“CRFFN is the best thing that has happened to port administration”……Dr Aniebonam 

Dr. Boniface Aniebonam is the Founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF). In this interview with Shipping Position Daily, he spoke extensively on some issues, especially about the CRFFN, and the industry.

We learnt that Nigeria Shippers’ Council is trying to put up a system that will enable shippers to get refunds of their container deposit which runs to millions every year. It is planning to bring in insurance firms, do you think the idea is sellable?

It’s going to be a wonderful initiative, because when the going gets tough, the tough people get going, in a country where people do what they like as if nobody is regulating our port industry. So bringing in insurance company will be an advantage to the seamless operation, so the onus is on them now to take hold of that, and that is good for freight forwarders and their operations.

What challenges do you foresee?

There is no other challenge because the guarantee is there, the contract would have to be between the insurance company and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, so I don’t see any challenge, and don’t forget that they are the commercial regulator.

Can you put a figure to how much is lost annually to container deposit annually?

No, I wouldn’t be able to put a figure, but it runs into billions of naira annually, when you look at the cargo throughput of Nigeria, the money is unbelievable. This is part of what I have been talking about; that the country is losing so much money to foreign operators, for us we don’t fly flag and the essence of legislator would have been to increase the capacity of local content, Nigeria is not flying flag, cargoes coming into Nigeria is on Cost Insurance Freight (CIF); look at  the freight involved, when we are exporting outside Nigeria we are on Free on Board (FOB) and we lose that again, even when you look at the current state of the port, wherein the access roads into the port are nightmare, that has lasted over three years now, so nobody can quantify that. I think Dangote was quoted sometime that in a day, we lose about N2billion naira, so it’s unbelievable.

I wish somebody like him (Hassan Bello) will be granted to head the Transport ministry, because the man in Shippers’ Council needs to get some additional powers to be able to strike and do those things he wants to do, and don’t forget that it was set up to be advisory to government direction and policies implementation. 

This acts of shipping companies or terminal operators that we are talking about is cheating and it is criminal, so rather than going civil; we should go criminal and present them before the magistrate for cheating.

How come nobody has ever taken these shipping companies to court for breach of contract? 

Individuals have been going to court against shipping companies, but you know it’s not easy going to court in Nigeria, so I think the Shippers’ Council needs the support of everybody.

What do you think can be done be done to get the National Transport Commission (NTC) bill back, we know NSC was on the verge of getting it done, but they never got it?

Well Rotimi Ameachi needs to do some level of coordination, as far as I am concerned, is an internal wrangling among the agencies in the transport ministry.

What did you mean?

Well, what I meant is that, it is an internal wrangling that’s how much I know from my informed position, there seems to be a form of rivalry between parastatals of the transport ministry. The NTC Bill could have been the best thing to happen in this country to serve as the one coordinating all activities. So what is happening there is no different from what is happening at the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN); looking at NAGAFF, ANLCA and the other associations that exist there.
Are you insinuating that one agency is blocking the NTC bill?

But, these things were before the public hearing.

The bill was passed, but the President refused to sign it

Why would the president refuse to sign, then he must have gotten an intelligence report, so if you now bring the president into that arena, I think the onus is that of the president, if for whatever reason that made him decline signing, intelligence report would have shown him why, and then if there are omissions in the bill, it could be corrected in the interest of the country.

So, what do you think the Minister should do in such a situation?

The Minister is the head; he should do further coordination among the parastatals and report back to Mr. President, and if there are grey areas the President might be pointing at, the minister definitely will know why Mr. President refused to sign the bill and therefore call back the head of agencies and put the house in order.

CRFFN is getting set to roll off the collection of POF, how comfortable is NAGAFF?

Very comfortable, you could see that in section 6 of the CRFFN Act, section 6, tells you how CRFFN will fund its operations, so what is wrong with the POF? So some of us are beginning to realize the need to understand what the council stands for and not about NAGAFF, Aniebonam or any other person. As a journalist, you know that the facilitator of CRFFN is basically NAGAFF and it is NAGAFF till today that has sustained the existence of the Council. The council as it were had an internal enemy; in particular, our sister association- ANLCA that is the truth, if you can remember at the National Assembly they were there and said that they are not interested in the council; that what they want is Council for Regulation of License Customs Agents.

