In this interview with Shipping Position Daily, the immediate past National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA); Prince Olayiwola Shittu speaks on the controversial POF, the crisis in ANLCA and other sundry issues
Your governing council created Practitioners Operating Fees, is it legal?
Our council did not create POF, I have had people said that our Council created POF, we were looking for how to generate funds; I agree, but, it was the former registrar that came from the blues that introduced certain things into CRFFN that we knew that will not stand the test of time, and those are part of the reasons I had to resign, because I don’t want to be part of the history that will be seen as what are these people doing when these things were happening. For example the attachment of the title ‘RFF’, as a title to show that I am a registered freight forwarder does not exist anywhere else in the world, at least I have traveled to maritime nations before and I have not come across that, it is only in Nigeria we have that, what’s the meaning of RFF; just to show that I am a registered freight forwarder, have you heard of registered engineer, when you call a man an engineer he is an engineer , I mean you don’t need to ask him to what level of engineer are you. Those things were created without thinking of the future. POF means Practitioners Operating Fee, and so what about the license, what are about the registration fee, what about the fees for practitioners, are you now saying that for every job you do, you need to come and pay money. It was an argument that ended in 2012, that led to the dissolution of the council. You want to tell me that a lawyer that appears in court; as he finishes that day will go and pay money to NBA, so I don’t know how they think that will work. I can tell you that it’s not about the amount, I can tell you that averagely anybody working in the port knows that N2000 or N1000 is not money, in fact those are things you just use to drink coke and move on, but it is what is behind the desire; that some people are already building castles in the air, they are already calculating how much billions will come in, how the billions will flow, is it revenue generation? The council is supposed to be a service organization; to assist practitioners to meet standard, for them to be able to go to schools that are accredited, they want to go abroad to go and study, you give them references, ANLCA was doing that on their own, we did not need CRRFN to do that, however that’s what it wanted but to practice it now is becoming a problem .
Already they are receiving budget, they said oh they’ve audited my budget, practitioners don’t need to know how the budget is spent, why should budget be shrouded in secrecy, so why wont the people be afraid that the POF will also be shrouded in secrecy, that’s the issue that is on ground,
But the POF goes to Treasury Single Account?
We have heard about TSA, because they told us before that it is the council that agree on POF, but by the time they did that POF agreement, some of us were not even at the meeting, the consultant that is doing business with CRFFN today, none of us including me have seen the agreement that exist between CRFFN and SW Global. We don’t even know the terms, if you ask for it, you won’t get it, even under your FOI Act. Now they want to collect money and they are saying its Ministerial order, is ministerial order superior to the Act establishing the Council, they said it has gone to Federal Executive Council; is the FEC decision superior to the Act of the National Assembly. But be as it may, even then if the government requires this money to go to TSA account, let them add it to Customs duty, they’ve done that before, when we wanted to host the junior world cup, government added money to the ticket. So if they want it to go to TSA, they should put a column under Customs duty payment and put the amount and let it go to TSA. But not under a private arrangement, it goes into an account that is determined by a few at the expense of those who are sweating in the port, that’s why you see a lot of people and I sympathise with them when they say they don’t want POF.
Is CRFFN a government agency?
It shouldn’t, be but the distortion is that everybody is looking at the end not the means, and then they will now apply the means , what we had for CRFFN in the beginning was Council for the Regulation of Customs Brokerage, we even thought of Council for the Regulation of Clearing and Forwarding, because the name clearing and forwarding is not a dirty name, in India today they have clearing and forwarding associations; as big as India is , but we wanted a modern name they said okay, let’s go for Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding and we say okay whatever name you call it, provided you let us do segregation or specialty; don’t say because I am a customs broker, therefore I must be a freight forwarder, somehow they forced it down our throat that we must answer freight forwarding. So by the time they did the Act they modulled everybody together under a platform, but we tried to do the segregation, that if you are a ship chandelier you will have your business, like all these transporters concerning barge operations; all of them are supposed to be under CRFFN. Shipping company staff are supposed to be under CRFFN, even terminal operators are supposed to be corporate members of CRFFN, so you can imagine those caliber of people if they have representative in the council of CRFFN; imagine the quality of ideas to run the ports, but they have turned it to political party arrangement when election is to come they select those who are in tandem with them and that’s why people don’t want to leave office. So it’s from the beginning that we have had the problem, CRFFN is not supposed to be a federal set up, CRFFN is supposed to be a private sector- driven organization to help the practitioners. Look at the Minister’s role, its only one area, and that is if there are arguments within the council, the intervention of the Minister is to properly guide as to what the government wants, but now they’ve turned it upside down, that we are under the Minister and the previous management of CRFFN did that, not the governing council; the council I was never said we must go to the minister, it was the registrar that invited the minister into the affairs of the council. I remember as president of ANLCA I had to stand alone to defend why ANLCA will not be ready to pay any money to the council, apart from the one in the Act, and then the Minister agreed with me and they suspended it. There was a time when there was no governing council in 2012 and the registrar was on his own; running the council as a private enterprise, that was when the decision for the council to be put under the direct control of the ministry emanated. But I can tell if it’s a country where the law has its effect, everything done from that time should have been, on and void, the CRFFN was not properly constituted so all actions taken then shouldn’t have been, but what did they do? They wangled it with the Attorney General who sent a legal opinion and most of us were not interested to go and fight for it. What are we fighting for? Otherwise what they have done was not competent to have been done and everything emanating from that time too should have been done. But in Nigeria, once you tell people let us do something the right way, they take you as an enemy, some of us just felt we have seen it all and it is not what I will get from the council because, I never got anything from the council, we didn’t go to the council to go and make money, even now why is the out-gone council having problem with the registrar? when you see people having problem with themselves over something they are supposed to do freely, then something is wrong. I tried not to talk much on the issue of POF, I wish them the best of luck.
