I now live in a boys’ quarter with my wife because of CRFFN – Jukwe

When he accepted the job of Registrar/CEO of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) on 1st December 2009, Sir Mike Jukwe must have underestimated the challenges of the task before him.
He set lofty programmes of how to reform the freight forwarding profession: creation of the first freight forwarders register; hosting of the annual freight forwarders assembly; training of freight forwarders and setting mechanism for dispute resolution among practitioners. But Jukwe must have realised, four years down the line, that the task won’t be as easy as he initially estimated. The people he thought would support him turned against him thus making his task more difficult. His approach sometimes pitched him against the very people whose support he needed most. But he remains undaunted.
In this exclusive interview with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY, Jukwe, 55, says the CRFFN has cost him so much but he has refused to look back.
He speaks on the enforcement of the CRFFN Act and sundry issues
. Excerpts:

You have just flagged off enforcement of the CRFFN Act and regulations especially as it affects freight forwarders. When will the enforcement really start? 
The enforcement has commenced but there are stages. The first stage is to ensure that those we are going to carry out the enforcement on are given a sort of a grace period. They are given the room to ensure that they register properly, they pay up the prescribed fees, they are issued with identity cards, they are issued with the certificate of registration – these are the proofs that they are actually registered, which allows them to practice in the industry. Those who don’t have these requirements have no business being in the ports and if they come into the ports they will be apprehended in line with the law, tried and prosecuted. Such persons can go to jail for illegally practicing and those that actually registered but cannot pay the prescribed fees; we will ensure that they do that before we allow them to go back into practice.

If someone like Mr. Lucky Amiwero, who has not gone through these processes with the Council, is found in the port doing clearing, what happens? 
Is he not a Nigerian? Is he not operating in Nigeria? Is the law establishing the Council not an authority in Nigeria? The law is an act of parliament made by the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and accented to by Mr. President therefore making it a law of the land! It does not matter whoever it is or how highly placed the person is, as long as you don’t register you are acting illegally. We have already sent a notice to him (Amiwero), he will get it within the week, giving him ten days within which to register. If he fails to do that and we have any evidence that he is conducting training programmes for freight forwarders in Nigeria, he will be arrested and prosecuted, I can assure you. Not only him but to every other person. Once you don’t register and you are found doing any aspect of freight forwarding in this country, you’ll be arrested and prosecuted.

The past one year must have been quite challenging for the Council. What are the major problems you encountered? 
Like any other baby, there are bound to be teething problems. It is not only with us; it happened to Federal Road Safety Commission, the Nigerian Civil Defence and so on. When you come newly you are bound to contend with views that may be contrary to the law establishing you by other stakeholders. Others might think that you are also taking functions that belong to them but of course we all disagree to agree. Gradually we continue to explain to these stakeholders to understand that our mandate is very clear. We are to complement our efforts with all stakeholders to work together to sanitize the ports. Yes, there are challenges but they are normal. They are teething problems that a child will always have so we don’t see them as being different from that.

At a time some of the associations accredited by CRFFN practically ganged up against the Council. Was this part of the challenges and has the dispute been resolved? 
When the governing council was in place, there were meetings held with them on virtually all that were required to be met but then there were still disagreements here and there so at the end of the governing council’s tenure, the management decided to get back to these people to find out the areas of disagreements and possibly iron them out. So we initiated meetings and held over five meetings. Last week too, we had a meeting with all the heads of the association informing them of this (the flag-off of the enforcement unit) and they all agreed that it was welcomed by them. We work together and they also set up a taskforce that will complement the effort of our enforcement team so that all those problems in the field which they go through; we will be part of solving the problems with them. I can say that the relationship is very cordial now and we are working together.

But you once accused some of the leaders of the associations of fighting you because you refused to share the Council’s money with them? 
Yes and in fact till today, even at the meeting last week, I said clearly to them that our mandate is very clear. Any money that comes into the coffers of CRFFN is the internally generated revenue (IGR). The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended is very clear on that. If you generate such monies you declare them. The Fiscal Responsibility Act is also very clear on that. Recently, it has been in the media that government is very serious about this. In fact, last week the Minister of Finance actually made it clear that all revenue earning agencies must remit twenty five percent of their IGR to the federal government’s coffers. I don’t have the powers, when I say I; the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria; has no powers to appropriate monies generated by us. It is the National Assembly that appropriates all government monies so I cannot sit down with anybody and agree on any sharing formula. To be honest with you, the associations that we accredit, the training associations that we accredit, are also supposed to be supported so that they can carry out their own functions but that cannot be done by the Council. Council makes its budget to the National Assembly and once that is done and is approved we apply it. So I cannot stand before any association and say you are taking twenty percent, you are taking thirty percent! I don’t know what to get from the National Assembly when they appropriate and until that is done and until the National Assembly also directs that where the fund goes to we cannot do it.
The associations are entitled to generate membership dues and subscriptions from their members. Such monies will have to be first cleared by the Council and once the Council clears it, they are free to generate that revenue and to collect it by themselves! They can give us subventions from there. We will accept but then it is their own money and they are free to use it. But then the law also says that every year they will turn in their financial reports to us.