But have we gone past that?

 No we have not gone past that, we are telling you why the council is having problem, some of us are agents of destruction because they lack knowledge of one good reason; protecting their territory, a territory that is moribund.      

But NAGAFF went to Court?                                                                                                   

NAGAFF went to court for a peaceful court approach to explain that the council as it were ab initio, is not an agency under the transport ministry. It’s a friendly court action. 

But have you changed your mind now?

God forbid, we are in court and we will take the case up to the Supreme Court, and the things we are canvassing in the court are those things they want to amend in the council, can you believe that? 

Some of this things we talked about, to show you that the council is not an agency of the government; for instance, the chairman of the council is not an appointee of the president, as opposed to NIMASA, NPA, NIWA and any other parastatal in the transport ministry, it is Mr. President that selects chairman of the board of the other agencies, but our own (CRFFN) is an elected member from the register of freight forwarders kept by the Registrar of the council.

But the Registrar is an appointee of the Government?

By the virtue of the court order now, that is what it looks like, but it’s still to the contrary, but the operators of the council can still do what they want to do, because they are there, the registrar is not an appointee of the transport ministry, the registrar was appointed by the council.

If you are invited for the public hearing would you attend?

Of course, we will attend even though we are in court, if they invite us we will go there and tell them that this matter is in court, for us not to go at all is to leave everything complete.

As at now, we are doing everything possible for the success of the council, because the council is the baby of NAGAFF and that’s why I used the word friendly court action.

The CRFFN is the best thing that has happened to port administration in Nigeria, if we have taken advantage of that, because all the critical elements are there where decision can be taken.

If eventually the court rules that the council is not an agency of the government, can the CRFFN survive in terms of funding?

Why not, government has created opportunity and that is what we call self-regulation, and if I can tell you, there is nothing you do in this country that the government hand is not in it, you are not an island.

What if the Government withdraws funding?

Government cannot withdraw, section 6 of the Act talks about that.

If Government does not own the council, why should it fund it?      

The funding of the council Act is contained in section 6 of the council’s Act.

Does it involve money from Government?              

No, this money they go to collect from the federation account other than the pronouncement of the court that the council is an agency of the government is criminal

If you remove the funding from the government, then it becomes self-funding, can the CRFFN survives?

The council will survive unbelievably, because the POF we are talking about is contained in the Council’s act.

Without POF can the council survive?   

The POF is part of the processes of funding the council

But why was NAGAFF been against the collection of POF?

God forbid, NAGAFF is ahead of any other association in support of the collection of POF.I hope you are not mixing NAGAFF with ANLCA. You remember ANLCA people fought with CRFFN at Seme border and at the airport, not NAGAFF please, don’t malign us.

Are you comfortable with the sharing formula? 

Is it in contention, why are you asking me. It is 15 percent that will go to the associations.

The law didn’t say associations, it says the declarant

Have you seen the last document, the MoU that was signed by the presidents of the five registered associations, it says declarant/ slash association

That is an insertion, is the declarant that is recognised

Listen to me, I said there was a document that was signed just last week by the presidents of the five associations  

That’s arm-twisting the Council

Who is arm-twisting the Council?

The associations 

I don’t understand 

You (associations) insisted that you must have a share

The membership of the Council is in three categories: individual, corporate and association. When you use the word ‘corporate’, you have corporate bodies licensed by Customs to perform functions in relation to customs formalities, these are secondary freight forwarders. The second are associations duly registered and having been verified as it were, and the main person of the object clause who is the freight forwarder, and that person under the Act is the declarant. Now, you as the declarant must be a member of an association, before you become a member of the Council. I have heard some people say they don’t belong to any association, who the hell are you, it is by compulsion as far as you are involved in freight forwarding in Nigeria.