I am not a member of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) but I am concerned about what goes on in that association. I am very much interested in ANLCA and one way or the other; one has had the opportunity of making modest contributions to the oldest body of clearing and forwarding agents in Nigeria.
My relationship with ANLCA dates back to about 15 years ago and I have closely related with various leaders of the association during this period. Sanni Kamba, Peter Okocha, Sanni Shittu, Inua Mohammed, Ernest Elochukwu, and now Prince Olayiwola Shittu are all well known to me. Through my association with them, I developed a fair understanding of the internal workings of ANLCA and I believe I am competent to make informed commentary about recent developments in the association.
Sir Ernest Elochukwu was elected ANLCA National President in 2004. He practically had a smooth sail as his main opponent, Joe Eboje, died in a plane crash few weeks to the election. To the best of my knowledge, key leaders of the association rallied round Elochukwu all through his four year tenure. One of his die hard supporters at the time was the incumbent President of the association, Prince Olayiwola Shittu. I remember clearly that despite series of disaffection expressed about Elochukwu’s leadership style, Shittu would come to our Press Centre and defend him vigorously. Shittu and I had a real argument on my live radio programme in 2007 when I said ANLCA was embroiled in crisis. That was the true situation at the time but Shittu would not have any of such comment. I used to wonder why he would go out of his way to fight so hard to defend Elochukwu even when he had ceased to be the image maker of the association.
At the time, ANLCA and the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) were sworn enemies. When Elochukwu’s tenure ended in 2008, it was clear that a second term was out of the question for him. By the time he was leaving, the association had fragmented with three clear factions emerging within the fold – one led by Prince Tai Oyeniyi, one by Austin Kelly and the other by Sir Elochukwu himself. His administration could not organise election and had to hand over to the Board of Trustees under Chief Henry Njoku. Njoku and his board ran the association for two years until 2010 when elections were called and Prince Shittu emerged National President. Now, Henry Njoku is a very matured leader; not one to rock the boat or seek to profit from the adversities of perceived enemies.
The least I expect of Elochukwu is maximum support for his successor and a man who has been fiercely loyal to him. Shittu’s shortcomings, if any, should have been discussed and ironed out behind closed doors while an outward appearance of mutual respect and cooperation should have been maintained by the duo at all times. But I daresay that has not been the case and there are several instances to support my argument.
One of Shittu’s major achievements, me think, is the mutual relationship he created with NAGAFF. Now I do not particularly agree with all the actions taken by Prince Shittu and I have had cause to disagree with him on several occasions, but I think putting an end to the cat and mouse game between the two leading associations is commendable. It is good for the freight forwarding industry and for entire shipping sector. With less acrimony, there will be more progress and development.
Elochukwu must have been alone in his opposition to that cordial relationship, for reasons best known to him. He was so uncomfortable he addressed a press briefing in his office in Port Harcourt to condemn the ANLCA/NAGAFF alliance.
The former ANLCA leader also tried to pull the rug under the feet of his bosom friend when he attempted to organise a stakeholders’ meeting of freight forwarders in Port Harcourt sometimes last year without informing the leaders of ANLCA and NAGAFF – the two major freight forwarding associations in the country.
For a man chosen to calm frayed nerves and reconcile dissenting groups within the fold of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), that action did not lend itself to good reasoning. How do you reconcile freight forwarders by undermining their leaders? And trust the leaders, they ensured that the meeting was truncated. So much for reconciliation!
Shortly afterwards, Elochukwu made an appalling public declaration that ANLCA owned CRFFN. In fact he fell a few words short of appropriating the ownership of CRFFN to himself. SHIPS & PORTS DAILY it was that reported his controversial comment through a story written by Obianuju Ozoeze. Of course the article went viral online and expectedly drew the flaks of many.
“It was ANLCA under my presidency that fought for the enactment of the CRFFN Act. During the election into the first Council we made sure that as many ANLCA members as possible got elected because there was provision for eight elected members. Not only that, during the appointment of the six non-elected members for the six geopolitical zones, I used my position as national president to influence the appointment of ANLCA members. So the first governing council headed by Tony Iju Nwabunike had not only him as Chairman and some of us as elected then but five other ANLCA members as appointed governing council members. The import of this is that CRFFN is owned by ANLCA,” Elochukwu had told Uju in self adulation. I thought he would issue a public apology but I should have known better. So much for CRFFN being freight forwarders’ council set up by an Act of Parliament! Little wonder the council found itself in the abyss within a few years of creation.
But Elochukwu was not done. He contested and won election into the Board of Trustees of ANLCA recently and he has decided to use his seat on the board to regain control of the association. He is championing a three month extension for the current executives of the association. On the face of it, that would look like he is doing his successor a favour but not so, the ultimate aim is to truncate Shittu’s second term ambition. Once the three months extension sails through, Shittu will be left with no choice but hand over to the BOT which Elochukwu hopes to chair. You can fill in the gap.
I think Shittu has done a lot for ANLCA and while it is not my place to campaign for a second term for him, it is also not Elochukwu’s place to hound him out of office. Shittu has succeeded where his predecessors failed and his predecessors should be happy for that.
He has united the association, boosted the dignity of ANLCA, moved it to a befitting temporary and later permanent secretariat and so on. If Elochukwu thinks otherwise and feels the need to regain control of the association, he should do so through a morally defensible means. He should buy election form and contest against Shittu rather than use the board to seize power and then throw the association into a fresh round of confusion.