“Shittu’s executives had lapses is in terms of accountability”
The Chairman, Board of Trustees (BOT) of Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA); Chief Henry Njoku has been in the eye of the storm over alleged tenure elongation. In this exclusive interview with Shipping Position Daily Assistant Editor; Dapo Olawuni, the obviously embattled Njoku opened up on the BOT crisis and ANLCA as an association. He however said that there was no ultimatum issued to him recently to step down as BOT Chairman, but added that, he is not desperate to cling to power.
“The major challenge I have encountered is this tribal war in ANLCA”
“I don’t have any regrets at all, and I am not a do or die person”
Sir, you came into the board of ANLCA at a stormy period when some persons were allegedly trying to take over the association, how were you able to calm the storm?
It is not just my making, the fact remains that the association was in shambles, we had ANLCA 1, ANLCA 2 and ANLCA 3, but somehow we discovered that majority of them were based on tribal sentiments, so we came into Lagos and started having meetings with each group, at a time, we discovered that despite the fact that they were all quarrelling, everybody was looking for solution to still work together, so we were able to bring back everybody onboard, this was how we brought ANLCA back into one fold and everybody came onboard. This was when we took over from Elochukwu (former president). We ran the association till after sometime when we were able to conduct the election of the National Executive that brought in Shittu, by that time, we had already resolved most of the problems.
What would you say are the challenges you have encountered so far?
The major challenge I have encountered is this tribal war in ANLCA, you know this is a professional body, and my thoughts every time is that why should we allow tribe to come in all the time? The association does not belong to only Yoruba and Igbo, we all came into the profession based on the fact that we were doing clearing, but at a particular time, we had the Oodua Maritime Forum, we had the Igbo Maritime and so on. But for me, my own target is that we should be able to do something as a professional body and when it comes to spread, we would not be blamed about it. Outside the tribal war, I think the association has seen peace, and Shittu (immediate past president) came too with his own style of leadership, he was able to almost carry everybody together.
In all of these, what would you say are your legacies?
When we came in, the association was actually in shambles, so if you ask me; my first legacy, I would tell you it is legacy of peace, because without peace you cannot achieve anything, any other thing you achieve can only be gotten under a peaceful environment. Also, the board took a resolution and we even acquired a landed property within the period that we were running the association, when the National Executives under Shittu came onboard, we worked with him in order to achieve the national secretariat today; which was our main goal too, we had it in mind that we must secure a permanent site for the association which we initiated, in the process of doing that too was our seeking to get land which we initiated as a board. But when Shittu came onboard, he had a better idea that we can go in and purchase a completed building because the land we acquired was a bit swampy and cannot be conducive, so we all joined hands together to achieve that. So if you ask me anytime about my legacy, I will say it is legacy of peace before any other thing. The other achievements came about after peace, we got the national secretariat, we were able to move the association from where we were before to a better position, when I say ‘we’ I am referring to both the board and the National executives, it was not my personal issue alone, we were all together.
What happened to the land you had acquired?
Well, it was sold because the National Executives said that the place was swampy and where they got was a completed building, recently they sold the land, it is in Lagos.
What is your assessment of the immediate past executives under Prince Olayiwola Shittu?
Shittu did well in terms of projecting the association, he did well in terms of committing his time for the association, I don’t think any other president has committed time and energy the way he did during his period. So if you ask me, I would say he did well in projecting the association, representing the association and moving the association; not just to be recognized locally in Nigeria but to be affiliated to the International Federation of Customs Brokers Association (IFCBA) the executives did all that, they did well. But like I said, we were all part of it but you know that, if a leader initiates a good project, we would follow, so I would give it to him that he did all that.
Were there areas that you wish they had performed better?
The only area I would say Shittu’s executives had lapses is in terms of accountability, but outside that, he did well. When people hear about accountability, they ordinarily think it means ‘eating money’ (sic) but what I meant is that there are processes in the constitution, the constitution stipulates that audit has to be done periodically, and when you have a government, the audit is to advise on what and what, but when they try to correct the executives, they felt it was an indictment, so they didn’t allow those audit process to be done normally and report given out, most of the audit done are all hanging because it always looked as if you are indicting the executives, but rather, you are supposed to look at it to take note of areas where you are not doing well and follow up from there.
Tony Nwabunike is now in the saddle, what’s your advice for him and his executives?
