“As far as we are concerned, all activities of the CRFFN at this time are illegal”

---Prince Olayiwola Shittu, National President, ANLCA

“I am very convinced that ANLCA has enough personalities that could even do better than I am doing right now, I am not nursing any fears”---Prince Olayiwola Shittu, National President, ANLCA

INTERVIEWNational President, Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA); Prince Olayiwola Shittu last week spoke with Shipping Position Daily correspondent; Dapo Olawuni. In the interview, Shittu spoke on corruption in the Nigeria Customs Service, the crisis that is bedeviling the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) and many others sundry issues.   “If anybody tells you that CRFFN does not need money to conduct the election, I think they are just playing the ostrich” 

 ‎What is your take on the culpability of the clearing agent in cases such as the recent seizure of 661 riffles by FOU Customs?It is a very complicated issue, I would rather say that culpability of an agent, even though it is reflected in CEMA, the reality is not always the same, because firstly, the agent may not know the content of the cargo, the importer gives a document that is 'said to contain', but nobody would know what it's said to contain apart from what is written in the declaration. So our job is based on the PAAR that is issued, we make assessments; we assist as agents in making sure that the duty as calculated by PAAR is computed and the person pays. But then, it is during examination of cargoes that regulations normally come out about the content of a container, however, it is also not impossible that an agent may be culpable knowing fully well that certain concealments are inside a container and still aided in the removal of that container. For example, if the container is not examined, the agent that is taking delivery of an un-examined container has roped himself in and that's sure, but in the case of the imported guns at Apapa port, it would be very difficult to make conclusions until investigations are completed, because at every step of clearance, right from when you do your declaration, customs is involved, they are involved in the examination and the release, could it now be possible that all the officers involved in the clearance would collude with the agent to release a container without examination? If that is the case, then all of them are culpable in one way or the other. Apart from customs, the Police, DSS and other agencies are also at the port, and that is why when the issue happened, we called on the CG of customs to take a holistic look at our cargo clearance system. From the word go, there are so many people involved in cargo clearance that you would think that this should be an inhibition to anyone trying to commit a crime, right from the time of (former President) Babangida when the ports were populated with regulatory and security agencies, we discovered that a determined unscrupulous person can still find his way through, otherwise, the container carrying guns cannot just be found at Mile 2 if there is no involvement of everyone. This has also shown that some cargoes might even be getting out of the port that the exposure of this particular one has now made it very necessary to check our cargo clearance process, customs cannot do it alone, they have to get us involved and this is why we have been clamouring to have meetings with the management of customs to let us look at how we are getting it wrong, how do we stop this issue of fraudulent activities in the port, but because customs management believes that they know it all, especially at the headquarters, this is why we have continued to wait, but I know that previous CGCs have regular meetings with all the stakeholders, and when you request for meeting on a particular issue, they would oblige you, but the case is no longer the same now. Let me also use this opportunity to inform you that from our own standpoint, customs officers moral is at the lowest since I have been doing this job, and when morale is at the lowest, self-help comes to the fore, it is not just enough to say after all the officers are being paid, people would succumb to temptation when they want to do self-help.  I have not heard since this CGC came that letters of commendation have been issued to some officers who have foiled such imports from being cleared or who has in one way or the other recovered revenue, it used to be a show back in the days, the officers would be proud that at least I have commendation, but this is no longer there. Secondly, officers are being sacked, it is okay to sack them if they are fraudulent, but there are those who contribute to the sacking, we call them the sacred cows, those ones have remained the same place, the CGC is doing transfer of officers from one end to the other, but there are still some officers, even at the headquarters who have stayed in one position for 10 years. We go there so we know them, these are areas where the CGC should have asked us for the name of the officers who have over stayed, but they didn't get us involved.

 

Do you support the call for synergy between the Customs and the CRFFN in the issuance of clearing license?The Customs is regulated by CEMA while the CRFFN is regulated by the CRFFN Act, the administrative provision in the CRFFN Act is that anybody who is practising in the port and is licensed to do so, must always show evidence of haven worked with the CRFFN, it didn't say that the registration of CRFFN is all you need to work inside the port, this might not be enough, all the operators in the port all have customs licenses because the port is a customs area. The CRFFN cannot control customs license because the Act cannot supervise each other, it's like you saying that the Standards Organisation of Nigeria and their Act should go and do the work of Customs. While the CRFFN deals with individuals, corporate organisations and associations, customs only deals with the license holders and that is what the law says, the license holder is the corporate body.

