The propaganda that we will be deregistered is taking my members away – Ukor

That the National President, Association of Registered Freight Forwarders, Nigeria (AREFFN), Dr. Frank Ukor, is fearless and most articulate is not in doubt, as reflected in this interview with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY’s Uju Ozoeze.
Excerpts:

What is the situation now for your association since it was unable to meet up to CRFFN’s deadline to pay up its annual subscription fees? Did the association receive a notice of deregistration from the Council since it was unable to meet up? 
There is no provision whatsoever that says that the Council, because the people there are staff of the Council, can deregister any association. All these are propaganda by ANLCA and NAGAFF. You know last year, after registration of NAGAFF by MoU, they went to the press to tell the whole world that now they have been accredited, that every other association should come and collapse into any of them, ANLCA or NAGAFF. That was their propaganda that time but eventually what happened? The other three associations were accredited. The provision in the Act, Section 4 , is that the Council shall control and regulate all freight forwarding associations, all! It did not say register some and leave some. So any association that feels that it can meet up to the provision, you apply! And that is what we did that time, we applied. Only five associations applied, and were registered; they were so many other associations in the industry that did not apply. So by regulation of the Council there is no provision for deregistration. Mike Jukwe who is the registrar obeys the rule of law. He follows the rule of law and he has told us severally that he can’t do anything that is not in the Act; and this is not in the Act! So, all what they are saying is just propaganda. Propaganda by ANLCA and NAGAFF! But unfortunately this propaganda is having a negative effect on our members believing that what they are saying is true. That very soon they are going to deregister this association so they had better find their way.

So you are saying that you are losing members as a result of this alleged propaganda? 
Definitely! That is now what it is. And our keeping quiet all this while did not help matters and that is why we felt that there is need for us to come out and put the record straight. Except if the Council comes up tomorrow and then organizes and then makes another regulation -because the Council can regulate and deregulate, when it makes another one and say that they can now deregister it is only then that it can be possible but the Registrar and his enforcement team do not have the legal capacity to deregister any association. That is the truth of the matter. And I want to use this medium to tell my members, who are afraid that they will lose relevance, not to worry because we are on course. We cannot be deregistered. We have called Jukwe and Jukwe said ‘did I tell you that I am going to deregister you?’ You are only listening to rumors. I won’t do anything that is not in the Act’. That is what he said so there is no iota of truth in the rumors.

And what about the issue that brought up the alleged rumor, the annual subscription fee? 
On the issue of the money, I’ve gone through the Act. I went through the regulation and saw that payment of annual subscription is only for members- individuals, corporates; there is no where it is said that association will pay money. Yes, I went through all of them. But all the same, in order that it is not only AREFF that said it will not pay, we will pay. The only unfortunate thing is that associations are run by contributions from members through their practicing fees….no person uses his personal money to run association, maybe at the onset when people who are founding the association use their own personal funds, but when it is established you don’t use your personal fund to continue to run the association. That is the truth of the matter! Ask ANLCA, ask NAGAFF! Ask Aniebonam, when he founded NAGAFF he spent a lot of his money but now he is not spending his money. They are getting money from the ports; they are getting money from shipping companies; they are getting money from many government agencies, I mean NAGAFF and ANLCA! They are getting money on a daily basis. As we speak, they are at TinCan and all the bonded terminals collecting money.

What prevents AREFF from collecting money too? 
When we go to collect, they use bouncers and say ‘you cannot come here, you cannot operate here’. ANLCA use bouncers to drive our boys away and we don’t want to fight. We don’t have the physical strength to withstand them and that is the truth.

What money exactly is this they collect? 
Practicing fees which the Council later rechristened transaction fees but if it is transaction fees, it means the money will be collected by the government. And the government will now give you subvention because you do not share money with the government. But if it is practicing fees, it is collected from your members- from the profit they suppose to make from the jobs they do! Just as the Council has made provisions, very soon if it is gazetted, if you as an agent clear one twenty feet container, the importer will pay you one hundred and twenty five thousand naira. If you clear one forty feet container you will be paid two hundred and fifty thousand naira, as your agency fee! That is not debatable; even if you do anything at the end of the day you go home with that amount of money. It is the money you contribute from this money that is the practicing fee. You just remove like two thousand naira only to pay for your practicing fee.

But how can ANLCA or NAGAFF stop your members from paying this practicing fee to their association? 
They’ve done it several times! In the first place, they made receipts bearing only ANLCA, NAGAFF and National Council of Managing Directors, they did not include us! There were receipts that made under JACOFF (Joint Action Committee of Freight Forwarders) that time and they were collecting the money. And I asked why they did not include us? They just collect the money and don’t give us anything! Even when I cleared my own consignment, they wanted to beat me up at the port, saying that I must pay else I won’t leave the port with my consignment. And collected money from me even without giving me a receipt!

So you are saying that on every consignment an agent is expected to pay practicing fees? 
Yes that was the agreement we all reached then before they started doing it on their own without carrying everybody along. This has been happening for a very long time especially at Onne. At Onne, I had to personally go to meet officials of WACT (West Africa Container Terminal) – the business terminal that happens to handle most of the imports there, to say that: our members complain that when they come to you to raise debit note you don’t raise the debit note insisting that they must get ANLCA stamp on their bill of lading, why is this? They said that it is how it has been. They collect money and don’t give you receipt. If you bring bill of lading, before they raise debit note for you they must stamp it! And our members protested that we cannot be paying money to ANLCA while our own association is there.

Did you bring this to the attention of the Council? 
Yes, we did! We complained about it to the Registrar last year. My people wrote a letter to us from Onne and I made a copy and sent to the Registrar and said: this is the situation, act on it. Even at a stage, the Port Manager asked to hear from the Registrar and know what to do about it but the Registrar was not forthcoming, until now. When we arranged to have a meeting, they go in and block everywhere! You know ANLCA have a lot of money. Go and see their house in Onne. The National here don’t have what they have at Onne. So you see, they are collecting all the money money! And that is why we are not able to pay our subscription fees because we don’t have the money. We were even taxing ourselves on how to pay the two hundred thousand naira before now that it has been increased to five hundred and fifty thousand naira. We don’t want to be seen to be opposing the authority but I know that the only person that has the right to give such orders is the governing council but it is not sitting now. That is why it is very important to elect a board that will manage the affairs of the Council. What we have now are staff of the Council and they cannot make law, they can only implement laws that were made…So, we are working to get the money but if we don’t get the money, we will not kill ourselves and I am sure that we are not going to be deregistered because we are not getting money from anywhere.