In ANLCA, today there are people that do not want to see Aniebonam or his people face to face
After its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting in Port Harcourt recently, the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) maintained its stance against the collection of Practitioners Operations Fee (POF) by the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN). In this interview with Shipping Position Daily correspondent; Dapo Olawuni, the National President of ANLCA, Prince Olayiwola Shittu spoke on other decisions reached at the NEC meeting. He also spoke on other sundry industry issues.
"If all the other associations are agreeing that POF should be collected, how come their members are not paying?”
After the NEC which meeting held in Port Harcourt, what is the decision of ANLCA on POF collection?Our stand is that we are not ready to pay POF because the matter is in court; the court has asked us to go and settle out of court, this was what led to the CRFFN under the Ministry of Transportation inviting all the associations. At this meeting, it was agreed, documented and signed by all the associations that 35% from the POF would be given to the Declarant. I know that many of the associations are expecting money from the POF to be shared among them and this is why we are having new associations like IFFA and so on coming up. I understand that many other associations are also in the offing because of the enticement of the POF sharing. The major idea of CRFFN’s establishment was to bring people together and not to encourage proliferation of associations, but people hide under the fact that association is voluntary. Part of the condition we gave was that the Government is capable of constituting the governing council. Right now the CRFFN Registrar is acting like Chief Executive and answerable to the Permanent Secretary to start paying this POF that they have estimated at over N4billion annually, this means that few people would now control the use of the money, but the governing council by virtue of the CRFFN Act is the one empowered to handle that. In order to beat this also, we are aware that an amendment is in the offing to include licensed customs agents who were not part of the original Act and to include the collection of POF so that it now becomes legal and constitutional, but until this is done, the next hearing is for us to report back to the court that we have not settled, this is because the show of faith lies on the CRFFN to meet with their promise of gazetting the 35% meant for the Declarant. Any association can have declarant among them, but ANLCA is not being selfish, we did not ask them to give the money to us, it should be given to who is making the declaration. What belies the whole thing is that people are referring to the POF as government money, it is not, government has a way of collecting their money, if it is government money going to TSA they would have put it under payment schedule of the customs, from there nobody can touch it, rather than do this, they want the terminal operators and shipping companies to put it in their own invoice to be paid by importer, so the story they are saying that POF would not affect the cost doing business is not practicable, this was what we agreed upon at the NEC meeting. The Registrar also attended your NEC meeting, what assurances did he give to ANLCA?It was a repetition of the same promise; that the gazette would come out within the next two weeks, this has been on-going for the past six months
Which register should be used to conduct the governing council election?The register they can use for this election is the last register of 2012, this is the only register that the governing council then approved, it is the governing council that should be in place to conduct this election, it is the list of registered freight forwarders that they should use for this election. If they are doing it by categorisation, we need to see the register of that categorisation. We also heard that they want to share the governing council seat amongst the associations, so an association whose membership is not up to 20 would now get the same number of representatives?The first election was conducted by Shippers’ Council and a lot of people kicked against it. Furthermore, how do you conduct election this month or early next month when the guidelines for the elections are not out? You need to bring out the guidelines, and if people know that the guideline is going to short-change them, many of them would head to court to get a restraining order, it is a matter of meeting up with faith, the trust of people in the ability of people running the CRFFN is at a low ebb because almost everybody is kicking against the Council. For example, we have been in court and CRFFN is asking us to pay money in all the arrears including NPA not to issue port pass unless the CRFFN okays it. There is no where like that in the CRFFN Act; a lot of amendment to our court demand would still come up, because if people who are licensed by customs are being restricted by non-customs entities from going into customs area, then it becomes an issue. The promises of the registrar are not being taken in any faith again. But then, you need to ponder, if all the other associations are agreeing that POF should be collected, how come their members are not paying? Because it is only licensed customs agents that are declarants that are capable of paying that money, there is no release of cargo to any individuals; it is released to the Declarant on behalf of the importer. If we don't have the categorisation of the specialty of each group within the sector, then we are wasting time.
Other associations have created a CRFFN desk at their secretariat where they register people, do you have same at ANLCA?We don't do recruitment, we don't register anybody, the CRFFN asked us to put a desk at the Secretariat in other to know how to collect POF.Whether they want to use the association to collect POF we don't understand, and we cannot be talking about modality of collecting POF when we have a case in court that we don't even want to pay at all, so the letter asking us to create a table was ignored because they have not addressed fundamental issues that took us to court. So if the other associations are recruiting people, they are based on individuals while we are made of corporate organisations, we are not saying that ANLCA warehouses 100% of the licenses in operation, there are some people who don't belong to any association, there are some licenses in the other associations, this was why I said we are not selfish in our demand in ANLCA, if they are paying 35% to the Declarant, let him chose which association to go with, but if they carryout categorisation which the registrar has promised to do, assuring that the ministry is getting a letter out for the categorisation, the issue of where you really belong now comes in.
