Immediate past National Vice President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Mr. Emenike Nwokeoji has faulted the Governing Board Chairman of the Council for the Registration of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), Alhaji Tsanni Abubaker for his interferences in the politics of the association; and for neglecting the urgent duty of resolving ANLCA’s crisis, instead of pushing for election.
Nwokeoji who spoke with Eguono Odjegba, our Editor-in-Chief, apologized to members for the inability of the present leadership to assist in solving their business challenges, even as he expressed the hope that they exercise their next voting rights judiciously by voting competent and non controversial candidates that will be able to partner with relevant departments of government to bring succor to clearing agents.
The Port Harcourt based ANLCA chieftain said although there have been calls from concerned members for him to contest the presidential ticket, he said he was yet to make up his mind, noting that peace and not election should be the immediate priority.
Without prevarications and in no uncertain terms, he responded to the reported endorsement of Dr. Farinto Kayode to contest ANLCA top elective position by the Eze Demian Obianigwe’s led Igbo Maritime. Enjoy the no-holds-bar conversation. Excerpt:
Let’s start with the recent Crisis Resolution/AGM in Lagos, where the leadership of CRFFN forced the registered Board of Trustees (BoT) to capitulate and which saw Alhaji Mustapha Taiwo, Dayo Azeez and Prince Taye Oyeniyi, who attended yielding and conceding to the Lagos AGM. Looking back at the brickbats between the then Mustapha led registered BoT and CRFFN on one hand; and between the registered BoT and the Nwabunike/Farinto led national executive committee (NECOM0, would you say you the AGM served the cause of justice or rewarded impunity?
If you say AGM…AGM of which of the factions? That’s one thing first, before you start going to the level of calling for an AGM, you need to recognize that there are two factions in the past, call it five years in the association. So when this AGM was called, were the two factions brought together? Can the AGM show any evidence that they invited the other group formally, because if you remember, we have been operating two NECOMs; one appointed by the BoT this way, and the other one by people that are trying to serve out the tenure of Tony Nwabunike. So if you now invite one side for an AGM and in the process of peace making, I don’t think it can pass any test in terms of justice being done. And then, for CRFFN to jump into the fray to look for solution…for you to look for a solution, the first thing you need to do is try to trace the beginning…what is the cause of what happened? Otherwise it will be like peace of the grave yard, so you need to trace the origin of the crisis, where the problem started from; otherwise, such efforts can’t amount to anything. You don’t just call people and say, ‘I’m here to make peace’, and say ‘stretch your hand, you stretch your hand, let us make peace.’ Such is even strange to full military regimentation, questions must be asked. What is the origin of the issue at stake? Because the way things are going, it’s like we are going back to the same thing. There was an election in which I participated and the result was that I lost the election. I accepted; no problem and then went back to my business. And then the BoT people said, based on existing agreement, that if the president is to come from the south west, that the BoT chairman will come from the other way, and vice versa; lets act accordingly. And here, two Igbo members contested and one won, and then BoT says, yes, now that an Igbo man is the president, that based on agreements, they should concede the chairmanship of the board to the south west. That is the origin of the whole thing. But if you check what is happening now, if I’m trying to jump to the campaign going on now…yes, they made peace and the outcome of the peace is that Yoruba man should be the chairman of BoT. And now another Yoruba man is warming up for the presidency, which was the original cause of the crisis in the association. And then you are making peace that will lead to the same thing. So can you see, it is because the man that stepped in to make peace did not know the origin of the crisis, he was not properly and correctly briefed.
So how do we address the issue once and for all?
Hmmmm nobody has asked for my advice, ordinarily I don’t like throwing my advice to the wind.
We know you as a chieftain of ANLCA, and one who has come a long way, having contested the presidency of the association. Now, if Nigeria were to look up to you to offer advice on how the whole of this protracted crisis could be resolved, what will be your advice?
