Dr Boniface Aniebonam and the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders At 20 

From its own record, the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) was born on November 30, 1999, after it founder; Dr Boniface Okechukwu Aniebonam fell out with the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents(ANLCA).

We recall that, the Founder of NAGAFF first came into limelight in the late 1990s when he became chairman of customs agents’ relations committee of the Apapa chapter of ANLCA under the then- chairmanship of Onyebuchi Katsina Uzor. He was to be elevated; albeit in the same position at the national level of ANLCA by the then- national president, Alhaji Sani Kamba.

Things were rosy between ANLCA, Kamba and Dr Aniebonam until he jumped ship to float the now- popular National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, owing to what he would later justify as the need to liberate freight forwarders from the claws of an ANLCA which should ordinarily only be concerned with the affairs of licensed customs agents.

The story of NAGAFF and its rise is conjoined with that of its Founder, Dr Aniebonam is loved and probably hated by many (albeit not in equal proportion). He sure has many admirers than loathers, but one thing that this newspaper has come to notice is his determination  make NAGAFF a rallying point, and his love to empower his followers.

As at year 1999, when he conceived NAGAFF from his two-room office at the old NPA commercial building in Apapa, not many gave him or the pet project called NAGAFF the faintest chance of survival, but today, the idea has turned him into an enviable  institution in the nation’s maritime sector and in the freight forwarding profession.

No doubt, NAGAFF gave the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents enough reasons to buckle-up. Were it not for NAGAFF and the challenges it gave, ANLCA would probably have been a dead association by now.

It is also on record and no matter who wants to take the credit, Dr Aniebonam and NAGAFF took the battle for the formation of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding to heart; providing intellectual and logistics backing at the National Assembly.

NAGAFF acquired the now famous NAGAFF village and made it a rallying and meeting point for different stakeholders in the maritime industry. The NAGAFF village is always a beehive of activities; always home to dozens of young freight forwarders. 

It is a fact that the NAGAFF dream would have been aborted after its founder was subjected to countless intimidations and harassment by those who had been used the dominance of a single freight forwarding association for decades. To these people the birth of NAGAFF was an abomination that must not be allowed.

It is heartwarming that NAGAFF, and mot especially, its founder survived all the threats and now, the association has become a brand in mass movement, intellectualism and inclusiveness in the fold of freight forwarders.

Perhaps, its apt to use the opportunity of the 20th anniversary to urge NAGAFF to consider the following observations. 

A lot of stakeholders have observed and rightly too, that NAGAFF needs to do something about its tribal inclination, the association is almost totally dominated by the Igbos. Its founder and close associates need to run an all-inclusive association, where non-Igbos can freely belong.

Secondly, the association needs to do rethink about the freight forwarders-customs brokers dichotomy.

Authorities define a freight forwarder as “a person or company that organizes shipments for individuals or corporations to get large orders from the manufacturer or producer to market or final point of distribution.” The same source explains further that “a forwarder is not typically a carrier, but is an expert in supply chain management. In other words, a freight forwarder is a "travel agent," for the cargo industry, or a third-party (non-asset-based) logistics provider.

They also define freight forwarding as the process that guarantees “that products will get to the proper destination by an agreed upon date, and in good condition. The freight forwarding service utilizes established relationships with carriers of all kinds, from air freighters and trucking companies, to rail freighters and ocean liners. Freight forwarding services negotiate the best possible price to move the product along the most economical route by working out various bids and choosing the one that best balances speed, cost and reliability.

Going by the above definitions and explanations, one can safely conclude that majority of those who currently parade themselves as freight forwarders are at best, licensed customs agents who only scratch the surface of the freight forwarding profession.

There is also no doubt about the fact that more than 70 percent of those who have been registered as professional freight forwarders by the CRFFN are actually ‘clearing agents’. The truth is: NAGAFF members are clearing agents, or to glamorize it, they are customs brokers!

While acknowledging the staying power of NAGAFF and its founder once again, we urge Dr Aniebonam to begin to free the association from his apron string. As it is now, NAGAFF (and its leaders) can hardly navigate without the strength of its founder. This should be the association’s post-20th anniversary pre-occupation.