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ANLCA Board is intact, cannot be wished away by anybody’-Elochukwu

Former National President and member, Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Chief Ernest Elochukwu has accused the association National Executive Committee (NECOM) led by National President, Tony Uju Nwabunike of being the problem of the association current crisis.

He said the BoT led by Alhaji Taiwo Mustapha is valid and cannot be wished away by those he described as destabilizing forces, even as he pointedly accused the National President of being his own enemy. He spoke with Eguono Odjegba on the crisis that has engulfed the association so far.


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There is a deafening ongoing crisis in ANLCA amid official denials. As one of the association leaders do you subscribe to the facts of crisis in ANLCA?

Yeah, it will amount to living in self-denial if somebody has said that there is no crisis in ANLCA and for whatever reason I wouldn’t know. Surely there is crisis and this crisis is traceable to what I will term as the attempt to put the interest of one man above the interests of the association and in the process trying to put it as an issue of tribal contention. The election that produced Tony Nwabunike as the national president, though flawed as it was, was nonetheless accepted by all and sundry; especially, because the person he purportedly defeated in the election, that is Emenike Nwokeoji, attended his inauguration. Why I said that it was accepted was that Mr. Nwokeoji was present during his inauguration. Now the problem you asked came about because of a selfish and dubious denial of an agreement that was made to the knowledge of a lot of people.

What sort of agreement was it?

Prior to the election in March 2018, the Odua Maritime wrote to the then board of ANLCA to make a request that may be considered politically expedient. And that request was simply that considering that in every political setting of in this country, there’s always the need to balance the tribal representation, and considering the fact that a Yoruba man was serving out his eight years of presidency, and considering the fact that the Yoruba will not be contesting for the position of the presidency. Odua Maritime said that considering the fact that there are three most prominent positions in the association, viz-a-vis the National President, the Chairman ASECO and the Chairman Board of Trustees; hence, Odua Maritime requested that since the Yorba won’t be contesting the presidency, since an Igbo man is already the Chairman of ASECO, that the one which is the Chairman of the BoT should be conceded to the Yorubas. And it must be noted at this junction, that Chairman of the Board of Trustees is not provided for in the Constitution of ANLCA. In other words, the position is for administrative convenience, likened to administrative arrangements of Senate President, and Speaker House of Representatives. In other words, nobody stand to contest the BoT Chairmanship at a general election, it is simply an internal arrangement by the elected members to get leaders for the purpose of administration. So it is not something that somebody will say is constitutional, that somebody was elected chairman of the board by the members of the association. No. So, for that reason, the request of Odua Maritime group was granted by all and sundry at that meeting at Santiago Hotels in Amuwo Odofin Lagos. Now the problem was as somebody amongst us then, casually and what I considered jokingly, said that ‘oh such…applying that which Odua requested will be or should be after the national election that was held in Enugu, because jokingly, he said if you consider it immediately, how are you sure the Yorubas won’t go to contest for the presidency? We considered it a joke, but then, whatever it was; we agreed it should be after the election.

You said Odua Maritime request was granted, what was the problem?

