“ERNEST ELOCHUKWU WAS GOD-SENT TO ANLCA, BUT….”
This week will either make or mar the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents in its quest to democratize its Western zone. The task of ensuring that a free and fair election is conducted fell on the shoulders of the association electoral committee which is headed by a veteran (of sort) in the task of elections; Prince Olayiwola Shittu. Already, he has a track record of successfully conducting elections having handled other difficult ones between 2005 and 2006. As members of the association who had seen an earlier committee failed eagerly waits to see if what is now known as ‘the Shittu magic’ is sill potent. This interaction will give you an insight into what the committee has done to ensure another free, fair and generally acceptable outcome of the elections.
Don’t give up on ANLCA
We should not lose hope on ANLCA, if the proper structures are put in place; ANLCA can go back to the glorious good old days when MARAN was more like a part of ANLCA; one way or the other. I am sure then ANLCA has a desk for MARAN because there was nothing going on in the association that ANLCA did not get involved in. Well those were the good old days. Many of us think of the good old days and we also have nostalgic feelings about the good old days, but the bad old days of today will become the good old days of our children tomorrow and that is why I believe that the same effort it’s going to take all of us to reposition Nigeria is likely to be part of the same effort at a smaller scale that we need to do with ANLCA. That’s why some of us have not lost hope. You will also recall that all of you witnessed the aborted elections of ANLCA that even led to violence and all of that and since then, I have always told our people that the day MARAN throw their hands up and say that’s it, then there is no salvation.
We got it wrong from Alhaji Sani Kamba’s time
ANLCA is not unsalvageable; it has not even gone bad to the point where people can lose hope. The only thing is, if you open your door down without closing it, will you be surprised to find chicken and mosquitoes playing scrabble in your sitting room? That’s what happened to ANLCA; it became an all – comers’ affair, ANLCA from inception has always been association of licensed companies, but we lost it right from the time of Kamba, these are the foundation that led to the problems that ANLCA is having today; we started personalizing the membership of ANLCA. That time, if you want to go to NEC meeting with chief XYZ or Otunba XYZ, it does not matter whether the Otunba or the chief has a current license or his license has been suspended by customs. What matters is that the Otunba or the chief is present and we go on like that and that is why you discover that some people have been in this port for 30 years, they don’t own licenses, but they will tell you they are the godfather or king makers in anything that happens in ANLCA. And that is why you see ANLCA started nose-diving. I wasn’t surprised because when the last president Chief Ernest Elochukwu stepped aside, I don’t know whether some of your people were there then, I was indisposed, I was not at the hand – over, and then subsequently news came to me that, Oh Shittu, you are the chairman of ASECO. You are all aware that when we conducted elections in 2005, 2006, there was this apprehension by MARAN too, because I came here and was advised that: Shittu don’t spoil your name, don’t get involved, leave this people, but we conducted a successful election. And we got some people today who are the little sparks that you can see in ANLCA today. People like John Ofobike came through the process, there was no amount of rigging that was not planned including hiding his documents in Abuja, but eventually, because we wanted to do it right, He prevailed, you can see somebody like Oyinlola, but the so called kingmakers were not happy, because they were not the people who installed them and today, they are still fighting against some of them individually, they didn’t like that system to work. So when they said Shittu step aside and I was replaced by Alhaji Inua Mohammed, without consultation, I just knew it was the same ANLCA system so I stepped aside, and that gave me time to look after my health. And surprisingly when they asked me to come back, a lot of people felt that Shittu will not go back to that place, but that was not the way I thought about it; since the same group of people who said I should move aside are the same people asking me to come back, then just leave them to use their tongue to count their teeth. And what I told them is that there is only one condition: that the relationship they have with Inua Mohammed has nothing to do with me. We have to do things straight and we have to do it right, fortunately the crop of people they put around me; even though I insisted that I must have two nominations, so we have six members of ASECO even those that were not nominated by me luckily are people who understand the thinking that I had; most especially, the secretary.
I just felt that the best bet is to concentrate on what one is doing and get it done and that is why we are here.
