This Is The Fifth In The Serial On The Various Crises Which The Once-Reverenced Association Of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents Has Been Embroiled In For Quite Some Time. On These Pages, I Have Sought Explanations From Different Shades Of Opinions. In The Process, I Spoke With Former Executives Members From Different Tribes And Locations. My Last Interest (And I Do Hope That I Won’t Be Requested To Speak With Yet Another Interested Group) In The Crises Is This Encounter With Mr Dayo Abdulazeez Who Is He Highest Ranking Yoruba Political Office Holder In ANLCA. He Is The Immediate Past National Vice President Of The Association. Please Enjoy The Interaction Which Is Bound To Raise Some Questions. I Leave That To Your Judgement And Understanding.
Will you then say that he strike which licensed customs agents embarked upon last year achieved the desired result?
In a sense, it achieved the result, because we got the intervention of the federal government through the minister of transport who set up a committee to look into our complaints which centres mainly on illegal charges and for which we withdrew our services, because we know that a lot of the charges that are being collected from Nigerian importers are illegal. One is the shipping agency fees; they are not supposed to be collecting that because the importer has already paid the freight to the carrier, so it is the responsibility of the carrier to discharge the cargo. Another illegal charge is the one by the port concessionaires, there is a lease agreement which they signed with the Nigerian Ports Authority that what they (concessionaires) are going to collect is N5, 250 for 20- foot container and about N6, 000 for a 40-foot container, but now the reverse is the case; because what they are charging now is N80, 000 and N60, 000 and that is the reason why we went on strike. The minister of transport then went ahead to set up a committee to look into all these illegal charges, the committee was headed by the executive secretary of Nigerian Shippers’ Council, it has membership drawn from various stakeholders such as: the ministry of transport, the shippers’ council, the NPA, the freight forwarders, shipping companies and terminal operators. The committee came out with the conclusion that all these illegal charges should be dropped, this was submitted to the minister of transport who also promised to look into it and call us back, so we are still waiting for him. Right now we have put in a letter to remind him and we have even written to the Presidency and the National Assembly; they should please intervene; all these letters went out last week. The good news is that some of the charges by bonded terminals were reduced and they are now complying but the charges by the shipping companies and port concessionaires have not been reduced.
It is obvious that the strike and indeed, freight forwarders did not achieve much.
Yes we have not because the minister said we should hold on, that he will look into it and it’s been more than three months now and that is why we have sent in a letter of reminder.
Is there any likelihood of another strike?
Yes, definitely, that is why we wrote a letter to the President of the federal republic of Nigeria last week which we copied to all the government functionaries; up to the National Assembly. If we wait for sometime and there sin mo response, we will call a general meeting of our members, because it is the general assembly that decides what we do, if they say that we should go back, we will do that by withdrawing our services again, but we are not holding the economy to ransom, we have let the government know, we are not fighting for our self, we are being driven by the patriotism, because Nigerian importers are being ripped-off.
When you said, “we “wrote a letter, who are the “we”?
It’s all the associations in the freight forwarding business that jointly wrote the letter, it comprises of Association of Nigerian License Customs Agents, National Council of Managing Directors and NAGAFF.
The relationship is cordial.
The CRFFN is just a regulatory body, the Act which establishes the council recognizes individual freight forwarding associations. So we sent the letter to the Presidency and we equally gave a copy to the Council.
Talking about the council, how will you assess its performance since inauguration?
The council has not taken off since the election and the inauguration; we have not seen any activity from the council. With due respect to the personalities that are there, the Council has recorded zero performance. It’s almost a year and we have not seen any action and our patience is really running out, if the council is really functional, it is the body that is supposed to take up our cases to the seats of power. They don’t even know their members. And I have told them that they should write to the Customs headquarters and get the list of owners of functional licenses, but they told me that the Council’s membership goes beyond freight forwarding and that once you are a carrier of cargo, you are a member and that the shipping companies are members, the stevedoring companies are members, and that transporters are members of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarders. Of course, I disagree with them because the objective of that Act is for the creation of a body for freight forwarders and for customs license agents.
Are you disappointed?
Yes, very much disappointed.
Coming form you is a leader in ANLCA, isn’t that too damaging?
No, it’s not. We need action, we want them to work, because there are a lot of inadequacies in the maritime industry, if the council is up and doing, it will tackle these problems.
Why do you think that the council is not performing?
I don’t know. There are lots of things that it is expected to be doing for freight forwarders. For example, container deposit that you pay to get your imported containers, it takes more than three months for you to get a refund even after you have returned the containers. The shipping companies are trading with this money. The council is supposed to come to the aid of freight forwarders; the government will listen to them, they will carry the battle of the industry to the seat of power. They are also not doing anything in the aspect of training. They have not done anything at all.
Some people have said that the problem of the Council is its leadership, do you agree?
To be objective, we know ourselves; we know the real practitioners and those who can do the job, it’s not the issue of having money that will make you a good and right leader. They brought themselves into that position of leadership, we don’t have any option than to cooperate with them, give them objective and professional advice for the Council to move ahead. We will advice them properly if they come forward.
Are you saying that they do not seek advice or opinion on issues?
They have never sought the opinion of any freight forwarder or any of the associations; of course that is their problem. They don’t even know their members; they said anyone that touches cargo is a member of the council.
You don’t agree with that?