Now the person holding the position of the Chairman Board then used every trick in the book to frustrate any effort for the BoT to have a meeting, so that there wouldn’t be that election. In fact, some people suggested that it be held immediately after the election in Enugu, but others felt that there wasn’t need for that, why the rush. Probably you can call it a mistake, and ever since then, not only did the occupant then , Njoku started the campaign that they had a mandate to serve for six years. But the other thing was that it was still the same way they got elected that the Taiwo Mustapha led board was also elected. After the election of this board in 2013 in Warri, which produced nine board members, the standard practice was to immediately allow the elected members go into the conclave to elect their leaders. For some reasons, the then National President, Shittu suggested that it should be left to be done at the time of the opening of our Secretariat. And that was how the conclave election didn’t hold. And so we settled for an interim administrator which incidentally then was Mustapha. Now on the day preceding the official opening of the secretariat we did not provide for election of the officers of the board to be done that day. So the night preceding the inauguration in 2018, majority of members of the board felt that the election to change the leadership should be held, and it was held as one of the items discussed during the meeting of 13th April 2018. The only thing to add was that there were some issues that were discussed and Njoku as the chairman of the board then was patient enough and those issues were all discussed, about six of them. Now when it got to the last item which was the election, as agreed previously, himself and two other members, Aare Sani Shittu and Peter Obi said no, that the election should not hold that day. And we we’re asked why, is there any reason, there was no reason given. So we went ahead and held the election. Again, probably you can call it another mistake, many people felt since the programme for the inauguration has already been prepared with Njoku presented as the Chairman BoT, that it will not be good to alter the programme. So we now said that it’s okay if Njoku acted as Chairman BoT for that occasion. I believe it was something done out of good faith. Now beside that, he and his group that went on denying that any election ever took place. That is the issue from which the ongoing crisis was precipitated. Every other thing that now followed revolves around it.

Would you say that scenario also led to the Western Zone not giving the National President, Nwabunike the necessary support during the year long tussle?


No, rather than say Western Zone didn’t give Uju support he needed, I will say it was Uju that started an unnecessary fight with the leadership and chairmen of Western Zone. You see, I as a person, am in position to talk about this because I won the most keenly contested and the costliest election in ANLCA history. So it is a scenario that I am very familiar with. What did I do? On winning that historic election at Hilton Hotel Abuja, the following morning I went straight to the suite of my then opponent, the late Joe Eboje. I told him if it was possible, I would rather that we run the leadership on joint ticket because of his similar passion to serve, more so because I value his progressive instincts and friendship. I told him that it was the association that won not and me, and that he should not believe that he lost entirely, that I will appreciate if we all work together to better ANLCA. Rather than show that magnanimity in victory, Tony Uju and his cohorts went back to start looking for those who did not vote for them to witch hunt, even after he has won.


Yes. That was the first sign I had that something was going to go wrong, because in every election, there are those who will vote for you and those who will not vote for you. Having won you become the leader of all and you have no reason to start looking for those who voted or did not vote for you. Perceiving that people in the Western Zone didn’t vote for him, he started the hostility. And what has happened which is been interpreted as the Western Zone not giving him support was a simple act of self preservation. When the Western Zone chapters were due for election, they all paid the stipulated fee, did all the stipulated laid down procedures for the election to be held. For whatever reason best known to NECOM and the then Chairman of ASECO, they didn’t go on with that election. Rather, they went for a jamboree in Abuja, for a purported NEC meeting and a lot of people were asking, what was the NEC meeting for? Now the candidates that have bought forms, did everything for election, nobody was holding election for them. And as that time, the leadership of the board under Taiwo Mustapha had actually asked the then ASECO Chairman, Oyimba to come forward to brief the board about the preparation for the election and all that. In fact, all the directives and advice given by the board then were ignored by Oyimba. And in the process, because the board was like…why are you not holding the election? And somewhere along the line, Tony Uju either by himself or through proxy made a decision that he did not recognize the Mustapha leadership of the board. That again triggered additional problem. So, Western Zone Chairmen said if you don’t recognize the board under Mustapha, we might as well not recognize you as the national president. So that was the beginning of the problem, it was a case of action and reaction, and it was precipitated by Nwabunike not Western Zone leadership or chairmen.


You have inferred that there was a case of sight tight syndrome by Henry Njoku, can we divorce same syndrome from the Taiwo Mustapha led board under the present circusmtances?

