Sir Mike Jukwe, former Registrar of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), in this interview with Shulammite Foyeku, shares his thoughts on the various challenges confronting the freight forwarding industry. He also decries the lack of cooperation between CRFFN and the various freight forwarding associations in the country.
What is your take on the move by some freight forwarding associations to set up so-called compliance and monitoring teams at the ports?
The power to enforce things like that in the freight forwarding sub-sector as far as the law is concerned rests with the council. Except if the council so delegates; if not, I don’t think some groups or associations have the power to set up a taskforce because the power to regulate and control freight forwarding rest with the CRFFN. So if the associations are doing that, I don’t think it is legal except if they are so delegated by the CRFFN. If they are not, then they should contact the council.
The issue of Practitioners Operating Fee (POF) has lingered on for years right from your tenure as the Registrar of the council. What do you think is the major impediment to the collection of the POF?
All the legal aspects for the collection of POF have been fulfilled, so if that has been done, it requires enforcement from the CRFFN. It is still within their power to carry out the enforcement. If the legal instrument is now in their hand and the government has given them approval to go ahead with it, it is now left between the council and the practitioners. They have to get the practitioners to buy into the collection and obey the law. Practitioners too being law-abiding citizens of the country should obey the law and it is within the powers of CRFFN to enforce the law. We must work together. We should at all times put the interest of the nation first. We are citizens of this country and if we don’t put the country first then we cannot move the country forward. Once there is a law in the country, it is expected that all citizens of the country must abide by that law. In this case, everybody must work together because the Chairman and Registrar of the council alone cannot do it. The presidents of the associations alone cannot do it. What that means is that there should be cooperation, let them work together. I did not enjoy such cooperation and I felt very bad because what genuinely we can do to move the country forward, some people will still be reluctant and find it difficult to do. Once we put the nation first, we’ll be able to do what is right for the country and for ourselves because when the country is progressing, it means you yourself as the citizen of the country benefits from the country. We want this and that, if we don’t give it to the country, how can the country give it to you? So what should be done is for the council and the practitioners to sit together and discuss what to do to commence the collection of fees. People should not put their own interest ahead of national interest. So to me as a pioneer Registrar of CRFFN, I am making an appeal to the entire maritime sector, let them support this weakest chain. Freight forwarding is the weakest link in the entire chain and if it fails to work, it is just like the body of a human being, once one aspect of the body is not working, you are sick. So let them support this freight forwarding link as one of the major pillars of the maritime industry so that it works well. Once it works well, the maritime sub sector as a whole will work well. So my own is to appeal to all of them, what is to be done right should be done right. If you expect so much from the country, you also have to give in so much. So, if the law says they should pay the POF, let them pay it. CRFFN should equally do what is expected of it and the industry will be better for it. The wrangling has been so much and it’s really very unfortunate. I expect that by now, the cooperation will be very close. It is only when you work together as a team that you achieve better results. It is even surprising that the freight forwarders are ready to pay other charges at the port but when it comes to the one that will help them to strengthen the profession, they are not interested. So, they should look at it critically and come together and make sure that the council works. It takes two to tango, both the practitioners and the regulatory agency, they have to work together. So the association should facilitate their members who are the practitioners to cooperate and work.
Industry stakeholders have identified lack of professional training as a major challenge affecting the development of the freight forwarding industry. What do you think can be done to address this issue?
That was the very first thing we started to work on when CRFFN commenced operation. CRFFN joined FIATA, which is the world regulatory body to get accreditation to bring the vocational training programmes into the country. This was achieved as far back as 2012. CRFFN is not a training organization, the role of CRFFN is to accredit the training programme and also accredit the training institutions that will offer these courses. As at the time I was leaving, all these things were in place. So when we keep saying that capacity building is a major problem, I don’t think it should be a problem. All they need to do is show the political will. The institutions that were accredited during my time that they should offer these courses, advertised and the practitioners know the institutions but they don’t go to them to run these courses. So if they don’t avail themselves of this opportunity, how can they turn round and complain that capacity building is a major issue. The platform is there, it is just for them to take advantage of the institutions that are offering FIATA diploma and Higher Diploma. We have been accredited to offer those courses. What I was working on that we did not complete during our own time was to get the NBTE to accredit National and Higher National Diploma in freight forwarding. The idea was that if we get accredited, the vocational training institutions including polytechnics can offer the courses especially for new entrants coming in with school certificates and gradually from that process, we can also get accreditation for first and second degrees. We started it but we couldn’t complete it but I know my successor too is aware of it and I am sure they are working towards it. But it requires the cooperation of the practitioners. If the courses are there and the institutions are there willing to offer the courses but the practitioners don’t come forward, you can’t run it. So the opportunity is there for them to catch up on the training and be better trained. In all fairness, I think the freight forwarders have done a good job because from their raw skill, they’ve come up the way they are, but they still need that academic and international training and best practices to enhance the profession and they can get this only through better training. So they should approach these institutions and enroll themselves there. The council will not take the institutions or the programmes to them, it is for them to go to where these programmes are and enroll themselves and be trained.
How about CRFFN making the training mandatory for license renewal or registration?
As far back as 2010 when CRFFN became fully operational, we made a regulation for the registration of freight forwarders and also for the associations. For you to become a registered freight forwarder, which is the minimum entry point, the requirements are clearly spelt out and we had expected that by now, if you don’t have certificate in freight forwarding, if you don’t have the FIATA diploma in freight forwarding, you cannot be a registered freight forwarder. These things are there, maybe we need to dust the papers again and look at it and enforce them. Section 19 (1) and 2 of the CRFFN Act also make it mandatory that before the Customs will issue or renew the license of a freight forwarder, the practitioner must be done upon being registered as a freight forwarder by the CRFFN. So if Customs too are carrying out this particular provision of the Act and the CRFFN on its own side ensure that before they register you as a freight forwarder, you fulfill the requirement in the regulation, then we should not be complaining of the issue of lack of registration requirement. The provisions are there, it is the enforcement that is lacking. Before CRFFN registers you as a freight forwarder, there are requirements; before Customs gives you a license or renew your license to practice as a freight forwarder, there are requirements by law. But the question is: Are we enforcing these laws?
According to industry experts, one of the reasons why CRFFN has failed to meet up with expectation is because of the composition of the Council having those who they are supposed to regulate as part of the regulatory body. What is your take on this?
No, I don’t share that idea. I think the way the council is composed now is right, government regulates and if government is regulating, government must also get the practitioners involved because they will share experience, knowledge and then come up with something practicable. So if we exclude the practitioners, we will lack the experience that is required in order to make the regulation. As the council is constituted now, it is okay. The governing council is constituted in such a way that you have the practitioners, the various stakeholders and the government represented. So if the team is brought together and they are all sharing their experience, then they will come up with beautiful regulations that will keep the council moving forward. My appeal is that all the freight forwarders involved should work together and assist both the council and the profession to move forward.