This second part of this interview ought to have been published last week, but a very urgent issue came up which required that we devote our centre pages ‘Monday Interview’ to it. We appreciate all those who requested to know why it wasn’t published. To put the records straight, we were neither under any instruction nor under any pressure from anyone or any quarters as to what to do with the interview. The editorial content or bent of Shipping Position Weekly remains entirely ours. We however acknowledge that there had been a few attempts in the past to ‘wrestle’ it with us, but we have stood our grounds in such instances. But this interview is certainly not one of those instances. The issues that were raised by Chief Ernest Elochukwu in the first part of the interview and the positions that he is taking in this concluding part are entirely his. And we know that he is entitled to them. Savour it!
To what extent is it true that ANLCA is divided along East (Igbo) and West (Yoruba) lines?
There is no truth whatsoever in it. I guess it may have to do with the recent hullabaloo about some persons of Yoruba extractions addressing the press with the allegation that there is attempt by their Igbo brothers to marginalize them and of course with the threat about the West pulling out. But, one question is: who is West and who is East? All those are mere smoke screen being put across by some people who are pursuing selfish and individual agenda but who are presenting that agenda as if they are representing the interest of a certain group; especially tribal groups.
Will you sincerely say that there is no threat of division in ANLCA?
There is no threat along east- west line in ANLCA; the truth is that it is not even possible because in every port, there are all sorts of Nigerians who are licensed customs agents operating there. It may interest you to know that the chairman in Warri port chapter is an Hausa man, the chairman in Calabar port chapter is also an Hausa man, so if we are talking about east- west, how do we start classifying that. I will want to go straight into the issue which is how the ‘tribalistic’ tendency especially in the Lagos area crept into ANLCA. During the days of the crises which followed the removal of Alhaji Sani Kamba as the national president, all the incidents that led to the removal of Alhaji Kamba by some group which went to court in 1997 not need to be recounted now because they have been known to everyone. But I knew that somewhere along the line, there were meetings; some were meeting along tribal lines such as the Igbo maritime group and the Oodua maritime group. I believe that these gave the impetus to the formation of south- south maritime group as well as the Arewa maritime group. But, as of course clearly indicated by their names, these are tribal concoctions to protect the interest of their various tribes men, but I can tell you that in practice, they are not protecting the interest of their tribes men, some few persons who are in control of this groups have actually always used them to foster their own need while at the same time presenting it to be that they are fighting the cause of their tribes men. It was said that the Igbos under Elochukwu’s regime were marginalizing or taking over the whole positions and I asked a question which has not yet received an answer and that is that: major positions in ANLCA are elective positions and I ask were this people able to win election into these positions? For instance, I was told about some ports that have had Igbos as chairman for the past 20 years, I ask the question: was it because they are more in number and perhaps if they are the only people that came out for those positions, naturally they will have been voted into it. However, the area that I want to comment about is the area of appointment. Under my watch, appointments were not arbitrarily done as the case of those before me where the president sits down with his cohorts and took decisions. I tried to make it as participatory as possible by letting my subordinates put in nominations, I tried to remove myself from there because I know that there are areas that will bring a whole lot of problems in one association especially, favouring some people and not favouring the rest, so for that reason, I tried to make it as open as possible. I called my subordinates in the national executive committee, called the zonal chairmen, call the board and all that to give suggestions on who should be appointed into what ever position because I believe that anyone so appointed would be serving the association and that is what I did. But I discovered one thing : the first national committee appointed in 2005 was met with this allegation that “oh their were many Igbos there” , but incidentally my subordinates who are Yoruba’s nominated them and I believe that it is in good faith that they did it, because they felt that those people could do the job, but if after that some people will now go back to analyze to say that how many Igbos, how many Hausas or how many Yorubas do we have, the question I want to ask is that: are the ports for Igbos or Yorubas only? There are others and that is why I believe in the issue of division along ethnic lines is a dangerous tendency which should and must be discouraged at all cost. Another recent incident is that after our national executive council meeting in Abuja, there were new chapters that were created and for which caretaker committees should be appointed, the two chapters in the west were Ikorodu and PTML. I received nominations for those to be appointed there and usually what I do is to ask for nominations and I ask questions and settle for any one among the nominees, not that I was going to bring in any body. Incidentally, there were two names for Ikorodu and the two were Igbos, I took one. They brought two names for PTML chapter and incidentally the two names were Yorubas and I took one. N ow all hell was let loose between the Yorubas who asked that why was it not the Yoruba person whom they wanted that was picked. Apparently, it was clear that there is more to it than meets the eye. I was later to find out that one of the suggested persons have been promised that he was going to be the chairman by the so called powers- that- be among the Yorubas, so when it was not him that was appointed their were murmurings. But, the question is: is this the case of marginalisation along tribal line? No. it is all because some people, (it is not only in ANLCA, it happens in other places), who are caught in one scandal, one embezzlement or the other have always cut across all the tribes, they are all conspiring together and when one is caught, he will say that it is because he is an Igbo man or a Yoruba man, that’s what many who don’t have any defence always fall back on, they whip up tribal sentiments to pretend that something is happening, but I can assure you that nothing is happening. I have always said that if anybody has any quarrel with the system or the procedure that is being operated, he should be bold enough to say so. Like this issue, I said that if there is anything that is done wrong there is nothing that stops the person to write an official complaint and circulate to all the people concerned. Like I said, I am still standing-in as the national president of ANLCA, if there is any serious breach of our constitutional ways of doing things, I am going to rice up to it, to ensure that justice is seen to be done, but when people don’t do the right thing or go around to manoeuvre and they did not get what they wanted, they start falling back on some sentiments.
