The Council for Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) caught everyone unawares last week, when it announced dates for elections into its Governing Council. The elections are meant to fill the 26 vacancies in the Governing Council after the appointment of five members by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The election timetable and guidelines as released by the CRFFN indicate that before the end of May, the CRFFN will have a duly-constituted governing council.
Created in 2007 via an Act of the Nigerian National Assembly for the purpose of professionalising freight forwarding in Nigeria, the CRFFN has had an unfair dose of problems right from birth.
When it was created, 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, at different times. It has been bruised and beaten severally to a pulp.
One of the first questions that its promoters may ask is: Was it wrong to have fought for the creation of a body that would enhance the freight forwarding profession in Nigeria?
We recall vividly that after its birth, 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 little peace it enjoyed was during the tenure of Alhaji Hakeem Olanrewaju as chairman of the council.
At the earlier part of its existence, the Council was engaged by the factional national president, National Council of Managing Director of Licensed Customs Agents; Mr Lucky Amiwero.
Mr Amiwero had dragged the CRFFN, the minister of transport as well as the Nigerian Shippers’ Council to court over allegations of irregularities in the conduct of elections into the governing council in 2008.
The CRFFN, also at one time had issues with the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) over interpretation of the Act which established the Council.
There was also the face-off with an unregistered, body called the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Association (IFFFA). It currently has issues with the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA).
Even though, it had no governing council, 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 to the CRFFN that the Council could start collecting transaction fees 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 failed, including the intervention by the then- minister of transport.
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 has been impossible for the CRFFN to control its registered associations and members.
It is the issue of collection and sharing of the controversial Practitioners Operations Fees (POF) that 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 is okay by all. Up till today, there has been no resolution of the face-off.
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 stood 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.
Back to the present, we hear that some of the actors are still complaining about the CRFFN elections, some are even threatening not to partake.
It is the fault of the associations that the elections were delayed; they raised several obstacles, they insisted that until the elections into the governing council are conducted, there will be no payment of POF.
It is our advice that no association should hide under any guise to boycott the elections, because if any one does that, it would have no choice than to subject itself to the authourity of the Governing Council, which is the highest decision-making organ of the Council.
Having stated this, we honestly commend the Council’s Registrar; Sir Mike Jukwe for his ability to hold on and for ensuring that the Council did not run aground , especially in the face of paucity of funds and various gang-ups against him and the council by varied interests. By the same token, we commend the CRFFN for taking the bull by the horn. Honestly, no one was thinking about the elections again, until the timetable and guidelines came out.
Finally, this is perhaps the last chance for the CRFFN and its registered associations and members to get it right. For those who insisted on having a duly-constituted governing council before any other thing can be done (including collection of POF), you have had your way.