CRFFN CRISIS: Beyond The N800m Commotion (1)
BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
Until about two weeks ago, speculations about ongoing fight between the two administrative arms of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), was more like a whispering.
Gradually, it was followed by some sort of commonplace rumour, which transformed into real allegations during a meeting of the Governing Council on September 8, 2022 at its Marina Lagos office.
At the meeting, the Governing Council Chairman, Alhaji Tsanni Abubakar reportedly charged the Council Registrar/CEO, Barr. Samuel Nwakohu with commission of acts said to have violated the Council’s code of conduct; which the latter reportedly denied.
Thus the stage became fully charged, openly pitching the two administrative arms of the council into the mother of all war. From all material evidences, the N800 million property acquisitions is only a part of the larger war that may come.
Having graduated from office rumour into media encounter, there is a likelihood it may progress into a full scale war of attrition, leading to either administrative probe or even formal litigations in law courts.
So far, the registrar rumoured to have been given the option of voluntary resignation to assuage the feelings of the Governing Council he was accused of insulting, have shown no sign of throwing in the towel; while in the same vein, the former appears determined to square up with the supervising Federal Ministry of Transportation (FMOT) in a purported demand to sack the Council CEO.
That throws up the issue of who between the two arms possess executive power; which is part of the darkling cloud, threatening to submerge the CRFFN. Perhaps, it is more correct to say that the unfolding controversy is merely the symptom of a much more worrisome corporate fraud, call it malaise if you like, which afflicted the Council more than three years ago, another worry is that fire was ignited and allowed to spread with the full knowledge of the supervising FMOT.
In fact, there are indications that the Transportation Minister, Permanent Secretary and few other Directors who were caught in the web, has in different ways impacted and or aided the spread of what has become known as the Council’s corporate virus, similar to how western epidemiologists administer the distribution of viruses.
In the case of the CRFFN, the ministry chose to cherry pick which of the viruses to control its spread, thus giving room for the present chaos and anarchy that CRFFN has become; as neither is willing to bow to the other.
With a perceived growing discontents in the freight forwarding industry, signs of threat to the agency’s corporate existence has also become real, and there is no doubt it may well leave behind a gaping scar that only a providential turnaround may be able to rub off.
But let us focus on the N800 million property rumbling for today, just so to set the tone for the other similar issues threatening the peace of the agency and the freight industry at large; which will be examined in subsequent editions.
Fortunately, the controversy surrounding the property acquisition is a developing story that leaves room for clarifications and updates, and thus is expected to provide a much more correct version and a shift from earlier reports with possible incorrect narratives.
Like the other nagging issues which we shall be taking separately in the days ahead, the current rumblings about the acquisition of property for the CRFFN Headquarter is a game of convoluted power play through a maze of plots and intrigues, treachery, back-stabbing and propaganda.
Since the wick of the oil lamp of every conspiracy is essentially the thread of lies, only a sufficient similar wet thread of facts can extinguish every element of the essential lies. Therefore to get at the truth, we must interrogate all the material evidences so far presented by both sides, the Governing Council and Management.
First, Nigerians would like to know if CRFFN has a corporate head office. The governing council is saying it does, the management have refused to join issues. If yes, where is it and what necessitated the demand for a new office? Perhaps, the next logical question should be to find out if the office is still available. Again the governing council claims it is still available. If the answer is yes, who made case for a new office and why?
While members of the governing council claim that the Freight Forwarders Academy Abuja had once served as head office, facts check indicate that it was not more than an interim arrangement at the formation stage of the agency.
But while the debate about whether the structure at the Academy that once served as administrative office subsists and can still serve same purpose almost twenty years after, the next question to ask is, was the apparent decision to forgo the former office or procure another one a collective or individual decision?
Given the benefit of information contained in earlier reports that flew around, one can deduce that at some point in the past, both sides may have, willy-nilly considered the prospect of a new office. What is not quite clear is probably why one of the parties reneged and or withdrew its prior support.
While the Registrar is the head of Management, perhaps it is necessary to also understand that the office of the registrar alone and not the management as such, is engaged in this needless war, as readers shall come to understand presently.
As a farther background to this unfortunate development, the 5-executive management team appears to stand alone, while the Registrar/CEO appears to be acting alone. In August last year, the five management staff were believed to have written a petition against the registrar, alleging among other things, falsification of certificates, financial misconduct, high handedness, and lack of due process.
In all of these, the response of the supervising ministry of transportation has been one of sad indifference in the least, and at the very worst, one of subtle connivance. When Pinnacle Time sought to find out if the controversial property was budgeted for, a source within the governing council said it was not. If it was, the budgeted sum matched with the property’s real or induced market value would have provided a template for farther introspection and conclusion.
The point has been made that the current no-love-lost stance between the governing council and ‘management’, appeared tied to the N800 million proposed property. But while the governing council argues that CRFFN does not need a new administrative office; it has also argued that the proposed sum for the two-storey building with an ante-house is too expensive; and thinks that the cost has been inflated.
As a matter of fact, the governing council has been quoted in various news mediums as saying that the property in question is not more than N350 million. Therefore, it is instructive to first of all interrogate further the morality of the governing council posturing, consequent on its seeming contradictory perspective, in order to be able to fully understand their real position; which at best still appears a bit confusing and flighty.
So, until the governing council becomes quite definite about its position, chances are that observers and the larger Nigerian public will think that the whole issue is more about ego war, strictly political and personal; and shrouded in material contest.