The elections will hold on December, 15, 2009
We are here to let you know what ASECO has put in place and I bet you, we have even improved on what we did in 2005,2006 and that is why you discover that there is no more noise, I am sure that if there had been some negative agitations, MARAN members would have let me know by now. I also want to say that when we came on board, I felt that even funds should not be a yardstick ,we have enough fund, you know this is a continuation of the election that has been tried three times and of course all those three attempts they were spending money on them. So we try to manage what we have to make sure that this election holds and the election must be concluded by the grace of God on December 15, 2009 there will be that election in the Western Zone by the grace of God. We wouldn’t know about the unknown, but all things being equal, on the 15th of December, we shall have it. In the beginning, we introduced a new system that they were not used to, let me just give you a quiet preamble of why things don’t work in the process of this election; when you are able to put somebody in place, you control his affairs and he becomes your laptop, even before you install him, you must have milked him dry and you continue to milk him when he is in office. There was one who told me that he bought his chairmanship with N3Million, why does he have to think about ANLCA, it doesn’t mean anything to him, after all, he paid for the position and he got it. So, all those were the background information that I had and that was why I felt I needed to go through a different part. The system that they normally use those days depended on the money you had, you send your boys to offices, meet messengers to get you letter headed paper of companies and then you use that letter headed paper to go and write and register them in the chapter where you want to contest the election. At the end of the day, you will hear one man saying I have 200 or 300 licenses, so the more licenses you have does not guarantee you, also you are the one to go and pay their chapter and national fees, we are talking about money around N15, 000 for each company in other for them to have receipt as ANLCA member, even though most of them may not have had anything to do with ANLCA. Then you now look for a godfather in ASECO who can buy your way, so if you have 200 and somebody else has 250, and you that have 200 want to win the election then the 250 can become yours, while the other party gets 200, so it has always been arranged that way and those who felt short- changed are the ones who created the crisis that we had.
Doing it differently
Knowing well that this was the situation on ground, I initiated the NEC meeting which held in Festac, Lagos where we brought together every body, before then I and my members had done some leg work by listening to the different parties and getting what they want. The NEC meeting held and at the end of the day; with God’s blessing, every body came out, even the so- called enemies started having hand shakes and that was the peace that we had. The peace was still fragile and there is this deep-rooted anger in some people who had spent so much money for an election that never held, and who don’t know if this our own ASECO will be a continuation. We then introduced a new system, we don’t want any candidate or applicant to contest election with any license and our guidelines have always said that you must be a director in that company. So, if you apply to us and you are not a director in that company, you will not meet up, we let them know right as a director in that company just stay with your own company, then ASECO went out of its way by visiting all the chapters including Idiroko, Ikorodu and we held one on one discussion with the members and we told them that: you don’t need to go through anybody to contest election, all you need to do is to write to ASECO about your intent to participate in the election, when you write the letter to us, we will get back to you. So we collated all the letters from all over Western zone and we published a big poster where we listed in each chapter, the number of people who had shown interest in participating in this election. So we set up a process, the process is that the people will apply to ASECO, and ASECO will collate all these applications and ASECO will visit again, because the purpose of collating those names is for those original members of the chapter to find out whether this name is a member in this chapter , it became an open affair, so at the end of the day we had 784 of such applications ( voters), because they are the ones to handle the elections because without the voters you can’t have any election, so ASECO now went from chapter to chapter and ask each company that had written to us to come forward with their evidence to show that they are licensed by customs, that they are operating in that area with their form C30, that they have been participating in the affairs of the chapter with their chapter receipts and their national subscription, once we have that, then we can confirm. Even while we were there, we saw some people being challenged and they arrested some people there on their own, it’s a process that was participatory and that was when we started getting the confidence of people and they said yes they can participate in this election. Out of that 784 and after all due verifications, we were having about 480 that will vote and I can tell you between now and that December 15, if there is any emerging fact that some people sneaked their way in, because some people wrote to us to say they don’t want the election now and that they are interested in the national election, so they have to pull out, so it can only go down but not more that 480 people will vote in that election.
What manner of candidates?