What is your reaction to the fact that customs licenses would not be renewed without CRFFN clearance?If you look at the CRFFN Act, there is nowhere it is indicated other than section 19 that states that any government agency who must give permit or license for any freight forwarder to operate in the port must ensure that such person is registered with CRFFN; the law says "register" and not to be an annual thing. Also, the question of "who is a freight forwarder" has always been there, is a freight forwarder a licensed agent? It is only in Nigeria that they try to muddle everybody together. The customs is guided by the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) there is nowhere in the CEMA that says that customs must get an approval from somewhere before issuing licenses for people working for them.
Is the CRFFN only for freight forwarding associations?Even in registering these five associations, did we bother to find out what they are set up to do? Apart from ANLCA with an identity and the duplication of Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents which is like a social club as far as I am concerned, because all of us who are managing directors of companies don't really belong to that association. The association came up when we were having challenges with the then government that withdrew all our licenses, eventually they brought them back, so Council of Managing Directors supposed to have fizzled out, but because everybody wants to answer ownership of an association that is why they didn't think it was necessary. If the purpose of the CRFFN is to continue to encourage proliferation of associations including a confirmation that we have heard that the registrar has promised that the new association (IFFA) is going to be registered, I can only play the part I am playing now because I am president of ANLCA, when I finish my tenure, it is no longer my responsibility what happens in the CRFFN.
Why did ANLCA pull out of ANLCA - NAGAFF Initiative? The ANLCA and NAGAFF Initiative (ANI) was established to tackle an issue, it was meant to jointly look at the cause of the problems in the port including the issue of the roads and what led us to a strike action, otherwise, we are diametrically opposites, we are licensed customs agents while they are freight forwarders, but the operators of these associations are individuals who have their own opinion, you should know that in ANLCA today there are people that do not want to see Aniebonam or his people face to face, but it was easy back then when there was no CRFFN, it was more like a competition among the two associations, as at when I came on-board, the CRFFN was already in place, as ANLCA was registered so also NAGAFF was registered and the other three, and we look at it that whenever ANLCA is going right, NAGAFF goes left, but we decided to have a common ground, and the strike action became a common ground so that the two biggest associations would not be talking on opposite sides, but rather on one side. We saw that the other associations are not having enough muzzle to make impact and that was how the initiative was formed among the two strong associations. There is no written MoU or to say that we are tied together, NAGAFF today has their own different opinions, and as soon as the strike wound up, we kept the initiative to serve a common interest. When you have a grudge among two people, it tends to becloud an independent thinking, the individuals in ANLCA don't know what I see on this table as ANLCA President, some of them are in different seats at the chapter, some of them are in the board, but when the die is cast, the bulk falls on the President’s table and I felt that this was the right thing to do, however the NEC is the most superior organ of our association and what they did was to caution that in the future, if there is going to be any collaboration we should bring it to NEC. The fear of people was that the initiative was a permanent establishment, but we can still corporate with anybody who thinks like us, I don't see any reason why we can't, if Lucky Amiwero who is fighting against POF today, if a meeting is called amongst the three associations, does it mean we cannot meet and discuss issues? We have been going for hearing at the Senate and House of Representatives and we all meet ourselves there, sometimes we come together and whisper, you cannot wish away an association that has been registered by CRFFN.
Is the presidential order issued recently being effective at the port? Can it end corruption?It cannot solve corruption, because corruption manifests through interface of human beings, when you exchange money and something that is not right before suddenly becomes right; that is called corruption. A lot of people are making so much money from corruption and this is why they would not allow the presidential order to work, I pity the MD of NPA saddled with the responsibility of implementing the executive order because there is no much she can do, all the agencies inside the port belong to one minister or the other and these ministry officials depend on the port as a source to have private money, so they encourage what is going on, they even give them targets. The infrastructural decay at the port that has not been addressed would not allow the executive order ; asking us to do 24 hours operations, some of the port operations like Customs, are based on CEMA and this executive order cannot replace CEMA, a port order that is not consistent with an Act of the National Assembly becomes ineffective, people are taking advantage of this not to obey the port order. Presently, it takes four days for a truck to access the port to load cargo and another four days to get out, and yet they want us to do 24 hours, it is a discouragement, the banks do not operate in the night and nobody is willing to go to the port at night. I think online operations is the only answer, but people don't want it to work because there would be no interface where we can do exchange at all levels.
The strike action embarked upon by ANLCA and NAGAFF seems not to have yielded any result, because as it is, the port challenges are still the same?I would not agree with you, over the years, the complaints have been on, but the strike action drew attention and drew people to now start looking at how to solve the problem, the palliative measures they are putting on the road is as a result of the strike, if there was no strike, that situation would have remained the same, Dangote and Flour Mills would not have come forward to say they want to construct the road. Also, the movement of customs officers from one command to another wouldn't have happened, also the reduction in the number of checkpoints wouldn't have also happened, all these happened because of the strike action and as a result of what ANLCA presented to the ease of doing business department headed by the Acting President and the MD of NPA as member. She promised to discuss it after having a meeting with us, this was what brought out the port order. If the port order had come through legislature, people would have obeyed.