My advice will be, first of all, for me, any cost you can pay for peace that does not involve your life is what worth the trouble. Without peace we can’t make progress. I appreciate the effort of CRFFN to make peace, but any peace without justice cannot stand. First of all, there must be justice, you can’t gather one group and start issuing directives, there are two recognized groups, you know that these two groups exist, even the police recognize that there are two groups and they have been trying to make peace. Ordinarily before you start calling for an AGM, there must have been some moves made to harmonize the two groups; conflicts are man made and there are laid down standards to resolving them. If you are asking for my advice, it is simple, follow the due process as it is done everywhere. America is going through a whole lot now, Donald Trump is standing trial, was it not the fallout of an election, where Capitol Hill was invaded? Election is not something you handle under the atmosphere of uncertainty. With their stable democracy, still, election made the world to notice that even with America, what nobody ever thought will happen, happened. The country right now is boiling, suppressed anger and stuff, why, because of election. Election is not something you throw to the fray when there are still anger and conflicts; that should not be the first thing. So that will tell you that there is no sincerity of purpose, even if it’s a united ANLCA, ANLCA election is always tough…the only thing that God have not allowed to happen is killing. In ANLCA elections, people’s heads are broken and sometimes lots of damages; at a point, ANLCA election was conducted in an army barrack.
Yes, it was shifted to army barracks for safety. Now you have seen an atmosphere that is so charged that people are singing different tones and you are throwing election to the front burner. You make peace in quote where you say BoT, bring this, you bring this… and right now the BoT is not completely in place. Some members of the BoT are still saying to CRFFN, no, your neutrality is in doubt, and yet, you are pushing for election, what does that tell you? All of us…we are suffering in the ports; we are suffering seriously in the port. But unfortunately, most of the people behind the scene pushing for all this trouble…I will describe them as former agents, because they don’t handle these jobs. If they handle jobs and appreciate what agents are going through, all of us will come out open minded, so that we can fight our cause as a united front.
During the inauguration of ASECO, the CRFN chairman announced that for members to be eligible to participate, they must possess certain qualifications. Between CRFFN, the BoT and ASECO, who has the power to set the electoral guidelines and to implement same?
ASECO is the one that prepares the guidelines for election which is submitted to AGM for ratification. But whatever they are preparing cannot be in conflict with our supreme constitution; our constitution is supreme.
How supreme is your constitution in view of the prior and Owerri 2020 constitution?
We have only one constitution, which is the 2008 constitution..
Agreed to by all factions?
Whether they agree on it or not, what is important is that they were sworn-in with a constitution and along the line when there was conflict, they gathered few people in a hotel and said it’s constitutional amendment. Our constitution stipulates the guideline on how it should be amended. It’s not something you meet in a hotel and amend one night, no, never. You make proposals by the committee and you send it to chapters for their input. And you gather this input from different chapters and harmonize them in an AGM, so it’s not something you just call people, come to Owerri and you amend the constitution and then after amending the constitution, you that amended the constitution want to benefit, to be the first beneficiary. What happened in this country before where somebody was accused of trying to smuggle in third term? In the same environment, if you amend a constitution, you are amending it for the incoming, not for you. If you are going to be the immediate beneficiary, then it’s no more a constitutional amendment but a constitutional hijack.
Because in that way, the process would also be deemed to have been unfair?
Of course, you would know that there is no fairness there, which means another man can come and then amend it to suit his own purpose too. We have National Assembly members sworn in with certificate of return, so are we saying that they can sit and amend the constitution of Nigeria, and instead of four years tenure, they can make it six years? No, it does not make sense. You see, when people just gather and think they can do anything and get away with it, it’s because we have been looking for peace…otherwise we know what to do. All these things show you how little minds reason.
The fallout of the controversial resolution which produced the equally controversial AGM saw Prince Taye Oyeniyi reliquishing his position as BoT Secretary, same with Chief Dennis Okafor, at least according to the then BoT Chairman, purportedly in the understanding that they wanted to end the crisis and move forward. Were the concessions they made representative of the whole house?
