Alhaji Abubakar Tsanni is the Chairman, Governing Council of the Council for the Regulations of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN). In this interview with Oluyinka Onigbinde, he speaks on the plans to appoint a substantive Registrar of the council, POF collection and other sundry issues.
· “CRFFN is lacking enforcement and leadership because everybody is afraid”
· “Any association that did not register with the CRFFN will be deregistered”.
· “There are some associations that are just names; they don’t even have any office in Lagos, talk less of other states”
· “The level of compliance to POF is Zero, it is disheartening”
What are the benefits of the CRFFN to freight forwarders?
Section 40 of the Act that created the CRFFN gave powers to the Council to control all the associations and had it been the associations know the value of being with the CRFFN, there are a lot of benefits, because they are directly or indirectly dealing with the Federal Government. Most of what they use to do is to force and get something, but when you have the government, the government will see and resolve the issues amicably and honourably. So if you are with the CRFFN, it is the CRFFN that will take the issues from agency to agency, government to government, and the issues will be resolved immediately. But for them to look down at their ‘mother’ as though it is tantamount to nothing, it is something we will not take any longer. CRFFN is the mother of all freight forwarding associations. An association can grow and succeed if they recognize their mother, organize and act in accordance with the law. Nobody is above the law. Sometimes we just overlook certain things. By the time we operate the Tribunal, all our enforcement will blossom and that is why we made it compulsory at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) that whoever wants to register any freight forwarding activities, must come and get clearance from CRFFN. If not for this, you will see that all these foreigners sometimes will come and start operating. It is only in the freight forwarding industry that anybody from their village will just carry his bag and come down to Apapa to say he wants to start practicing.
With what we are doing, we will clear and we will clean the industry. It will be an industry where everyone will be happy. You don’t even know who some are thieves; everybody has access to the port. Which country in the world will you ever see these things in? If you are going to Togo or Seme at the border, you need to see how they are checking people. They will question who you are and where you are going. I saw how they are checking people at Seme when I went there, but in our ports everyone is free to enter, we don’t know who is who. That is why we want to put things in order. But that is until we come back to the reality where they come and register with the CRFFN, get advice, where you need support, they support you and where you need intervention they also give intervention. Things will change; going forward. This industry is where those who are not qualified to even practice will threaten to sue you. Whether you are right or wrong, they will just write a petition. Everybody will rush to court, whether you are eligible to go to court or not. Just because you are a freight forwarder, you just rush to court because court is for everybody.
The Act makes it clear that if you are not a registered freight forwarder you don’t need to go to any court. It is very clear, when you write petitions, when you are not even eligible to practice in the first place. These things are clear that you are not even supposed to write that petition, why would you waste your time? Only the right person can write a petition.
Looking at the whole industry and taking a cue from the ANLCA crises, what is your message to everyone?
We wrote to all of them and we are also writing to all of them. Any association that did not register with the CRFFN will be de-registered. Any association that is not qualified to be an association will also be de-registered. In the law, there are some qualifications to become an association such as an operational office and the likes. There are some associations that are just names. They don’t even have any office in Lagos, talk less of other states and they still maintain the name of an accredited association. We cannot deceive ourselves. We are just waiting to have a very active and effective Registrar and Tribunal. We would see that all these things will be no more. Many people will carry their bags and run back to their village. You can carry or bear a name that does not belong to you. The right thing should be done.
We heard that many of these associations are not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission presently?
Honestly, if they have not registered, consider them delisted. I will make my enquiries from the CAC.
Does the CRFFN have such powers?
Let me draw your attention to section 27 subsection 1 of the CRFFN Act which states that any person not a registered freight forwarder who for or in expectation of reward holds himself out to practice as such; or (b) without reasonable excuse takes or uses any name, title, addition or description implying that he is authorized by law to practice as a registered freight forwarder, commits an offence.
Subsection (2) says that any person on the provisional Register who otherwise than in accordance with section 13(4) of this Act., “for or in expectation for a reward hold himself out to practice as such “(b) Without reasonable excuse takes or uses any name, title, addition or description implying that he is authorised by law to practice as a registered freight forwarder, commits of an offence.
So, with this it is only a registered freight forwarders that can sue or take anybody to court, so by God grace, very soon our Tribunal will be inaugurated, the Attorney General has already given us assurance we are going to try those that are operating without registration. So, my advice for everyone is to try and register with the CRFFN
What are the challenges of the CRFFN in getting a substantive Registrar?
The CRFFN is lacking in enforcement and also in leadership, because everybody is afraid. Like our first Registrar, when the trouble started, he was severely threatened that he had to leave Lagos. He ran outside Lagos.
CRFFN enforcement is going to be cumbersome. Don’t you need more manpower and logistics for effective monitoring?
There is something in this country. We just heard that some associations are not registered. When we pick on those associations and deal with them, everyone will sit up. You don’t need much enforcement on people. With three or four policemen with your Tribunal, you can deal with anything. You don’t need many people to enforce. The defaulters will serve as an example to others to sit up and do the right thing. The more you deal with that, the more they comply.
What is your assessment of freight forwarders’ level of compliance to the payment of POF as of today?
Their level of compliance is zero. Honestly, it is disheartening and there is nothing else to say. For example, when you have 10 containers and you pay POF for just one. Then want can we call that? That means they are defrauding the Federal Government. When the Tribunal comes, then we would know who is at fault. This is because we would still go back and trace all those forgery and falsifications. Honestly, you need to hear from the National Assembly. They have allowed our Tribunal to go to any Federal High Court.
That means CRFFN should be ready for litigation and petitions.
If you are qualified to sue then you can sue. But if you are not qualified, we would not even answer you. We would just inform the court that you are not eligible. We don’t even need to waste our time. As I said earlier, when you deal with one person, then everyone will sit up.
What kind or Registrar are you looking out for the Council?
We need an experienced Registrar who has knowledge about the industry. We need an individual who is fearless and well-educated in freight forwarding business. We need someone who is honest and very objective, a person who doesn’t lobby for money, someone who can overlook things, make decisions, and be determined and courageous. Like me, anytime they say I should leave the office, I am ready because I don’t even have an office. I don’t use anything in CRFFN. I am spending my own money unless I am going for an official assignment. That is the only thing I spend CRFFN money for. If we are having meetings, sometimes I pay my return flight ticket. So already, I am not used to it because there is nothing I am benefiting from the Service. So when you ask me to go, I don’t even have a bag. I will just leave. So unless we get a Registrar who doesn’t care whether to leave or to stay, that is the kind of Registrar that will bring changes to this industry.
What do you wish the new government should do for the Council?
I want the government to look at CRFFN as an agency that controls a large percentage of the economy of the country. This is because freight forwarders contribute a lot to the economy of the country. Government should not overlook them. They should get competent directors and good board members that can give support in order to make the council grow. Then we will see that things will go wel, especially if they allow the Tribunal to do their work. A lot of things will go well. You will see a very clean freight forwarding business which will sanitize the industry in general.
The biggest challenge freight forwarders are facing is with Customs. What will you assure freight forwarders if they fully support the council?
That is why in the board, we have the representation of the Customs. DCG Revenue and others are still on the board. The Customs are adequately represented. That is to show that we are working together. Where things need to be amended, it can be done seamlessly. That is why I said if the association knows the value of the CRFFN, then they don’t need to suffer themselves. They should just key in and make things work the way it should.