There are two different scenarios. What cannot be divorced is that the same process through which Njoku was elected as chairman of the board was the same process used in electing Taiwo as chairman of the board. And so, just like no Speaker of the House or President of Senate, would they say they will not step down when his colleagues say they have elected someone else? We felt that it was an unnecessary distraction and we went ahead with acting in the capacity of our offices as elected: Taiwo Mustapha as Chairman Board, Dennis Okafor as Vice Chairman Board, and Prince Oyeniyi as Board Secretary. So they went ahead acting their board role, the only thing that put spanners on that work was Njoku and his people who felt that they were too smart. One of them went to court by name Peter Obi, asking that Taiwo be declared an impostor, along with those of us that came in 2013 as members of the board. The practice is that after election, the association should notify Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) that there is going to be change in the BoT membership, that is to add or remove from the list. This was not done in 2013. We felt that, it ought not to be the duty of those elected to go about having their election regularized at the CAC. It should be the association. And in this case we believe that the then National President, Shittu may have left it for the then BoT leadership and board that elected us to have done that. But we discovered late that it was not done. So when Peter Obi went to court to declare Mustapha and by implication all of us who were elected in 2013 as impostors, it came as a shock, we were like what was this coming to. With time we saw where it was going to, because when that judgment came that the Mustapha led board should not parade ourselves as members of the BoT, it was a shocker. When we checked, we found that our election in 2013 was not regularized with the CAC up till 2018 when somebody went to court. When the judgment came they started celebrating that those of us in the board were not even part of the system as it were. We were not supposed to be the one to notify CAC of our emergence and capture it in the board register. We felt suspicious and with the battle line drawn, we felt we cannot let the gap continue. So we went ahead to initiate the process for registration at CAC. A lot of frustration caused by NECOM as well as the discarded BoT led by Njoku, who put a lot of frustrations on our way, going to CAC to hide ANLCA file.

Really, did it get to that extent?

Yes, it got to that extent, even more. They went to CAC and caused our file to be placed on caveat. To be in caveat means our file is not in the CAC shelf and the implication is that there is nothing you can do on it with regards to update. So every attempt to locate the file was frustrated for almost a year. And so, with God’s help, we got the file and got all the people elected in 2013 registered, including them, except Tony Nwabunike who is the National President. But they are not relenting. In the spirit that they know how to manipulate, they went to the court to object to the registration, including presenting people who impersonated us to go before the CAC to say that the request for the registration, that they realized that it was faulty. And that led to the CAC to erroneously write a letter requesting for the return of the certificate.

What was the reaction of the board to the CAC’s letter?

Of course we wrote through our lawyer that the request was nonsensical. If the CAC whose duty is to recognize changes in the trusteeship of association and similar body, would not have asked why the constitutional provision of this body is not being followed because the constitutional provision said that and trustees are elected every six years. So our lawyer having taking care of that for whoever that has been acting with them, the CAC is now been used to promote illegality. It remains an illegality and that is why that issue is not even being discussed.

So can we connect with the developments that made the Mustapha led board to extend its tenure by six years, in February this year?

When the court judgment in averment to Peter Obi quest that we the five members on the board in 2013 have not been registered at the CAC, and that the court should declare us as impostors, we asked a whole lot of questions. What are the implications of that? And implication was given that every action that we have taken then was voidable. We now asked another question; do you mean that for close to six years, we were there without been there? So having succeeded in getting ourselves registered in January 16, 2020, what is the implication? At that point in time, considering that in February 13 after getting elected in Warri, does it mean we are going to be three weeks BoT? Now we got legal advice that since the court said all the time we were not registered with CAC we were not recognized, that it stands to reason that our tenure starts counting from the day we got registered with the corporate affairs. So it is wrong for anybody to insinuate that the board under Mustapha plotted tenure extension. Each of the board members are very busy people who have been putting their resources into the association, not those who have been benefiting from the association. And so, the moral question to ask is, are the actions of these fighters right, is it justified? Our own actions wasn’t about tenure elongation, it was about justice and moral imperative.

Last week, ANLCA National President, Uju Nwabunike said there is a new court judgment that pronounced the board tenure elongation in February this year, null and void. He said whoever parades self as member BoT risks jail term, and said he cannot sit with the Mustapha led board. How do you react to these declarations?