We are happy to see you wear the lapel of ANLCA
I am proudly ANLCA, have just got to the stage of retirement where we need to give room for others to play the ball, I have never been a man who says we must hold on to an office. I tell you, when I was chairman of Port Harcourt Airport chapter, after my first tenure I realize there were younger ones who were eager to take over, I stepped aside. There is no way I have ever felt of hanging on and being the first president of ANLCA to have served for two terms consecutively, that will tell you that at least there is legacy behind and the legacy is that ANLCA must survive irrespective of the rancour. During my time you were not hearing it, it was bitter and it was the approach I used that helped. But you see, you don’t force yourself on people, I have done my best and I’m done with dancing, but because you finish a dance does not mean you should go home and sleep, I have to watch other people dance and to see if they are dancing well or not without interference and also to improve on oneself.
What kind of ANLCA did you leave about three years ago?
I didn’t leave ANLCA, that was why we were able to have a peaceful election, ANLCA was and still the only association that is democratically run, an association that does election as at when due. When I was not even a National officer, there were crisis in Lagos; just like this crisis we are talking about, I was nominated by the National body to come and intervene and the issues were resolved. There is nothing that is happening in ANLCA that has never happened before, you where there when Kamba was our president, you saw the tug of war with him even when Okocha and others were there too. Apart from the other people that were selected and elected in the likes of Inua Muhammed, Aare SanniShitu, (may his soul rest in peace), but this is what makes an association thick, what it shows is that there are people who have vested interest in the association and they want to be recognized.
You can’t do it on your own, ANLCA was not established by an individual, it was inherited and that is why we don’t have founder, so if you want to shift someone away, you must get the resistance. The approach I have always postulated is to inform all that are fighting that there is no reason for it. Once you win an election, you become president of everybody. Those who voted, hated and campaigned against you, the next thing to be done is to put aside those feelings before the election and call them to work together. But when people see ideas in you that they are your enemy, it is in politics. When we talk of an association we need people, you can’t live without the people. The approaches I followed in resolving this was jettisoned, not necessarily by the President, but he has advisers and what the advisers say outside is what is making the other people to say they want to continue with the fight, and that’s the cause of the tug-of-war in ANLCA, nothing more; it is ego.
What can be done to resolve this?
What can be done has been said from my own side. I have met with A and B; our President has graciously sat with me to have discussions with me, not once not twice and I can’t force my opinion on him and as a President. I get to understand that he has people he owe certain duties best known to himself. Like people he might give more attention than other people and the other side which I have met several times, will say are you the man involved? Why don’t you let the person involved talk to us? So the best thing is to sit down and look and that is what’s every other person in my shoes including all the past presidents are likely to be doing, because have not seen any of them say let’s call a meeting, but I hear insinuations that it is Shittu that can call a meeting and everybody will come, so I asked in what capacity?
You can do that as the immediate past President?
Is that the qualification, when we have senior presidents? When already I have been tarred with separate opinions. I was just reading a paper here saying that I am the problem in ANLCA, so that ANLCA will not be better than I left it. When I have to improve on ANLCA, somebody else will not improve? For God sake, I’m running a business that my children will inherit and they will remain in ANLCA. So what is the big deal? I’m paying my dues, anytime they call me for anything, I grace it, but if they don’t call me I don’t go. So I ask why have they not started with the oldest among them, those who are saying Shittu, why can’t they go to Peter Okocha or Inua Muhammed, why can’t those people do that, because for me what am I calling meeting for? Is it the abuses that I have received from individuals who already tagged me as the brain behind the crises, which means that I have already been identified as being partisan, so what am I going to say? If I say you are wrong and that the other side is right, is that adjudication?
But, the brand you created for eight years is already losing its value?
I don’t think so, and I don’t agree with that.
As a journalist, I can tell you that
Well that’s you, you interpret what you hear and depending on who is talking to you
But the visibility that you created for ANLCA seems to be fading away?
ANLCA is still where it is, ANLCA has its secretariat, its National officers, and there is no room that is not occupied.
But recently the secretariat was vandalized was your reaction to this?
That’s a criminal action that should be followed by criminal consequences; I made my position known on that, nobody has the right to do that.
Is this the way ANLCA will go?
ANLCA will find its feet, I have always believed that. It is because you are not on our (ANLCA)platform, people who talk against themselves on the platform will still meet where they normally meet to enjoy their lives, so why do you carry problem on?
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