With the way Tony has started, he has shown that he would even do more than what Shittu has done, the way I have seen it in this few period that he has been saddled with the presidency, I would advise him to continue that way, and while he does that, he should be looking at his constitution, because what happens is that most of the problems we have in the association are over constitution, when you try to let somebody know that an action is not constitutional or that it is not right, it would look as if you are fighting the person, but my advice to Tony is that I have seen his team, he has a team spirit, so if they can join together and work that way, I am sure they would get a better result. But they should keep in mind that it is the constitution that binds us.
There have been talks about you refusing to leave office after being chairman of the board for about 10 years?
Well, you know that people have their different opinion and they say different things, when we came onboard, we came on six years term, the board has the tenure of six years, the national executive has the tenure of four years, the chapter has four years, but each of them, you are entitled to two terms. Now, I have been there at the first instance and they returned me for the second term. I came in the second term as board chairman, and when we came in, Alhaji Taiwo Mustapha was Coordinator of the board for almost eight months, and yet they are still counting it for me as my 10 years in office. Now, shortly after we finished the last election, the night to the inauguration, we had a small meeting just to talk about the inauguration, and some people are saying that we have done the board election and that the Yoruba’s want the chairmanship position since the president is Igbo, but when the first time I was chairman board of trustees, Elochukwu was still president and I was an Igbo man, yet we didn’t quarrel, when Shittu was President, Taiwo Mustapha acted as coordinator of the board for eight months and yet we didn’t quarrel. If you are now saying that you want to do an election, there is nothing wrong with it, I do not want to sit there and sit tight, but you have to tell me to conduct election as the chairman, if this is what the majority wants, who am I to impose myself on them? But if it is done just as if you are throwing away a chicken, when things are not done right, there would definitely be opposition to it. For those who know me very well, they know that these things don’t bother me, I didn’t just come into the board, I have served in various capacities, I was chairman at the Airport, when I was chairman at the Airport, under one year, I built a small office which they still have at the Port Harcourt Airport up till now, I bought a car for the association, I bought three plots of land for the association in Port Harcourt, Shittu was at the Airport before me, but you can ask him to bring his record out, when I was Chairman, I did those things under one year and they are still there up till now; three plots of land, a vehicle and the office they are using up till now, I was the one that built it, these things are my records, I was in the disciplinary committee, I was vice chairman, I was zonal coordinator for the east for two terms, I have been ASECO chairman for two terms, I was disciplinary committee chairman, so there is really nothing in the association that I have not seen, but my happiness is that we were able to set a record that within these 10 years that we have been on the board, there have not been much crisis, the crisis that comes up, we manage it well. We have been able to transform the association that people are now seeing leadership as a good thing for the association, so I don’t have any regrets at all, and I am not a do or die person.
Why did you actually participate in the BOT election that allegedly ousted you when you knew it was illegal?
I was actually in my room, in the agenda we had for the meeting, there was nothing like an election. So I told them that if you are bringing up issues of interview, it should not be this night, I just came for the inauguration, after this if you want me to fix a date for the election, I would call a meeting and put it in the agenda, this was what I told them. So it was not I that conducted the election, it was just a disagreement, sometimes we have disagreements and we reconcile, if not for the election that came up that is why you see all these struggles, outside that, does it mean we have not been having crisis, we have had crisis but we manage it in-house and we move on.
Are you ready to comply with the ultimatum that was reportedly issued to you to hand over in three weeks?
I don’t know who is giving out such information, it is a total lie, there was nothing like an ultimatum given to me to step down, it is a total lie, somebody have called me earlier to ask the same thing also. Like I said, we had our in-house discussions and we resolved our matters in-house, I don’t need to come to the pages of newspaper to talk about it, the family of BOT are together. You have directed this question to the National President who called for he meeting recently, it is not for me to say. Like I said, being the chairman of the board for so many years, I have learnt so many things and I don’t come to discuss BOT affairs outside, if we have issues, we are one family and we would resolve it.
Is ANLCA going ahead to participate in the CRFFN elections?
You know ANLCA went to court, the new president came up and met with the executives, he was given a mandate to have discussion and get back, this is part of what he would be briefing us at the meeting we have for tomorrow, I am coming to Lagos for the meeting. If he gives us good report of what he has done and it is okay, we would go ahead with the CRFFN election.