members of the board but he never did. So, this became a very big problem where one of the board members saw that there was going to be a coup and he went to court. After this, we found out that only three board members were registered out of the eight members; Chief Peter Obi, Prince Taiwo Oyeniyi and Chief Henry Njoku. Knowing this, we said that NECOM should not recognize the other five members pursuant to a court judgment which says we should not recognize them. This metamorphosed to another level and when it was getting out of hand, the new board members then went to CAC for registration. They registered and told us that since they registered at the twilight of the administration, their tenure starts from that day of registration which is not so according to a part of the CAMA (Company and Allied Matters Act) 2020 as amended. So, out of the eight members remaining,, three members supported Tony Iju who won the election while the other five members supported his opponent who lost the election. This led to the polarization of the board along two factions: factions A and B. Faction B members being the majority then sought to remove the chairman because he was among the minority. The chairman was among the first three members while the secretary was produced from the remaining five members. So, they were now agitating for an extension of their tenure knowing fully well that their tenure was about six month to its conclusion. So, Tony Iju said they should conduct an election but not on the eve of our inauguration. This is because they wanted to conduct a kangaroo election and this was the real reason behind the crisis. Also, tribal sentiments came in for administrative convenience and we handled it by recognizing tribal balance in the positioning of leadership in the association.
The Tony Iju-led executives recently expelled some very senior members of the association like Chief Ernest Elochukwu, who is a former National President of ANLCA, and seven others. Isn’t this action taking the matter too far? Won’t this lead to a disintegration of ANLCA?
There is nothing like disintegration. What we want to achieve in ANLCA is discipline and if we can get about thirty members who would be disciplined, cultured and civilized, so be it. We do not want people who do not respect the constitution or see themselves as moneybags; hence they should not be penalized when they run afoul of the constitution. That era is gone. Whatever we do now, we do according to the tenets of the constitution. The constitution empowered the National Disciplinary Committee to look into any misdemeanor by any of our members. The National Disciplinary Committee wrote about six letters to the expelled members informing them of the opportunity to come and defend themselves. While some came, others did not. I was privileged to be the chairman of that committee. We looked for circumstantial evidences against them and when they were found guilty, they were expelled. It is just like when we say we have a BOT of PDP and a member flouts the law against the president, he or she will be dealt with. Our committee recommended that they should be suspended but when we got to the National Executive Committee (NEC); NEC looked at the grievous offences they had committed and said they should be expelled. So, nobody is above suspension and none is indispensable. It is an expulsion but if they want to come back, they know what to do.
You and other national officers of the association have been accused of disobeying two court orders. Aren’t you afraid of being remanded for contempt?
Which court order did we disobey? There was a court order that we should not recognize the expelled members. Meanwhile, they brought a certificate from CAC alongside an injunction, which states that we should recognize them since they have registered. We then wrote to CAC to verify the authenticity of the certificate but they replied that the so-called certificate was issued in error. There is another court ruling, which says that if we continue to recognize them as Board of Trustees members, we will go to jail. Mind you, an injunction has a life span while a court order does not. If you look at CAMA Act 2020 as amended, the power of the board is clearly stipulated there. The board has advisory role to play; not executive powers to suspend the association’s president. The constitution also stated the power of the president who is the chief executive officer. Where did they derive that power to suspend the president? They do not have the powers to suspend him. We went to school. We are not in a banana republic where somebody can take the law into their hands. They have been expelled and they remain expelled. I still don’t know where they derived their powers from.
The Taiwo Mustapha-led Board of Trustees also alleged that you organized some thugs to cart away some office equipment at the association’s secretariat, which led to the arrest of Chief Ernest Elochukwu, Prince Taiye Oyeniyi and others. How true is this?
They were the ones that even organized boys to come and kill us at the secretariat. I was privileged to be at the secretariat that day, I was the one that called the police. We arrested one of their boys that the police arraigned before the court. The BOT members were the ones that bailed the boy in court with guns. We have the evidences at the secretariat. That is even why NEC said they should be expelled. It was only God that saved us that day.
Why has reconciliation been difficult? Why have you been avoiding reconciliatory meetings with your aggrieved members?
I’m not aware of any reconciliation call except for one where the expelled members reported us to SARS (the now defunct police special anti-robbery squad) as gun- runners. We were arrested – the president, the national secretary and I. At the conclusion of their activities, SARS attempted to have a reconciliation meeting with us. We attended the meeting, which took place twice. The expelled board members gave their conditions and we gave ours. After that, they saw that they could not meet up with our conditions so they never called any other meeting again. We know that in politics, it is give and take. We wanted them to agree with some of our conditions but they refused. Dr Rafiu Oladipo who called me now is the only one that has been disturbing us for reconciliation and he just came back from abroad. He said he would call me today for a meeting and as you can see, he just did now. There was no reconciliation that was called that we never attended. These people believe in their crooked ways of running the organization. They cut corners but we are different. We agreed to follow the tenets of the constitution in ANLCA in whatever we would be doing henceforth. That is why they cannot fit in. If you look at this country generally, you see that Nigeria itself is being ruled by a system of government called gerontocracy – the government of the old. All these people who are in their 70s do not want to leave when the ovation is loudest. The problem is that, this has been a norm. One of them would even tell you that there is no sitting president that I don’t give problem. Does that call for an award or honor?
What has been the impact of the imbroglio on the governance of the association and the welfare of its members?
Sincerely, it has affected us so much because our members are suffering on the field but don’t forget that there is another angle to it. The other angle is the angle of customs. We now found out that some members of the management team of customs are actually sponsoring this crisis to continue because they believe that if ANLCA is not in crisis, they won’t be able carry out the illegality they are perpetuating in the industry. So, I see an angle of customs to it also. And unfortunately, these people are playing to the gallery because they can be likened to a foul peeping into the pot of soup not knowing that, the pot of soup is its final destination.
How will the association get out of the present crisis?
The first thing is for the external factors to remove their hands. Nigeria Custom Service (NCS) is the number one. Some of the management team members of the NCS are engineering this crisis. If you look at those people fomenting trouble, they are customs apologists, they are customs boys. I can mention names: Taiwo Mustapha is one of the customs apologists, then Dennis Okafor. So, external forces should stay clear. Then, there should be an in-house meeting for deliberations.
However, if those that were expelled want to come back, their activities will be reviewed before the public. There would also be a public setting where everybody would be scrutinized to check whether you have acted in accordance with the tenets of the constitution or have been a good party member. We all want peace but members should act in line with the constitution. So, if we must have our way, we must have the peace in totality and whoever has erred should acknowledge and apologize regardless of the age. And whether we like it or not, we have a sitting government – NECOM – which was duly elected and must be recognized. Everybody should take up his or her role, and until we separate the boys from the men, there would not be a way forward. The Board of Trustees should know that pursuant to CAMA 2020, they are not supposed to be involved in the day-to-day running of the organization but sitting as advisers. The constitution said they are supposed to meet three times in a year. We don’t want a board that rubs shoulders with NECOM. If this is not stopped, we will continue to have crisis. Therefore, everybody should perform their responsibilities. We would have peace by the time we separate the responsibility of every office, and then everybody would know his jurisdiction. This is because if you don’t know your jurisdiction, you will usurp other people’s responsibilities as your own. The president who is the father of all should be seen as the father of all. We will embrace him. But if I am a father, I’ll not accept a child that has disowned me in public without remorse. There must be remorse.
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