Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed six persons as members of the governing board of the beleaguered Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarders (CRFFN).
They are: Donatus Ozoemena, Benson Edo, Abubakar Tsanni, Mr. Hassan Jonga, Sen. Bisi Oyewo and Otunba Moshood Tijani. These politicians were appointed as representatives of the six geo-political zones of the country, as enshrined in the CRFFN Act.
Although, many may not remember that the CRFFN has crawled into its 11th year, most industry stakeholders will however confirm that the Council that was created in 2007 via an Act of the Nigerian National Assembly for the purpose of professionalising freight forwarding in Nigeria has been having an unfair dose of problems right from birth to date.
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 created 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.
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). The IFFFA had in a letter to International Federation of Freight Forwarding Associations (FIATA) allegedly instilled fear in FIATA, saying that the safety of its officials who were being expected for a train-the-trainer’s programme could not be guaranteed in Nigeria. It has also had issues with the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA).
But the Council had a little respite, during the tenure of Alhaji Hakeem Olanrewaju as its chairman. During this time, he demonstrated uncommon ability to steer the ship of the council. This, he did going by the way he was able to reach a compromise with the NAGAFF during the face-off, and also in the manner in which he was able to tame IFFFA and the dogged manner in which he was able to pursue the FIATA’s train- the-trainers programme for freight forwarders.
He, along with the Council’s registrar; Sir Mike Jukwe and other members of the then- governing council were able to contain the various antics and intrigues which freight forwarders and freight forwarding associations are known for.
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 on all imports into the country.
Since the approval became public knowledge, peace once again 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 of the current Minister of Transportation; Mr Rotimi Amaechi.
It is sad that, since the CRFFN governing council was dissolved, it has been impossible for the Council to to control its registered associations and members.
Will it then be true to insinuate that if there was nothing like Practitioners Operating Fees (POF), there would have been no jostling for the soul of the Council by various interests, including the Ministry of Transportation?
Going by the attitude of his predecessors to the plight of 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, what the Minister did was 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.
Not too long ago,the minister also 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).
And 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 ANLCA expressed dissatisfaction with the minister’s directive, the 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 will start, we think that the association should be in the forefront of efforts to salvage the Council. It is a fact that the salvation of CRFFN rests with registered freight forwarders, especially the two leading associations: ANLCA and NAGAFF, both of which played prominent roles in the birth and the current pitiable condition of the Council.
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 five registered associations. Without fear of being contradicted, the ANLCA should carry more of this blame than NAGAFF.
We support any effort that will bring life back to the CRFFN, which may include amending the Act to wrestle control of the Council from freight forwarders. They have had the control for about 11years, but didn’t know what to do.
The recent appointment of six members into the governing council has reaffirmed that it is indeed a government –owned council. This is the third time that the government is appointing its representatives into the CRFFN governing council.
Unless they quickly rally round the Council, freight forwarders may end up being the loser in the current efforts by the National Assembly to amend the CRFFN Act. The amendment seeks to give government a more defined control of the CRFFN, including in the appointment of chairman of its governing council.