And so the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) has crawled into its 10th year.
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.
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 the ‘renegades’ called 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 governing council was 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 has 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 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.
Will it then be true to insinuate that if there was nothing like POF, there would have been no jostling for the soul of the Council by various interests?
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, 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 organised in Lagos by the then- Maritime Correspondents Organisation of Nigeria (MARCON), 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.
Having said this, we dare add that the salvation of CRFFN had rested with the freight forwarders, especially the two leading associations: ANLCA and NAGAFF, both of which have played prominent roles in the birth and the current pitiable condition of the Council.
The two associations got it wrong when it 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 association. Without fear of being contradicted, the ANLCA should carry more of this blame.
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. This is because the Federal Government through the National Assembly has commenced plans to amend the 10-year old Act.
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.