First, I will probably ask, whether you saw this court ruling and injunction, because I don’t like discussing something specious, issues without evidence. Yes there was a ruling which says those not registered with CAC should not parade themselves as board members. Are we not registered with the CAC? So we are substantive and valid members of the board. So, I Chief Ernest Elochukwu, Chairman of NESTELO Group of Companies say I am a member of ANLCA BoT. I am waiting for NECOM’s police to come and clamp me into jail. Again, its possible you misunderstood Nwabunike. Apparently, this may be a reaction to a recent court order that has sought to sack that executive, because as things stand, that executive was sworn in by an improperly constituted board. So I guess that is what Nwabunike is reacting to; his own sack by the court. We are talking about the law, the law will take its course; be sure of that.


Many are observers are asking, what are ANLCA’s elders doing to douse the ongoing tension? Are we to believe that after the Shittu presidency that fought to stabilize and unite ANLCA, hopelessness will persist following his exit?

That may be a wrong prognosis of where we are. Before I came onboard as national President in 2004, ANLCA was in shambles. It has lost voice in the industry and in government arena. I proceeded to reposition it and we regained recognition and focus. When we talk about leadership, many see leadership as a very simple thing, beginning and ending on a table where the occupant is been addressed as president. Leadership requires common sense, patriotism, passion, dedication and above all, focus. It is not just about occupying a position, it is about driving mandate and vision, and history of what your name should be associated with. It justifies the saying that not all that occupies positions are leaders. The issue at hand is that Nwabunike lack leadership capacity. And I want everybody to take note of what I have said. Nwabunike and I come from the same local government area of Anambra State, therefore, in the Nigerian context, he is my brother. And I remember that while these fracas started, I went to him, not once, not twice, not thrice to advice him to focus on what he wish to achieve for the association; that I believe that God makes leaders, that he should focus and leave the issues of the BoT; even if, as it were, the one who was then the chairman of the board may have done one or two things that enabled him to become president. It is not a must he should tie himself to the apron spring of the man against all better judgment. One can show appreciation without entangling himself. One quality of a good leader is to recognize sound advice, he never did. So that is where we are now. It is not about ANLCA and crisis, no; it is about leadership demand that is currently lacking. Nwabunike has not provided leadership.


Considering that the Nwabunike is just an individual within the body politics of NECOM, what have you as a former National President and current member BoT and as an elder done to appeal to the conscience of the larger executive

Like the saying goes, in Nigeria, somehow when you’re overtly disposed to peace, people misunderstand you and take that as sign of weakness. Yes I am a leader not only in ANLCA but in the freight forwarding community, and that was why I did all I did to call for caution, to call for temperament in actions, because sometimes, people believe that they are so smart that they go taking action that will affect the fabric of the organization. By the way ANLCA has a purpose for its formation, and that purpose is to protect the interest of the members in the course of doing their jobs. In 1992 or thereabout, I presented a talk to the members of ANLCA in Port Harcourt Area 1, and I tried to define an association as the coming together of people with one common interest. Most times, occupational, business, professional and otherwise, with the aim of protecting that interest because those interests are better protected collectively. So when any leadership emerges, how he is going to pursue those interests is paramount. At a particular point in time ANLCA became like a social club, like a member is having birthday, is bereaved and having burial or having chieftaincy title, those are secondary. To answer your question directly, I believe that the head is the stronghold of the house; that was why I offered Nwabunike advice; going to individual executive members will be begging the issue.

What is your reaction to the recent altercation between the president and his vice?

I am not in a position to comment on issues involving the executive house, they can always resolve. That said, I believe that the president is the head and commander-in-chief, whose views and beliefs must be respected. I want to say with authority as somebody who has been in that position without necessarily beating my own drum, that ANLCA will not be in a hurry to forget my leadership. Because whether am disagreeing with any member of the executive, the salient point would be what is the cause of the disagreement. If we are having problem with how to pursue our mandate, it is serious and must be treated with respect. But if the problem is about people chasing after personal things and personal benefits, then it is secondary and unnecessary.

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