Then it became imperative that we look at the candidates themselves, we had a lot of applications and the guidelines where explained which is, you must be a director of a licensed company that is a member of ANLCA before you can stand for election. Based on that, we had 78 contestants that applied for 54 different positions for the nine chapters in the Western zone because there are seven positions from each of the chapters; excluding Apapa where the executives just finished their tenure and we have an interim chairman in place. It will be our wish to carry out all the elections together with Apapa, but we are working towards doing that with the little time that is left. ASECO has never disqualified anybody, it is the candidates that disqualified themselves because the process is on ground, the minimum qualification is a school certificate, if you cannot provide evidence of school certificate, then it is you that cannot meet up and not ASECO, we went to corporate affairs commission to find out whether your company is registered and if that same company made you a director because if you are not a director, we will not allow you to vote, and you must have not less than five years experience before you can become a chairman in any of our chapters. These are parts of the guidelines that we have already put in place, so with the number that we have now which is already about 67, among the remaining 3, there is somebody that needs to go to the village to bring the originals of his certificates for us to confirm, there is another that paid his personal income tax up till 2008 and we are insisting that until he pays for 2009, we are not going to clear him, what we are trying to do is allow our people do the right thing, it is very few agents that pay company tax, but we put it in our guideline that your company must show evidence of payment of company tax and personal income tax, this will enable people to do the right thing so that this mode of operation we use with the customs should not also rule our personal lives, and it has made some of them to realize that even though they were made directors of their companies some 8 or 9 years ago, there are no evidences of it in CAC, so some of them come back to us to thank us, so we have succeeded in helping to direct, and I want to tell you that we all agree that if you organize your personal life and I organize my own, we will find out that at the end of the day, we are helping Nigeria to organize itself, so in our own little way we are helping ANLCA to wake up and it is only those that are credible that will be able to participate.
Why hold elections simultaneously?
We have now brought in another innovation, we discovered that maybe if we do this chapter’s election today and another one tomorrow, we will be giving room to idle people, interlopers and those who must have lost elections to come and create problems. So, the election is taking place the same day simultaneously, what I cannot guarantee you now is whether it will be at the same venue because we are still looking at the logistics and discussing with security agencies maybe we are going to have like three venues where it will all take place simultaneously or we end up doing it in one place surrounded by adequate security.
So far, we have not had any threats of disruptions, if you are doing elections in the right way and people accept it, then you will see that there will be peace and calm, but if people are agitating then something must be wrong. What we did in ASECO was to allow everybody to ask questions no matter how stupid, our phone numbers where publicized and the first two months were used to re-orientate ourselves so as to know where we are going, so now we are ready.
Any certainty of successful elections?
Having put all these in place and with all the publicity, we are very certain that we will have a very good outing and the crisis in ANLCA will be over because once western zone is settled, the whole of ANLCA will be settled. After all these, we still have the Abuja chapter elections and once we finished that, a day will be fixed for our national elections. According to the guidelines, it is the executives at the chapters that will go and vote at the national and during that election too, the zonal chairman for each zone will also be elected unlike before when they where appointed, it’s those who are appointed that usually turn themselves to tin gods.
ANLCA and crises, why?
Ernest Elochukwu was a God- sent leader during his own tenure because I worked closely with him. He is intelligent, he has focus and passion, but he never had a good team, he made a mistake when coming in because he never had a team that will work with him, he campaigned alone against an opponent, he never bordered about those who are going to work with him and he sits in Port Harcourt relying on what Zonal chairmen and some appointed officials would come and tell him. Meanwhile, these people have personal interests. Has it occurred to you why somebody will spend up to N10million in order to become chairman of a chapter in ANLCA? It means that there is something there which made the crisis become bloodshed, it’s not the cash that we are looking at, because I have never benefited any cash in ANLCA, but there must be something therein for the individual who goes in there. I want to tell you that nobody has become chairman of ANLCA in any chapter and came out worse than when he went in, they value what that position does to them in doing their job and it also attracts more jobs for them because with the naivety of a Nigerian importer, hearing that someone is the chairman of all the agents in Apapa, he will not give his job to somebody else and these are part of the gains they have. But, they are not looking at the process that brought them into office in order to help ANLCA to achieve the purpose of setting up an association, that’s why we find ourselves where we are.
And of course, if you have competent people in place that never spent money to satisfy some greedy individuals who have been in the industry for 30 years and still do not own licenses, they are the people that create the crisis, especially when they see that they cannot make money.
If ANLCA has a good team at the national level too, then the sky is the limit, ANLCA is not meant to go and close gates like they did in PTML recently, it’s because they have lost respect and that is why they are so treated, but I want to tell you that ANLCA is not meant to solve the problems of an agent who clears contraband, these where the allegations they brought against Elochukwu; that he was sitting in Port Harcourt and not coming to Lagos to solve their problems, there are some problems that you caused by your self; once you have agreed to clear a contraband, then you must be ready to face consequences, so asking ANLCA to come to your rescue is not really necessary if genuinely you are doing your business, I think we are going to re – engineer that and eventually maybe we will get it.