Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria and Matters Arising

Going by the attitude of his predecessors to the plight of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarders (CRFFN), the incumbent Minister of Transportation; Mr Rotimi Amaechi has to be commended for the passion he has demonstrated for the Council.Shortly after he was appointed, the Minister did what previous Ministers failed to do. While his predecessors looked the other way as freight forwarders crippled their regulatory agency, Amaechi told those who cared to listen that the CRFFN must be accorded its statutory respect as stipulated in its enabling Act.At an event in Lagos shortly after his appointment, the Minister told the gathering which included leaders of most freight forwarding associations that they either settled their differences with the CRFFN or they would be made to seek the Council’s approval for the renewal of their Customs license.  “You must meet with the CRFFN and resolve your differences. We will insist that you register with the CRFFN, it’s the law”, he maintained. More than one year after the directive, the Council has remained as it was. And recently again the minister intervened and ordered that elections should be conducted into the governing council of the CRFFN. He also ordered commencement of payment of the Practitioners Operations Fees (POF). Just as they did when the minister first intervened in the circumstances in which the CRFFN has found itself, freight forwarding associations have again been at each other’s throats.While the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) has expressed dissatisfaction with the minister’s directive, the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) has pitched its tent with the Minister. So also are other associations.While not totally discarding the position of ANLCA that elections should be conducted into the CRFFN governing council before collection of POF, we think that the association should be in the forefront of efforts to salvage the Council.There is no doubt that, since its creation in 2007, the CRFFN has not enjoyed peace; it has had to contend with freight forwarding associations and individual freight forwarders, at different times. Created in 2007 via an Act of the National Assembly, the Council was seen as the possible solution to the myriad of problems that were militating against freight forwarding and logistics in Nigeria.Those who fought for its birth would never have envisaged that the Council would, shortly after its birth, be faced with ‘life-threatening’ issues, such as have forced it not to have a governing council for years running and also become so cash-strapped as not to be able to meet its obligations.One of the first questions that its promoters may ask is; whether it was wrong (after all) to have fought for the creation of a body that would enhance the freight forwarding profession in Nigeria.We recall vividly that after its berth, it took a long while to have a governing council and the pioneer governing council also spent most part of its two years brokering peace between it and some individuals and between it and some institutions.The Council at one time had issues with the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) over interpretation of the Act which established the Council.In fact, the Council was enjoying an apparently blissful relationship with all its constituents, until the peace was disrupted by the directive from the minister of transport; Senator Idris Umar to the CRFFN that the council could start collecting transaction fees (equivalent of the POF) on all imports into the country.  Since the approval became public knowledge, peace eluded the freight forwarding family; it is so bad that members of the same association no longer trust one another. It is a surprise that all efforts to end the feud have failed, including the intervention by successive minister.It was this mistrust that dovetailed into the dissolution of the former governing council, having served for the mandatory two years.It is the issue of collection and sharing of the POF that has led ANLCA to the law Court against the CRFFN, the Ministry of Transport, and many others.Prior to the last appearance at the Federal High Court in Lagos, the parties had an understanding to settle out of court if the agreement drafted was acceptable to all.Without equivocation, there were two contending forces in the events that led to the cancellation of collection of practicing fees, namely: the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) on the one hand and the freight forwarding associations on the other.Within the fold of freight forwarding associations too, there were issues regarding how whatever accrues to them would be shared. In this, there were two positions- the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) and the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) on one hand. Of course, three other associations namely: NAFFAC, AREFF and Council of Managing Directors; also standing together.While the duo of ANLCA and NAGAFF were resolute that the smaller associations would not get equal share as them, the trio also stood together to ask for a commensurate portion of the takings.Of course, the duo of ANLCA and NAGAFF also took on the regulatory body; the CRFFN, insisting that the body should not appropriate proceeds from the fees. Their argument was that, since the fees are payable by freight forwarders, it is wrong to allow the CRFFN to superintend over the money. Sadly, these positions caused all the contending parties a lot. The salvation of CRFFN rests with the freight forwarders, especially the two leading associations: ANLCA and NAGAFF, both of which have played prominent roles in the birth and are also largely responsible the current pitiable condition of the Council. Without fear of being contradicted, the ANLCA should carry more of this blame. The two associations got it wrong when they went fighting over how to share proceeds of the POF, an innovation that would have given new impetus to CRFFN and also aided the finances of the associations. Rather than insisting that elections should be conducted first before collection of POF can commence, we think ANLCA should allow CRFFN to bounce back.The Council is facing another challenge at the National Assembly which is in the process of amending the Act which established it. It is regrettable that the duo of NAGAFF and ANLCA which ought to have rallied round to safe the CRFFN, but which sadly engaged each other in years of battle of ego, are now fighting to get ‘their’ CRFFN back. What the associations ought to be doing now is to begin preparations for the governing council elections.  We advise that both ANLCA and NAGAFF should at this point burry their differences in the interest of the CRFFN.It is already public knowledge that if there was nothing like POF, there would have been no jostling for the soul of the Council by ANLCA and NAGAFF.It doesn’t matter if the collection of POF precedes the elections, what should be paramount in the heart of freight forwarders and their associations, is the opportunity to jump start CRFFN again.We support any effort that will bring life back to the CRFFN. This includes amending the Act to wrestle control of the Council from freight forwarders. They had the control for 10 years, but didn’t know what to do and how to do it.