I recall that when there was a little problem sometime ago and Chief JOK Idonigie was appointed as chairman of board of trustees of ANLCA, you rose against it to say that it was an aberration. Another board of trustees is in place and it has been running the affairs of ANLCA for months and you haven’t complained. Is this an indication that this one is okay by you?
I have always said that it is an aberration for the board of trustees of any association to come to do the day- to- day administration of the association. In the case of Idonigie’s time, when Mr Peter Okocha resigned after six months and Aare Sani Shittu was supposed to carry on for sometime and call for elections to fill the space that was vacant, it did not happen and that regime had to be dissolved.
The board is a creation of the constitution, I suppose?
Yes, normally the constitution says that when a national executive council is dissolved, the board should take over, but the essence is not for the day- to- day running of the association. Actually, the regime of Alhaji Inua Mohammed as interim national president of ANLCA was an appointment by the board, it was just that when Peter Okocha cum Sani Shittu’s regime was dissolved that the board was supposed to take over, but it felt it could not and instead appointed a caretaker under Alhaji Inua Mohammed and we have been trying to fight or to advocate for the removal of ‘caretakership’ in ANLCA; both at national and chapter levels, because it has tended to portray us as an unserious association, because other associations that we know have seamless transitions from one president to another and unless there is a problem which may have led to the dissolution of that regime half way leading to the appointment of a caretaker committee.
So, is the association doing something about it?
Yes, we felt that enthroning a caretaker committee as a standard is an eyesore and so one of the things that we did was the review of the constitution which have now removed it. However, after the adoption of the constitution at the last annual general meeting, some people advocated that it should not start with the current regime; that is, my regime which is outgoing. For me, I tell you it is an aberration.
When are we likely to have a completely democratised ANLCA?
There is something that is going on in the association that I don’t feel it is a correct thing and that is the issue of wanting to complete the entire chapter elections before the national election, elections in the chapters will never complete. So, saying that you want to complete all other elections before the national election is going to create problems for the association. At the recent national executive council meeting, it was obvious that the number of months that has been roughly spent by the board of trustees is the maximum, and this maximum should even have been with surrogates. In other words, an appointed executive, but because we all agreed that there is no need to appoint a caretaker committee which will also need time to settle down, everything ought to have been done to ensure that the national election is held and let the association be on the match.
What does the constitution say about the tenure of the board of trustees?
Thank you, the constitution says that when the national executive committee is dissolved, the board will run the association for one month and maximum of three months during which elections would be held. I do not know whether the amendment recommends six months, I am not quite sure of what it recommended. However, the issue is that the intention of those who drafted it si that there should be minimum time during which the association will be without elected national executive. There are many issues over which the board has constraints, for instance, the administrative set up and designating issues. For instance, in certain situations and occasions when the national president should enjoy his courtesies and protocols, if the chairman of board of trustees is given such, it is a little bit awkward. Besides, the board is supposed to be the superstructure of the association, which at the end of the day can only come in when there is something serious going on; like breach of the constitution, abuse of office or misuse of assets of the association and so on. Generally, the board is supposed to be in advisory and supervisory capacity, not executive.
It does appear to me that you still nurse a second- term ambition, do you?
In 2004, I had a need to quest for the presidency of ANLCA, may be perhaps there some personal pursuits about it. Being the President is the apex, it’s the peak of it all. So I ask myself, do I have that need in 2009. If it is the need to be at the peak, I have had it once. If you are talking about the ambition to con test for that position, I have no such ambition, but I don’t want to also discard the fact that there are people who are saying “oh no, the association is still going through a lot of things and we need you”. I have not convinced myself that I am the man they need, but I have always known that I love this association, I have sacrificed a lot for the association and I won’t foreclose sacrificing more for this association, but if we talk of ambition, no. Some persons have been trying to drag, cajole and may be coerce. I have had a running argument with a whole lot of them about the fact that an association should be made to run irrespective of people, because that is the only way that it can grow and some persons have also come with what they consider as their own more resounding argument and that is the fact that at a particular point in time, there is need for consolidation and stability after which it can now be on ‘over drive’; anybody can be in that seat. Coming back as the national president of ANLCA will be for me a sacrifice. I am basically watching events.