Until the recent withdrawal of services by licensed customs agents, there was no meeting point between the three major freight forwarding groups in the nation’s shipping sector. It was therefore surprising to many that the trio, that is, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) and the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents jointly pulled the action through.
It was probably the first time since 1998 when the Council of Managing Directors was carved out and since 1999 when NAGAFF break away that the duo would be pursuing the same cause and doing same jointly.
Perhaps, one of the reasons that made the three-day action to record the kind of success that it recorded was the formation of a joint action committee by the three groups and allowing the national president of the Council of Managing Directors, Mr Lucky Amiwero to be the arrow head.
Arguably, the oldest in terms of politics of licensed customs agents, Amiwero was there during the time of Dr Rafiu Ladipo as the national president of ANLCA and up till when he opted to float his own group, he was actively involved in ANLCA politics, having served as its national publicity secretary once.
As the oldest umbrella body for licensed customs agents, ANLCA has had, Alhaji Sani Kamba, Mr Peter Okocha, Aare Sanni Shittu, Alhaji Inua Mohammed and lately, Chief Ernest Elochukwu as national presidents.
While NAGAFF can boast of at least two presidents in the persons of its founder, Dr Boniface Aniebonam and incumbent Mr Usman Sanusi, the older Council of Managing Directors also has two if the short tenure of Dr Ladipo is to be considered. The incumbent, Mr Amiwero has been president for about 10 years.
Without mincing words, ANLCA still remains the ‘father’ that gave birth to the two. But these ‘children’ appear to be giving their ‘father’ a very stiff competition, considering the fact that (at a time) they almost took the shine off ANLCA which allowed the duo of Council and NAGAFF to gain more prominence.
Without necessarily wanting to make a comparison of the three associations, ANLCA practically went under for NAGAFF to take its place and become the rallying point for grass root licensed customs agents. The popular NAGAFF village became the loudest reference point in agitation and advocacy.
Similarly, the emergence of the Lucky Amiwero-led Council of Managing Directors as the most vocal and most reliable in terms of criticising ‘unfriendly’ policies and sometimes effecting the desired change robbed ANLCA of its pride of place.
Many stakeholders will still remember how the image of its former president (Kamba) loomed so large in the industry so much so that his ANLCA determined the fate of so many things; especially issues that concern the practice of clearing and associated matters.
All that changed after the infamous non-Import Duty Report (IDR) saga of 1995 which led to the revocation of operating licenses of virtually all registered customs agents for alleged complicity in the clearance of questionable imports.
We think that leaders of the three major licensed customs agents’ groups should consider using the ad-hoc platform that was created and through which they were able to successfully achieve total withdrawal of services for the three days to launch the re-mergence of a once unified body of licensed customs agents.
Good enough, at different fora, they have individually expressed surprised at how they could (as one voice) recently re-enact the pre-1995 era when licensed customs agents were a force to reckon with.
That takes us to the status of the newly- inaugurated Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN). It is unfortunate that the Hon. Tony Nwabunike-led council was neither taken into confidence nor carried along when the licensed customs agents were strategising for the three-day action.
But when the chips were down, the Council still became the rallying point because it is the only body that is legally saddled with the responsibility of superintending activities of freight forwarders; including licensed customs agents. The trio of NAGAFF, ANLCA and the Council of Managing Directors remain what they are: associations.
Because of the obvious difficulties of going back to the one association era, it is easier for the trio to rally behind the CRFFN, while still retaining their identities.