I don’t agree with that. The objective of that Act is for us o have a single body controlling license customs agents. It was when Chief Adebayo Sarumi was the managing director of Nigerian Shipper’s Council that he brought this idea of Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarders and it was because at that time, when we went for meetings under different associations, we always took different positions based on our associations. It was then that Sarumi said “why don’t you people come together under one council” and that was where the idea for the council was muted and it was carried to the National Assembly. It was customs license agents that went for public hearing at the National Assembly, there was no shipping company, there were no other stakeholders. So that Council is for customs licensed agents and if you look at the definition of a freight forwarder in that Act, it says “that a freight forwarder is a practitioner that moves cargoes from one border station o the other with associated formalities, it is the license customs agent that performs these functions and not a transporter who is just positioning trucks.
You are former national executive council member of ANLCA, why has it been so difficult to conduct elections in some chapters and even into the national executive body?
I am the immediate past vice president, our tenure has elapsed and it has now been dissolved. The board of trustees now takes charge of the association; the body will conduct elections at both chapter levels and national level. So, it is the responsibility of the board of trustees to conduct elections but as a major stakeholder in ANLCA, I know that elections have been conducted in some chapters, especially in the eastern zone where almost all the elections have been conducted. But, the board of trustees came to western zone conduct elections under the auspices of ANLCA electoral committee (ASECO) but they ran into some itches of tribalism in western zone. I totally disagree with his, because the constitution that sets up ANLCA does not recognize any ethnic coloration, it is the licenses that you have that makes gives you the membership of ANLCA and not the tribe, the constitution is silent about who you are and where you come from.
How come there is so much of tribal jingoism in the western zone and not much of that is heard in the eastern zone?
The western zone of ANLCA is a very peculiar one, in the east, majority of the practitioners are mainly from one ethnic group, so they don’t have problems with their elections. But if you look at the western zone it is a multi-tribal zone; we have the Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, south-south and others. When it gets to election time in western zone, every tribe will want to say let my tribe get so and so. I disagree with this approach because like I said earlier, the constitution is silent about ethnicity, so if you know that you are sure of yourself as a good practitioner and you can deliver, then you go and fight for a position, but our brothers from the west here are saying that the port is in their zone, so it must be like resource control which I equally disagree with. If you know that you want your tribesman to be there, then you put in your best material and forward in your license because it is your license that determines your membership, but if you say that the port is situated in your region and therefore you want to take automatic possession of all the executive positions, I disagree with that. I don’t see how the Yorubas are marginalized, we are not. If you look at the national level, they have national executives, and presently if you look at the executives in the chapters, there are nine chapters at seaports, airport and border stations, and out of the nine chapters, the Yorubas are heading five as chairmen, while the other tribes are holding the remaining four chapters. So I don’t see how the Yorubas are being marginalized. If they need more positions, they should say they need more positions, but the word marginalization is not correct.
Apart from the issue of ethnicity, I learnt that the association’s leadership is also divided over the role and he continued stay of the board of trustees as caretaker committee.
The constitution of ANLCA says that if the national executives finish their tenure, it is the responsibility of the board of trustees to conduct elections; the board of trustees is just holding forth, it is not a caretaker committee. When the national executive position is vacant, the board comes in and their major responsibility is to conduct elections and get out, they are not going to run the association, they want to conduct elections now but they are having some issues and that is why there is delay.
People say that there are crises in ANLCA
It is not a crisis. I can say that it is a misunderstanding because of the inability to hold elections in western zone chapters, but thank God that last we held a reconciliation meeting in western zone which was attended by all the past and present leaders of the association in western zones. It was also attended by former and present chairmen of the board as well as all board members and national officers and we were able to find an amicable solution to the misunderstanding that we are having in western zone.
And you think that will solve the problem?
Definitely, because all the major stakeholders were involved in that meeting, the matter is resolved, take my words for it.
I am sure that by the early part of next month, we should be able to have election throughout western zone.
I am not a Yoruba leader, I am a national leader in ANLCA because, I was once a national vice president. Of course, I have my constituency. I think the Yorubas should fight for positions like any other tribe because you don’t sit down and grab power; you have to fight for power. My advice is that Yorubas should fight for power if they want any executive positions in ANLCA; they should go and get registered, bring out their licenses, campaign for elective positions and be voted for. That is my own advice.
To what extent is it true that Yoruba members of ANLCA do not have licenses?
I disagree with that, Yoruba started clearing and forwarding business, Yorubas started ANLCA It was a Yoruba man who registered ANLCA. What is happening is that most of the Yorubas who are licensed customs agents are not members of ANLCA because of the way the association is being run, so most of them have said that they are not happy because ANLCA is supposed to be the mouth piece of the freight forwarding industry, but ANLCA is a sleeping giant. A lot of Yoruba licensed customs agents are not participating in the politics of ANLCA.
What is the position of ANLCA in the present-day freight forwarding business?
ANLCA is still the one and only association to beat. If government calls a meeting of licensed customs agents today, they will call ANLCA before they call any other party, so it’s still the number one. The problem of ANLCA is how to have a round peg in round hole; the issue is not about money. And I want to say that if ANLCA wants to move forward, the next president of ANLCA should come from western zone. I am speaking confidently that if the association wants to move forward, the next president should be elected from among practitioners who are resident in Lagos, if they want to elect an Igbo or a Yoruba man as president or an Hausa or south-south man as ANLCA president, no problem, but he should be resident in Lagos because 85 per cent of cargoes coming into Nigeria come in through the Lagos zone and 90 per cent of the licensed customs agents are resident in Lagos. They are the ones who are facing the major challenges, they know where the shoe pinches, and we can not have a distant president because ANLCA is different from the other professional associations. We must get our acts right and let the president be resident in Lagos so that if there is any professional challenge, the president on ground together with his team will just move in, its not right that we are going to wait for one president to come form outside Lagos who will need at least one hour to reach Lagos by flight. We must elect the next ANLCA president from western zone. That is my position.