By Izuchukwu Ozoemena
Hope that inauguration of the Governing Board of Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), in Abuja last week, by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi has finally provided a lasting solution to the major problem the freight forwarding regulator has been battling with over the years, seems a mirage. This is arguable as what people have come to refer to as ‘the Abuja show’ never represented what ought to have transpired to suggest that sanity is about to be restored to a regulatory body that has been in embroiled in crisis for years.
In the first instance, on Tuesday, the agreed date of inauguration, freight forwarders elected into the Governing Council who converged on Abuja were left stranded as the Minister of Transportation, Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi was not available. The elected freight forwarders who were personally invited to the inauguration via letters from the Minister of Transportation himself arrived Abuja Monday, anticipating to return to Lagos after inauguration on Tuesday. But they were left stranded in Abuja as the Minister was said to have travelled to Lagos for another programme. The inauguration slated for 11:00am was shifted to 4.00pm. It was later put off till Wednesday, thus casting serious doubts as to the seriousness of the government. No apology; no explanations. As expected, some of the freight forwarders openly lamented that their businesses in Lagos were suffering having been away for two days. There was anxiety everywhwere.
Speaking on the development, one of the Council members who pleaded anonymity expressed fears that the new governing Council was already programmed to fail. “It is a pity that Amaechi had abandoned his core job to be going after politics, while other ministers were busy looking for ways to grow their ministry, he is busy after politics. Tell me, what is he doing in Lagos? And he gathered all of us here”, he said.
It is recalled that the Minister refused to conduct the inauguration of the Council four months after elections were conducted in July where fifteen Council members from five registered freight forwarding associations emerged.
By arrogating to itself the prerogative of choosing who became the chairman of the board contrary to the stipulations of the CRFFN Act, what purpose is government trying to achieve? Is government not unwittingly deepening the already-existing controversy CRFFN ought to have avoided especially at this point in time?
According to Ojo Peter Akintoye, a chieftain of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), the Minister of Transportation, Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi may have undertaken to personally appoint the Chairman of the Governing Council rather than allow election as prescribed by the Act setting up the Council in order to avert a possible clash of interest between the two leading freight forwarding associations.
While acknowledging that the appointment fell short of the provisions of the CRFFN Act, Akintoye said that the Minister may have considered the need for him to bring lasting peace to the Council far above any other consideration in order that they may have a very successful tenure. But to what extent is this assumption true? “If you look at it very well, you will see that between the two associations, that is between NAGAFF and ANLCA, if you allow any of them appoint the Chairman, I am telling you that they will be at loggerheads that they may not be able to get it right which may amount to derailing the aims and objectives of the Council.
“I guess it is to allow peace to reign in the Council and to enable them stabilize; I don’t see anything so much wrong in what has happened. We can complain that that was not what the Act said; that the Minister should have allowed the law to take its course”.
On whether the government should be seen to be disobeying the law it ought to protect, Akintoye who is the former Chairman of the International Freight Forwarders’ Association (IFFA), Apapa chapter said,” The government is not supposed to be seen to be flouting laws but don’t forget that CRFFN is still a baby compared to these other professional bodies that you are mentioning that are already established. Recall that the election of CRFFN was long overdue before the recent election. Have you asked yourself why it was so? To me, it is because we still don’t know how to play the ball accordingly. What I mean by that is that we don’t see ourselves as professionals. So, things need to be stabilized; we need to strengthen the body to ensure that it is well established.
“I remember in 2010 when we went to Bangkok for FIATA programme, CRFFN came, they accepted CRFFN because there was nobody to represent Nigeria but a statement was made there that anybody that is constituted by government in international freight forwarding associations is not recognized; it is not acceptable because FIATA does not condone government interference. But because ANLCA and NAGAFF cannot come to an agreement to have a body that will represent them in FIATA, that is why CRFFN came to take the shine off them”.
In apparent defence of the Minister, President, Nigerian Institute of Freight Forwarders and Customs Brokers (NIFFCB), Dr. Zebulon Ikokide, has disclosed that no part of the CRFFN Act stipulates that only elected freight forwarders can occupy the position of the Governing Board Chairman. Ikokide stated this against the backdrop of criticisms trailing the appointment of Tsanni Abubakar, a retired army colonel, as Governing Board Chairman.
Ikokide explained that while the provisions of the CRFFN Act stipulates that the Board Chairman must be elected among the elected council members, it does not count whether the person who emerges as Chairman is a professional freight forwarder or not.
According to him, “The Chairman is supposed to be elected among the members of the board of which he is one, but the mode of election is what is questionable. I understand that the Minister made all the elected members chose him not that he was duly elected.
“The law did not say that only somebody who is a freight forwarder should be the Chairman. It only says that out of the governing council members, they should elect one person as Chairman. It did not specify who they should elect because all of them are qualified as members of the board of the council. So, any one of them can emerge as the Chairman.
In a chat with Business and Maritime West Africa January, it is recalled, Ikokide explained that apart from Alhaji Moshood Tijani’s wealth of experience in freight forwarding practice, none of the government appointees understood what the council was set up to achieve. Among these appointees is Tsanni who was last week imposed by the government as the chairman.
The NIFFCB boss noted that in line with the Act establishing CRFFN, the council could be rejuvenated if other members of the board would appoint or elect Moshood Tijani as chairman. "On the appointment of board members, I will be quick to say that it is a good thing that they are rejuvenating the Council but the board lacks the necessary professionals (especially on the part of government appointees) that can properly and actually rejuvenate the Council. On how to ensure that Moshood Tijani, the only practicing government appointee heads the board, he had stated, political appointment and interference bythe political class must be avoided.
In a show of impunity, reports say, Rtd Col. Tsani Abubakar who emerged as the Chairman of the Governing Board of the CRFFN had few months ago boasted that he would get the position. Sources said Abubakar was prepared for the position by Sir Mike Jukwe, the CRFFN registrar, who, apart from working to advance his personal interest, was also working to please some powerful forces in the Presidency.
Although, some freight forwarders had maintained that Abubakar did not qualify to contest the election based on the CRFFN Act, he and Mike Jukwe had lobbied wide to get the Minister ignore this aspect of the law.
The CRFFN Act says the Chairman of the Board has to be elected among the elected council members.
Past chairmen of the board of CRFFN who are members of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) all emerged through election and not appointment.
On learning that Abubakar was being favoured to occupy the chairmanship position through election even with doubt of his being a true freight forwarder, other freight forwarders had fought against this, arguing that he is not qualified to contest as this was against the CRFFN Act.
Some of the elected Council members had drawn the attention of the Minister and CRFFN Registrar, Sir Mike Jukwe, to the provision in the Council’s Act that an appointed member cannot contest for the chairmanship of the board. But this never dampened the Minister’s resolve to have his way at all costs. And he did! Board members rom the professional associations swallowed it all, if for anything, to let the sleeping dog lie. But does this acceptance signify that they are not going to restrategize to have their way in future? The ding-dong game continues.
Therefore, it is clear that despite what appears a successful inauguration, pockets of complaints yearning for resolution still exist in the CRFFN, and, by extension, freight forwarding practice in Nigeria. How prepared is the government to address these?