Is the absence of a governing council affecting your operations and when will you have one? 
The Council is running just as you have seen activities going on since November 24, 2012. In fact, we’ve not actually made it public but within this period, apart from getting the enforcement unit functional, it is also on record that last year Nigeria, for the first time, was granted accreditation of the world body, FIATA, to run its diploma courses in Nigeria. We just had two train the trainers program towards getting the higher national diploma. We are putting together the documents which will be submitted to FIATA within the next two weeks. When we do this, we will physically go to Singapore at the world congress before the Advisory Vocational Board meeting to defend our submissions. And if this meets the minimum standards of FIATA, we will be accredited to run the higher diploma courses in Nigeria. When we do this, we will be the first country in Africa to achieve this feat. We joined FIATA just about three years ago, Ghana has been there for over twenty years, and many other countries have been there before Nigeria came in but look at the progress we are making. There are a lot of things going on but we cannot publicize our activities for lack of funds.

What has it cost you as a person in this struggle to actualize the dreams of CRFFN? 
Actually, I cannot quantify it because I’ve gone through thick and thin. Let me give you an example, many years ago people were carrying propaganda against me that I let my personal property to the Council as office in Abuja. This is true. At the time, we were having an office in the Ministry of Transport headquarters in Abuja – one room. This room was given to us by the grace of the ministry; in fact it was part of the Permanent Secretary’s office, for us to take off. We stayed there and overstayed our welcome and at a time the Perm Sec said that we had to give back the space, that they had need for it. In fact, I thanked her but asked for the following month to get a place to move in. And we went all round Abuja. The cost of getting a place was high and they were charging us three years in advance and there was no money. So I got back to my house, called my wife and said: “Look, we will be thrown out. Where do we go from here? We are just starting this Council and if we don’t have an office we cannot continue. Since we are moving to Lagos, this house will be actually vacant but the need for it is now.”

Very understanding, she said well if we are moving out, where do we stay? 
We had to take our things from Abuja back to my home town and of course, the former Chairman, Hakeem Olanrewaju, had to volunteer his place in Lagos where we packed some things that are there till today. Yes we are paying (for the house) though we’ve not paid for over one year but if it were somebody else, we would have been thrown out.
The one in Abuja, where the Council is using today as an office, the rent has expired since April. If it were not my personal property by now they would have probably been thrown out long ago. That is one cost. The inconveniences associated with this disorganized the entire family. In Abuja, I live in the boys’ quarters of the Council’s office. Tell me, which CEO, particularly of a government agency in Nigeria, will do that? It was not even a proper boys’ quarters because the house belonged to me so I just created a space to build something to stay in.
You know when I moved my things to Lagos and to my village in Gboko Makurdi, that’s where I come from, the only place I could stay in Abuja anytime I visited was a hotel. At a point, we could no longer pay for the hotel; we were chased out. So, what do we do? I called on my wife again, because when I am busy doing all these, she is the only one who can supervise things like that, to put together within the place, two small rooms and that is where we stay at Abuja. Even at all this, I don’t collect DTA because as somebody going to Abuja I should be paid by the government the money should be running into millions but I don’t collect it and even if I ask for it where is the money?
To come into FIATA took us over fifteen years and the then Minister of Transport, Yusuf Suleiman, went personally with us and we were admitted. We knew what it took us to be admitted. As I talk with you now, we’ve not paid for subscription for two years but it was due to personal contact with them we still attend their meetings. At a point, due to the internal wrangling between the associations, they placed a travel ban for people coming into Nigeria. We succeeded in lifting that last year. So there are a lot that we’ve gone through. All these international meetings that we still attend…yes we’ve not paid our subscription fees but if they don’t see your presence you’ll be suspended or even deregistered completely; I make sure I use my personal money to fund this trips because if we don’t attend these meetings to go back in will be more difficult that when we got in.

With all these personal sacrifices, is it worth it? At what point will you say “I’ve had enough”? 
No, it is worth it because I actually made up my mind to come into CRFFN. I was working for ECOWAS parliament and by the time I left I was coordinating the interconnection of railway network in West Africa. It was successfully done with the report sent to the authorities of the head of states of the ECOWAS nations. It was a very big contribution to the West African sub-region. I was in SDV now Bollore Africa when I left to join CRFFN. I took the CRFFN job just for two reasons. Reason number one: to make contributions to my country Nigeria; to serve this country with all my strength and all the knowledge that I have acquired. So I decided at a point when the opportunity came, that let me serve Nigeria having served West Africa and other private bodies in this country.
The second reason I took the CRFFN job is that I was going to pioneer a new venture for this country. Freight forwarding is very critical to the survival of any nation. The moment you solve the freight forwarding problem, almost half or three quarters of the port problems are solved. So, I said to myself that this is an opportunity for me to come up with a structure that will be a reference point at any given time. By the time, I was joining CRFFN my salary was below what I was earning in SDV. When I came into CRFFN I wasn’t given an official vehicle, I was using my personal vehicle. When I was given an official car it was a small Chevrolet. I accepted all that saying that a child starts from somewhere. The child will start with crawling, standing up until he walks. So that was the situation I found myself. The story of CRFFN will be written and you will be shocked that some people who parade themselves as those doing things for freight forwarding will be shocked but by the grace of God.

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