How feasible is the call for elections into the board of the CRFFN?There must be an election because the CRFFN Act rests the operations of the CRFFN on the governing council, and as far as we are concerned now, all activities of CRFFN are illegal, what they have just done is to bring in the ministry of transportation to superintend over them and this is contrary to the provisions of the Act, it is only when an issue occurs in the governing council and the matter is referred to the minister for adjudication or if the minister feels there is something wrong within the Council, he is expected to write formally to the governing council, there is no place that says he should write the Registrar, because there cannot be an administrative organ without the elected officials in the governing board. Nobody can tell me that an election of such small magnitude cannot be handled by the ministry, even if the ministry is acting in good faith, what does it take? Let's ask ourselves, this is why we said the ministry should not put the cart before the horse, go and do the election, so when the governing council is in place, they would address all issues about the CRFFN

 

Do you support what other associations are saying that, rather than go for election, there should be mutual sharing of positions among the associations?Is that what the Act says? We cannot say in one breath that the Act has said something when it suits you, when it doesn't suit your position you would say No, Laws are made for man and not man for the law, people are begin to put the CRFFN Act the way it suits them, but let's ask; what does the Act say, if the Act says we should do election, while would you say it's appointment? Such appointments cannot stand legal scrutiny and this is why they too are being careful about it, and if anybody tells you that CRFFN does not need money to conduct the election, I think they are just playing the ostrich. The CRFFN is a legal body, it's not like COREN or other regulatory bodies, it is a PPP in private partnership with the government, and the only relation to government is how the minister communicates with the governing board. This idea of saying that the CRFFN belongs under one permanent secretary, that perm sec is taking what does not belong to him, anybody can say what they want, even the opinion of the Attorney General is not sacrosanct, it is the law court that would determine whether CRFFN is a government body, which we know it is not. And don’t forget, that somebody raised an alarm the other time that this was how NIMASA started, it used to be a private organisation of practitioners, but government hijacked it and made an Act and took over because of the sources of funds. Come to think of it, is there any profession in this world that says, after paying your fees and dues annually, then everyday of your life as you are working you are paying? Something is wrong, this is why we are asking people to de-emphasise money when it comes to the issue of maritime, if the ministry sincerely wants to solve the problem in the CRFFN, the money we are talking about; the yearly subscription fees can be paid, if the governing council decides to seek the assistance of the Nigerian Police and says that without evidence of payment to the CRFFN you can not enter the port, would people not pay?People ordinarily would not want to pay, people do not even want to pay customs duty ordinarily, but government can give the CRFFN N1billion as a start off and ask them to go and recover the money, some of us have paid, but when some people have paid and others are not paying, and nothing is happening to those who are not paying, whose fault?There are some associations that have not paid a dime as association fees to the CRFFN, ANLCA has paid twice, when others are not paying and you are treating us equally, then why should we continue to pay?‎ 

What is your take on the state of the economy in terms of imports, FOREX, etc?It's not only the issue of FOREX now, there are some items that are off-import prohibition list, recently government brought down some duties, but when you cannot purchase the hard currency, how do you go and do import? The challenges facing importers is enough discouragement for them to go into trading, now we are not an exporting country, it is wrong for government to cut-off the source of import suddenly- just overnight, it means that government is not realistic to the yearning of the people, it supposed to have been gradually diminishing.‎ 

Haven taken ANLCA this far, do you nurse any fears on who would succeed you?I am very convinced that ANLCA has enough personalities that could even do better than I am doing right now, I am not nursing any fears, I am only wishing that those coming after me would get the wherewithal that is not available to me to be able to do so many things that we have all collectively agreed to do. When we came on-board, we found out that it's like ANLCA was not existing, we struggled and ANLCA is now known both locally and internationally, that does not mean we have had enough, it's like you asking who would succeed President Buhari when we know there have been many presidents of Nigeria and in the future there would be other presidents of Nigeria, I am not entertaining fearsDo you know who will succeed you?Only God knows. 

Why has the present customs management continued to snub ANLCA?I will not speak for them and I would not even say they are snubbing ANLCA, because when you talk about snub, you should be able to relate it to a physical activity, maybe in the list of those the CG is talking with now it has not gotten to our number. But I can tell you that no government head or any private enterprise and who knows that his action is going to impact on certain people who are stakeholders and he refuses to engage them would be working in futility. All of us are stakeholders, let's ask ourselves - is the port operating now better than before? The self-help that officers are doing to themselves are very obvious and we all know that corruption has gone higher, but we believe as agents that; solder go, solder comes, but barracks remain, ‎any of their actions that impact on our survival, we would react appropriately, but legally.

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