This is because the management has accused it of merely seeking for ‘a piece of the cake’, which members have however, vehemently denied. The ambiguity as to whether the governing council’s real interest is saving money for the agency given its opposition to the idea of a new office; or merely angling to get a share of the largesse in lieu of the real cost of the property and the differential, must first be clearly defined and articulated.
Despite sounding somewhat contrived, allowance must be given to the allegation by management that governing council members demanded N150 million to grant approval for the controversial procurement. Whereas all allegations has to be proved, and whereas the onus lay with the supervising ministry of transportation; the latter has also been figured in the messy financial gang fight.
This makes it morally wrong for the ministry to preside over a matter in which it is standing as an accused. Similarly, until and unless the governing council is vested with a clear and unambiguous take on its position on the matter, its concerns may in the least amount to very little comfort, if not even viewed as suspect.
According to a member of the governing council who spoke with our reporter off record, he said under normal circumstances, the conflict in question should not even arise since the Council Registrar is an appendage of the Governing Council and designed to take orders from them.
The problem started when the ministry according to him resorted to clandestinely promote the registrar over and above its powers, by wrongfully investing him with the powers of a chief executive officer (CEO); and under which illusion the registrar claimed, began to appropriate the functions of the governing council, in addition to arrogating other functions clearly outside his powers and purview.
His words: “The Registrar is our employee and there is no way an employee can have issues with his employer. All l am saying is that the duties of the registrar falls under the supervision of the governing council, we are the one that employed him, we are the one that makes the policies. He is not supposed to be CEO of the Council; that was an aberration conferred on him by the ministry.”
To underscore the argument that the acquisition of a CEO status on the registrar is a political construction with no valid constitutional authority, undertaken to suit political purposes of the last regime, our source lamented that the ministry has rejected the governing council’s recommendation to expeditiously treat alleged cases of infractions by the management.
“Let me put this way, he is been trying to get protection from some people in the ministry, there are people giving him undue support, which is an element of proof of corruption. What is happening today is that because he is receiving support from the ministry, he feels he has outgrown the council. He now feels that he cannot be under the control of the governing council.”
Despite above explanations, the controversial property deal still does not enjoy the benefit of undimmed clarity. If the governing council’s position is that a head office already exists or that there are structures on ground to serve the purpose as it has argued hitherto, perhaps, it should have simply said no to the proposal for another office, without prevarication.
On the other hand, if the argument that the cost of the proposed property to be acquired to serve the same purpose have been inflated and should reflect the market price through estate value advise, it will serve its integrity to have so insisted. But to probate and reprobate is to grandstand.
So far, the management in its defense has alleged that the governing council real interest was to have its finger in the financial tin of the agency. Sources close to the registrar’s office pointedly accused majority of the board members of wanting to have a share of the N800million, a request the management purportedly turned down.
But so far, the office of the registrar the man at the receiving end has been unable to substantiate above claim with material evidence of any sort. While it is cheap and customary in our clime to fight off allegations that impugns on the personal integrity with counter accusations; in this particular instance, the management has not been able to do much to sell its narrative; which is still struggling in the court of public opinion.
Reacting to the charge of graft and insubordination, Nwakohu said the allegations are baseless, and explained that all expenditures of the council is in accordance with laid down procedures.
“There is no iota of truth in this rumour. There is no money anywhere, thus any expenditure to be made must be in line with NASS APPROVAL in relation to IGR”, he said,
It is also instructive to note that part of the governing council’s opposition is the location of the proposed property, which according to it is too distant to freight forwarders operational base. Their concern is further fueled by the perennial traffic situation between Lekki and the operational areas downtown Apapa; which sounds reasonable and logical as the freight industry net performance is anchored on the overall efficiencies in service delivery; inclusive of the CRFFN Headquarters as an integral aspect of freight forwarding.
But as earlier indicated, it would appear that the inability of the governing council to be steadfast and clearly represent its fears and worries has given room to speculations about motives. And talking about motives, while some sources claimed that the Ministry of Transportation has caused the controversial property to undergo a Ministerial Tender Board (MTB); other sources said there was no time the property was budgeted for.
It is instructive to note that the supervising ministry have been accused of taking sides in this matter; not only for its inability to provide guidance and direction, but for allegedly getting involved in the CRFFN leadership squabbles.
Those in the know claim that each ministerial interested person is either backing the governing council or the management; depending on where the stakes are higher.
The governing council have also claimed that the ministry was fully briefed of its position and objection to the acquisition of a new property, noting that interested parties within the ministry however choose to play the ostrich by deliberately pretending to be oblivious of the issues, until it spanned out of control.
“There are many instances the ministry wanted things to be done its own way. The governing council wrote to the ministry to say that the registrar came in with forged certificates and should be sacked. But instead of sacking him, some top people including the former minister started working with him.
“We also raised r issues of corruption against him, but nothing happened. So by and large, everything that is happening now, the ministry is involved. We wrote to say we do not need another office that our Academy at Abuja is big enough to also serve as administrative head office. It is a very big place, and we have offices scattered in all the zones, which are unoccupied and dilapidated for lack of use. So many things have gone wrong, so you must understand where our problem is coming from”, volunteered a council member who does not wish to be identified.
Efforts to get the transportation ministry to react to above developments and related issues was not successful as the Permanent Secretary, Dr. Magdalene Ajani failed to respond to inquiry sent to her by our reporter.
As the N800million property controversy rage, observers think that only a probe can put an end to the squabbles. This is even as some say such probe should not be undertaken or supervised by the ministry of transportation if transparency is expected to be one of the probe results.
There have been suggestions that a neutral body such as the Federal Executive Council (FEC), possibly supported by the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should carry out an inquest into the CRFFN conflict in order to restore sanity.