Dr. Boniface Aniebonam

A lot of things have gone wrong in CRFFN – Aniebonam

Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, Founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) is not new to controversy. He has attracted a lot of attention by being outspoken. He never shied away from speaking his mind on topical issues affecting the maritime industry especially the freight forwarding profession. In this interview, Bolaji Akinola took Aniebonam up on the controversy surrounding the collection of transaction fees by the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) and his recent face-off with a Deputy Comptroller of Customs at the Tin Can Island Port

The resignation of Prince Olayiwola Shittu from CRFFN Governing Council against the backdrop of the collection of transaction fees by the Council has generated quite some excitement in the industry. What is your own position on the transaction fee collection by CRFFN and the plan to give subvention to the accredited associations including NAGAFF? 
Well first of all, the issues of resignation of the President of ANLCA must be seen from an angle where people must understand that he is representing an organisation. This has nothing to do with Shittu as an individual. If you are the President of an organisation, you are expected to carry the instruction of your members. I do know from my vantage position that he was asked to resign from the CRFFN because ANLCA is not quite comfortable especially on the issue of some fees and of course the issue of subvention especially when it is not quite clear to them.

So what is your own position on the collection of this transaction fee by CRFFN and the plan by CRFFN to be giving subvention to their accredited associations?
first of all, you just have to understand that a lot of things have gone wrong in the administration and management of the Council for Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN). Basically they started on the wrong footing and this will continue until we get the whole system right. And that was one of the reasons we went to court, and some other members are in court asking for interpretation as to the proper administration and management of the Council viz-a-viz the Council’s Act. It is unfortunate that the first Governing Council of CRFFN brought in a lot of people that are not conversant and knowledgeable in issues of regulation or the intendment of the Act which seeks to bring everybody together and create opportunities for professionalism in the business of freight forwarding in Nigeria. They made a lot of mistakes and the system almost came to a halt.

What are those mistakes?
CRFFN is a private council, it is not a parastatal of the Transport Ministry. It is quite clear in the Act but because some of us are lazy, some of us are cheap, they don’t want to work, they thought it wise to begin to use materials that will give them undue prominence in the society. For instance, I recall at the early stage of the Council that their vehicles were given plate numbers of the Federal Government of Nigeria; some of them even had complementary cards that carry the coat of arm. The relevant section of the Act made it very clear that being a member of the Council or being in the service of the Council does not present you as a public servant.
…but the Attorney-General of the Federation said CRFFN is a parastatal…
The Attorney-General is the chief law officer of the country but he hasn’t got the power to interprete the act. It is the prerogative of the court.
But since we are awaiting the pronouncement of the court…
We should be knowledgeable enough. That is why we went to school; to know what the whole thing is all about. Our council is a private council.
But don’t you think that the Attorney-General also went to school and he is a nation’s chief law officer? His opinion is a personal opinion in that regard.

The chief law officer of the federation? 
Well it is his personal opinion as far as interpretation is concerned. As I told you, it is a prerogative of the court, and we have also had different opinions.
Ok so apart from those fundamental flaws that you mentioned…
I am laying foundation to respond to the issue of the transaction fee. Those who went to the Honourable Minister to seek for approval for collection of transaction fee, again, do not even know what they are doing because it is not the Minister that will give us approval to collect moneys that are due to us. Section 6 of the Council’s Act is quite clear on the opportunities the Council has to collect money from registered freight forwarders and even the associations that they accredited. So you can see that they are making mistakes. All this noise is not worth it.
As regards the issue of subvention or whatever you call it, you don’t give what you don’t have. So first and foremost, you are saying that they shouldn’t have gone to the Minister…
What we are saying is that what they are supposed to do is come together under the Freight Forwarders’ Consultative Forum and agree that this is what we are going to do and once we have agreed, then the council will give credence to that and the Minister will be informed. That is what the Act says.

But didn’t they come to the Freight Forwarders’ Consultative Forum to discuss the matter? 
No I don’t think they did so. It is one of those things I am talking about. Let me address the issue of subvention; the position of the President of ANLCA is understood. Like I said, you don’t give what you don’t have and I have referred you to relevant sections of the CRFFN Act. Now the CRFFN is to regulate freight forwarders, corporate bodies, and associations duly registered by it. The cargo owner is the importer and you are not regulating the importer so you can see that the importer himself, or whoever gave that approval, gave it in error. You don’t impose duty on someone you don’t have control over. The Nigerian Shippers’ Council has the prerogative over the shippers. So you see, it is not worth all this noise because a lot of us lack knowledge as far as this issue is concerned. The point here is that if we have decided to impose that transaction fee on cargo, the licensed customs clearing agents – freight forwarders who are agents to the principal (the importer, cargo owner) – if I take you to sections 153, 155 and 156 of the Customs and Excise Management Act, you will see the interplay; the position of an agent to the principal. If you do something, it is assumed that the importer has done it and so for us to reach a concession, the registered freight forwarders and of course the registered associations must sit down in the Council and agree on what we are going to do because we represent the importer. Technically, I see where Shittu is coming from. You understand?

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