The Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) is facing increasing scrutiny and criticism from freight forwarders and associations over the alleged lack of transparency and sincerity in the disbursement of the Practitioner Operating Fees (POF) dividends.
The POF is a mandatory levy imposed on freight forwarders and clearing agents from all shipments and cargo handled at Nigerian ports, and the revenue is intended to contribute to the development of the freight forwarding and port services.
However, allegations of mismanagement and lack of clarity in the distribution of the fund have sparked outrage within the freight forwarding community. Representatives of the registered freight forwarding associations who spoke with our correspondent have expressed concerns while criticizing CRFFN’s handling of the POF funds.
In a chat with a chieftain of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Mr Pius Ujubonu, he explained that in a meeting held in 2016 with then- Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi in Abuja, it was unanimously agreed by all five registered associations that the “declarant” is a license owner and that 35% of the POF would be remitted to the declarant adding that the issuance of the Common User Entrance Permit should align with the policies of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA).
Ujubonu however expressed deep dissatisfaction with the progress that followed this decision. He suggested that those who disagreed with the majority decision have hindered the advancement of CRFFN. He emphasized that the core issue with CRFFN has consistently been operational inefficiency, with the focus on the dividends not adequately addressing policies meant to improve freight forwarding practices.
Regarding the issue of declarants not updating their account details, Ujubonu questioned whether CRFFN had actively reached out or advertised such activities to the industry. He raised concerns about CRFFN’s communication and engagement with associations, stating that these groups were primarily occupied with disputes over the sharing ratios rather than focusing on the respective declarants.
“In 2016 we had a meeting with Rotimi Amaechi the then- Federal minister of transportation in Abuja and some agreement were reached as regards the POF. To validate these agreements all the representatives of the accredited associations were made to vote for or against the decision. ANLCA, NAFFAC, NCMDLA, and AREFF voted in favor, while NAGAFF voted against it.
“Ever since this decision, no meaningful progress was made. Those who did not like the decision appear to be throwing spanners in the wheel of the progress of CRFFN. It is rather sad, condescending for the acting registrar’s impression that most declarants have not updated account details. Did CRFFN ever invite or advertise such activity? Has CRFFN ever deliberately asked for declaration details with a view for drawbacks? Associations were busy locking horns with one another the sharing ratio as against respective declarants” Ujubunu noted.
Also speaking, the National Secretary of the Association of Registered Freight Forwarding Practitioners of Nigeria (AREFFN), Mr. Frank Obiekezie lampooned CRFFN’s lack of sincerity and transparency in handling the POF issue, stating that it allegedly disburses funds to associations without adequate explanations.
Obiekezie emphasized that further clarification is needed from CRFFN, where stakeholders from all freight forwarding associations are invited for round table discussions about the disbursements to ensure transparency and accountability.
The AREFFN Secretary suggested that there may be political complexities surrounding the POF matter, which could lead to resistance from freight forwarders if transparency is not ensured. He expressed concerns that if such issues persist, it might become challenging for CRFFN to rebuild trust and convince freight forwarders to participate in future payment of POF.
“Well, I don’t know why CRFFN doesn’t want to come clean about this POF issue. I don’t know of any member of my association who has received any dime from CRFFN with respect to POF. If they want to be sincere, there is supposed to be a forum that will involve the associations whereby they will sit down with the CRFFN maybe monthly or quarterly as the case may be, where they will put on the table the amount collected, what went to federal government, what remains for CRFFN for training, the associations and the members.
“But in a situation where, you arbitrarily just send out some small amount of money to an association without any explanatory note, I don’t want to call it payment. So, we’re still waiting to get clarification from them. By the time they are prepared to pay POF, we should sit down on the table”, Obiekezie stressed.
Speaking on behalf his association, the Secretary General of National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Mr Festus Ukwu noted that the association has not been getting its POF dividends from the CRFFN because the signatories of the association’s bank account are yet to be updated and has remained since the passing away of its past President and the subsequent change in leadership. He assured that steps were being taken to update the signatories and reactivate these dormant accounts.
Ukwu stated that CRFFN has taken proactive measures to address concerns from various members adding that some of them have been paid. According to him, some registered freight forwarders have decamped to other associations without updating their CRFFN membership status, making it difficult to process the payments of the POF dividends.
On his part, the National Vice President of National Association of Freight Forwarders and Consolidators (NAFFAC), Anthony Onyike noted that these payments are more readily accessible to individuals or agencies affiliated with recognized freight forwarding associations. He however advised that freight agencies or individuals should formalize their association memberships as a critical step in gaining access to the POF dividends.
When asked if NAFFAC has been paid its dividends from the POF, Onyike said “As far as I know, we have not received any money. I think they pay according to associations by associations, but they have not come to us. I think we have no problem with them. When it’s our time, they will come to us.
“Since CRFFN started the POF. I think they started paying some people last year. They pay easily to those who are in associations. So we advise agencies to try to register with an association formally. Without that, it means you are touting and they cannot release any payment to you.