It was my first time of having a one-on-one with Chief Henry Njoku, the chairman of the board of trustees (BOT) of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). To say that he carries himself with the gait of someone who knows ANLCA inside out wont be an over statement. Of course, he rose through the ranks in the association; having almost 20 years ago started out as chairman of Port Harcourt chapter of the association, rising eventually t become its eastern zone chairman later.
We spoke on the telephone, struck an agreement to have a chat during the recently held national executive council meeting. It’s uncommon to get the kind of courtesy he extended to me from someone who was meeting you for the first time; it is equally uncommon to repeat an interview twice. I lost the tape containing our first chat and he obliged me a second ‘chance’ which was though not as uninterrupted as the first. Please enjoy and read between the lines, brief encounter with this Imo state politician and member of the state’s Oil Producing and Development Commission (IMSOPADEC).
How has it been since you became the chairman, board of trustees of ANLCA?
It has not been rosy, but you know that it is a service to everyone and therefore I wouldn’t say its bad, but it’s just that one has to create time to serve and that is the major issue.
What have you identified as the major problem of ANLCA?
Like I did explain earlier, ANLCA is a very big family, there are problems here and there, but the major issue is that of getting a permanent site for our association which, within these past eight months we have been able to acquire, the other ones are normal problems which concerns and go.
Can you do a comparison between ANLCA of ‘old’ and ANLCA of now?
At the earlier stage, I will say that we just had one body, but now we have some small groups coming up which really (as far as I am concerned) are just on personal grounds and not really associations the way it is supposed to be.
You call them small groups, but they seem to be over – shadowing ANLCA
I don’t think so, you know, it’s only in the west here that you hear the noise and they are just doing that for personal reasons, if you ask me about the umbrella covering all licensed customs agents, it’s the Association of Nigerian License Customs Agents. Looking at it even from the membership of Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding, you can see that all the members are from ANLCA.
We all know that there is a problem in the western zone of ANLCA, why is this so?
First of all, the west is big and because of the administrative set up in the east, we normally obey the rules, but in the west here, it is not that they do not obey, but in a large family as you know there must be one or two problems, and because of the peculiar nature of the west, most of the time little problems do come up. You will even see that those small groups which have their headquarters and everything in Lagos here, once in a while they try to cause confusion even among the license customs agents, but what matters really is that ANLCA is a very large family and it’s a bit difficult because its more than any individual, you can pull other ones down, but you can’t pull ANLCA down.
What specific challenges do you that ANLCA is facing and what challenges are you facing as chairman of BOT?
What has been happening is that for quite some time, most of our leaders and people in power, by the time you ask them to hand over, they always find it difficult except on some few occasions when (chief) Ernest Elochukwu handed over power at the end of his tenure and I assure you that I will also hand over to whoever wins the elections, I won’t stay at the end of this assignment; that is how an association is supposed to be, you don’t need to beg anybody to return properties of association and all that. Some of the problems are internal problems and in most cases, we try to sit down with them to resolve them especially, as it affects the policies of government in clearing and forwarding business.
Do you think that the recent NEC meeting is capable of solving the current problems that is confronting ANLCA?
Yes, certainly so. You know that we are supposed to have a stakeholders’ meeting, but the stakeholders’ meeting can not take certain decisions that were taken at the NEC meeting could not have been taken at that stakeholders meeting. So, I think that, most of the problems that are affecting us have been taken care of by the NEC meeting. Watch out from now and see what will happen.
How soon are we to expect elections in the remaining chapters?
We are getting a caretaker committee within the week (last week) and after that, the elections will be held within the next two months.
What happens after that?
Once they conclude this, the national election will be conducted and a new national executive will takeover and run the affairs of the association.
What is the relationship between ANLCA and the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria considering the fact that ANLCA has the highest number of members in that council?
The Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding is a different thing entirely and I wouldn’t say we have any problems with the council because most of them are our members, but then, you know, the council is just a fresh concept that is moving, maybe not as fast as you or every other person is expecting it to, but its gradually taking – off and I believe within some time, things will start in the council.
So you don’t belong to the group that is saying hat the council is not performing?
Like I said, it’s just a new thing in Nigeria and for it to start working it’s going to take sometime. The council is facing the problem of funding and government policy, but I think they are getting through with it for now and things will start going smoothly, very soon.
You have been chairman of BOT for about eight months and some people in ANCA are insinuating that you want to stay on; that you are enjoying the office so much that you are not in a hurry to see the enthronement of a national executive council.
Well, it’s just unfortunate that if you want to serve in the association, you must be prepared to take whatever that comes with it.To me it’s a call to service. In the AGM where I was appointed as chairman of the BOT, I didn’t know about it or campaigned for it, but just like I said, this is the association that all of us belong to, the association that has got us to the level where we are today, so the only way you can show too that you appreciate all that the association has done for you is to serve when you are called to do so, and I must make my mark at any particular time because I always insist that at any time when you are called to serve, make sure you do something that they will use to remember you.
I noticed that the immediate past chairman of BOT was conspicuously absent at the last NEC meeting, how comfortable are you with that?
Yes, he was not there, but high chief Olu Falaye and Nze Sam Anyamene were there as a former members of BOT. So, chief JOK Idornigie was given a formal invitation like every other person too and I believe he must have his reasons for being absent.
By the time you leave office as BOT chairman, what will you like to be remembered for?
I will like to be remembered for unity because the association is made up of different kinds of people and you must create and devote time to listen to all of them. You may not be able to get 100 per cent of what they want but at least if they get up to 70 per cent, I am sure you, will measure very well. The unity of the association is very important; that we find ourselves in this profession is not our making, so, it’s one family and whatever you feel your fellow agent can do for you, you will equally reciprocate and I believe that we are actually moving forward. And like I said earlier, for a long time we didn’t have a national secretariat building of our own, but at least for now we have started something and it is during my time as BOT chairman. I know that there is no way that they will write tomorrow about ANLCA and they won’t write that at our own time we were able to do this for our association. I am happy and fulfilled.