As a maritime media organisation, we have devoted ample attention to the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN). The reason for this is not far-fetched; we were part of the deliberations, public hearings and legislative processes that led to the passage of the Act that established the Council. It thus grieves our heart that the Council has faltered for so many years.
Like every member of the maritime community, we had high hopes that the CRFFN would live up to its name as the regulator of freight forwarding in Nigeria. But this was not to be, as the Council became entangled in different crises for many years, such that it could not fulfill its destiny.
At a point in its history, the CRFFN had no governing council. But, in 2018, after the appointment of six members into its Governing Council by President Muhammadu Buhari, everyone thought the solution to the Council’s problems was on the way. But the appointees had to wait for elected members of the Council to emerge. This took months.
After the elections, another round of the waiting game commenced; that is to inaugurate the Governing Council. The Minister of Transportation; Mr Rotimi Amaechi grudgingly inaugurated the Governing Council in Abuja. The process also threw up some controversies, especially about the process leading to the emergence of the Chairman of the Council; Alhaji Abubakar Tsanni.
After this, another phase was to emerge – the appointment of a new Registrar to succeed Sir Mike Jukwe, the Council’s pioneer Registrar and Chief Executive Officer.
Eventually, Barrister Samuel Nwakohu was appointed as Registrar., and a new journey began.
At a point, previous governing council of the CRFFN toyed with the introduction of what they called ‘transaction fees’ to be paid by freight forwarders.
After the attempt to push-in ‘transaction fees’ failed; the Practitioners Operations Fees (POF) was introduced and again since then, hell has been let loose among freight forwarders.
It is the issue of collection and sharing of the controversial POF that led ANLCA to the law court against the CRFFN, the Ministry of Transport, and others.
Of course, one great issue that the current management of the council picked up was that of the controversial collection of Practitioners Operating Fees (POF).
In the last two to three years, the management and governing council of the CRFFN tried several approaches to get collection of the POF incorporated into the nation’s port system. At a point, after assurances that it had perfected the procedure, its registrar; Mr Sam Nwakohu gave a definite take-off date at a press briefing. It was frustrated by some freight forwarders who gave different reasons to oppose it.
It was not until the Federal Ministry of Transportation got involved and got the terminal operators and Nigerian Ports Authourity (NPA) involved, that the CRFFN started making a head way over the POF collection.
We believe that, it was in apparent desperation that the CRFFN management resorted to the Ministry. We are aware that previous arrangement that were made with the NPA, and the Nigeria Customs Service did not yield any positive result.
While we are not opposed to the concerns being expressed by the freight forwarders who are against collection of POF, we are also desirous of seeing a well-trained crop of practitioners.
The threat by some aggrieved freight forwarders to kick against it is really uncalled for, because the leadership of their various associations are already in talks with the CRFFN.
The curiosity here is that, the leadership of the freight forwarding associations are in sync with CRFFN on POF, and the reason is obvious. They are looking forward to the promised share of proceeds from the collection.
We also agree with the justification raised by the CRFFN Registrar that, the current dispensation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) throws up more challenge on the laps of Nigerian freight forwarders.
There is no overemphasizing the fact that the dispensation of AfCFTA compels freight forwarders to also acquaint themselves with the requisite tools for continental trade. This is where the CRFFN and the POF comes in.
But, the CRFFN will also do well to be more accountable to its constituents. It has not done enough in the area of engagement with the grass root freight forwarders. Yes, its leadership has been meeting with the leadership of the five registered freight forwarding associations, but these are not the trouble makers. Truth be told, with the exemption of NAGAFF that can rein-in its members, the other four can not in truth disuade their members from protests, and threats.
It is obvious that the Registrar is enjoying the support of the National Assembly, while the Ministry of Transportation watches its back.
A lot has been said and hopes and tempers are high over the POF, we strongly appeal to the CRFFN that parts of the funds that will accrue from this should be used to impact on the lives of practitioners. Let it be said that the CRFFN is not all about POF. The Council actually predates the POF.
Rather that hold on to the POF as the all-in-all, we think the current management of the CRFFN will write their names in gold if they are able to standardize fees collectable by freight forwarders for services rendered. The current system whereby rates are charged based on questionable and ambiguous criteria is not helping the profession.
But before doing that, they have to fully professionalize and ensure that all freight forwarders are educated and certified as such.
The various registered freight forwarding associations and their members should also put the leadership of the Council on their toes. After all, it is their council.
We also throw our weight behind the push to collect the POF. But we insist that it must not be a national cake. The chunk of it should be devoted to capacity building to boost the competitiveness of freight forwarders.
The reason for the massive support the POF is getting is obvious. But it is expected that sufficient guidelines should be put in place by both the CRFFN and the Federal Ministry of Transpiration to safeguard the proceeds.