As a maritime media organisation, we have devoted ample attention to the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN).
The reason for this is not far-fetched; we were part of the deliberations, public hearings and legislative processes that led to the passage of the Act that established the Council. It thus grieved our heart that the Council was almost killed by those it was created for.
Like every member of the maritime community, we had high hopes that the CRFFN would live up to its name as the regulator of freight forwarding in Nigeria. But this was not to be, as the Council became entangled in different crises for many years, such that it could not fulfill its destiny.
We recall that, in 2018, after the appointment of six members into its Governing Council by President Muhammadu Buhari, everyone thought the solution to the Council’s problems was on the way. But the appointees had to wait for elected members of the Council to emerge. This took months.
The appointees are: Donatus Ozoemena, Otunba Moshood Tijani, Benson Edosomwan, Abubakar Tsanni, Hassan Jonga, and Senator Bisi Oyewo.
Later, the much-expected elections were conducted and the following emerged: Agubanze Emmanuel, Ezekiel Chi Grace, Ozo Chukwura, Farinto Kayode, Austen Kelly, Aare Sanni Shittu, Tochukwu Emmanuel, Bakare Adeyinka, Henry Njoku, Daura Lawal Bala, Increase Uche and Peter Obi.
There is no disputing that fact that the election was largely dependent on the manipulations and political permutation by the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF). The group determined who got into the governing board of the CRFFN, by virtue of getting more of its members registered than any other association, as CRFFN members.
The major investor and certainly the biggest loser in the battle for membership and the headship of the CRFFN Governing Council is NAGAFF. It mobilised, galvanized and glamourized the process leading to the Council’s elections, so much that it was calling the shot as to who got what.
Its fabled efforts were obvious in the number of freight forwarders that eventually voted in the election. Even though it ‘mobilised new members’ and claimed to have raised funds for itself for the election, only a little over 100 of them actually qualified to vote.
That aside, can the process that threw up the 15 so-called elected members pass democratic test? Goaded by NAGAFF, the 15 positions were shared among the five registered associations, and irrespective of the number of votes garnered, the 15 nominees all emerged victorious!
How can someone who got only one vote claim to have been elected into the Governing Council of the CRFFN? That was what NAGAFF spearheaded, midwifed and executed! Little wonder that the Minister was reluctant to inaugurate the Council.
After the elections, another round of the waiting game commenced; that is to inaugurate the Governing Council. The Minister of Transportation; Mr Rotimi Amaechi grudgingly inaugurated the Governing Council in Abuja. The process also threw up some controversies, especially about the process leading to the emergence of the Chairman of the Council; Alhaji Abubakar Tsanni.
There was a threat of litigation, especially by the NAGAFF, which felt shortchanged by the outcome of events that led to the emergence of the Chairman and the Vice Chairman.
After this, another phase was to emerge- the appointment of a new Registrar to succeed Sir Mike Jukwe, the Council’s pioneer Registrar and Chief Executive Officer.
We recall that the Council was conceived as the possible solution to the myriad of problems which had militated against freight forwarding and logistics in Nigeria.
Those who fought for its birth would never have envisaged that the CRFFN, whose birth was hailed by stakeholders, would shortly afterward, be faced with ‘life-threatening’ issues, such as have forced it not to have a governing council for several years and also to become so cash-strapped as not to be able to meet its obligations.
Without fear of being contradicted, one can say that, since its creation, the CRFFN has not enjoyed peace. At different times, it has had to contend with freight forwarding associations and individual freight forwarders; it has also had to contend with Government and its functionaries. It has been bruised and beaten severally to a pulp.
Eventually, Barrister Samuel Nwakohu was appointed as Registrar., and a new journey began.
Irrespective of the shenanigans that heralded emergence of members of the governing council, all eyes are now on the new governing council and the Registrar to right the wrongs and work on the failures that the CRFFN had come to represent, especially in the almost seven years that it had been bogged down with trivial issues.
We recall vividly that after its birth, it took a long while to have a governing council and the pioneer governing council spent most part of its two years brokering peace between it and some individuals and between it and some institutions.
The little peace it enjoyed was during the tenure of Alhaji Hakeem Olanrewaju as chairman of the council and that was about seven years ago!
The CRFFN was enjoying an apparently blissful relationship with all its constituents, until the peace was disrupted by the directive from the then- minister of transport; Senator Idris Umar that, the CRFFN should start collecting what was then called ‘transaction fees’ on all imports into the country. The associations stopped trusting one another as to how the fees would be collected and shared.
It was this mistrust that dovetailed into the dissolution of the former governing council, having served for the mandatory two years. And since the Council was dissolved, it had been impossible for the CRFFN to control its registered associations and members.
After the ‘transaction fees’ failed; the Practitioners Operations Fees (POF) was introduced and again hell was let loose among freight forwarders.
It is the issue of collection and sharing of the controversial POF that led ANLCA to the law court against the CRFFN, the Ministry of Transport, and many others.
All that is history now; the CRFFN now has Registrar and a duly-constituted governing council.
If recent events are anything to go by, then, one can boldly say that the Council has finally found its rhythm.
The Registrar seem to be enjoying the support of the National Assembly, while the Ministry of Transportation watches its back.
At a recent sensitization workshop which the Council put together for practitioners, the chairmen of the two National Assembly committees gave assurances of their support to the CRFFN. The minister of transportation; Mr Rotimi Amaechi also seized the opportunity of the event to reaffirm the sanctity of the CRFFN Act.
Without fear of being contradicted, this is the first time that the CRFFN is enjoying the full support of the Federal Government, especially the executive and the legislature. It is obvious that the Registrar is maximizing the new vista of relationship, this is clearly evident in the top level attendance at the Council’s workshop.
With this, the Council has no excuse for failure. The only reason to fail is how well it is able to secure the confidence of its immediate constituents, that is the freight forwarders, who have not really enjoyed the benefits of having a Council to regulate their affairs.
A lot has been said and hopes are high over the expected commencement of collection of the Practitioners Operations Fees (POF). Parts of the funds that will accrue from this should be used to impact on the lives of practitioners. Let it be said that the CRFFN is not all about POF. The Council actually predates the POF.
We think the current leadership of the CRFFN (Governing Council and Registrar) will write their names in gold if they are able to standardize fees collectable by freight forwarders on cargoes. But before doing that, they have to fully professionalise and ensure that all freight forwarders are educated and certified as such.
The various registered freight forwarding associations and their members should also put the leadership of the Council on their toes. After all, it is a council for freight forwarders.