I believe what you’re asking is purely a board affair, l am not a member of the board. And if I heard you very well, whatever they may have done is between them, any time they call us and they brief us on whatever decisions they have taken, we will respond.
What kind of leadership does ANLCA need at this time to be able to redeem its bartered image and influence?
What ANLCA need most is somebody that can build the bridge that will connect the two factions, because whether we like it or not, we are still brothers, we are only in dispute. Also what ANLCA need is somebody that is in good standing with the authorities, most particularly the Nigeria Customs Service, okay? Because they are the main people our relationship with can help grow our business. Not somebody that attacks the custom at any given opportunity and for whatever reason. Because if you want to declare a war, you should be able to decide on your own to follow it through, not to play to the gallery at the expense of our members, all in the name of wanting to shine in the news. We need a leader that has capacity, that has the capability and then the clout… you know, a leader that will…look at the position of our past presidents, okay? Now look at what we are doing, with due respect to some people that have had their names as BoT member. What is BoT in any organization? BoT is supposed to be people that when things are tough, can get to the highest level of governance, using their reach to influence things. But when BoT now becomes something you just nominate anybody…any day a BoT man wants to go to Abuja he will call you 15times to buy him a flight ticket. No, they must be people with means, people that will sacrifice their time, money and connection among other things because they want to give back. Not people that are still eager to take, that cannot even function without you propelling them. That’s not BoT, real board members are people that can put a call to the CG of Custom…’I want to visit you at your earliest convenience, please can you give me a date?’ When last did we meet with customs to table all the challenges agents are having in the port? When last did that happen? People that claim to be in charge, all they are interested is running around shipping companies and terminal operators, going there to take pictures, when agents and our members are suffering.
Prince Segun Oduntan, former chapter chairman of Tin Can chapter recently said that since Tony Nwabunike was stampeded out of office, that it is only proper that Igbo members in ANLCA organize themselves and present a capable candidate to be elected the next president to make up Igbos two terms after the Yoruba had their two terms. You said in 2018 you contested the office of the president but lost, sir, if elders and concerned members call on you to step out at this time, to undertake the critical assignment of rebuilding, reconciliation and healing in ANLCA, would you?
Yes…I will not lie to you; a whole lot of representations have been made. Up till yesterday people keep calling, people keep coming and asking what is going on, that they believe that I still have a lot to contribute to move us forward. So to a large extent l found that very humbling, but l have not said yes or no, I have decided to consult, and I am still consulting, seriously consulting. Before long, maybe by the time I’ve completed my consultation, I will make my decision known. But first, the process of election must be at least something that resembles normal, near perfect. Nothing is perfect per se, what I mean is that let’s put the proper structure in place that can guarantee a fair and equitable election where people can come, like what happened in Enugu. Yes no election is 100% perfect, but not when election is being organized by one particular group, there are a lot of things that are not right, right now in our association, the people that still call themselves NECOM, they came there, they have certificate of return. When they get home, they can look at it, it has dates, the date of exit. And now they claim that they added one year to themselves in Owerri, and one year has gone. And then they said they have added another extra time…you see, when you are just out because you want power for the sake of power, you make us a laughing stock. Let me even tell you, this election we are discussing, if they have capacity… if all the while they were acting, they have shown capacity, there won’t be talk of election now. People would have said, go ahead, continue; ‘we have seen the difference.’ If they have capacity and you know, all this while they were acting they would have shown capacity. The people will feel the impact and say ‘oh, these people, the one we are feeling now, there is no point wasting money going for election, let them continue. Is it when you go for election you get the capacity? Where will you import it from, China? You can’t give what you don’t have.
That brings us to the Igbo Maritime Group in Lagos who have given their support for Dr.Farinto Kayode as ‘consensus presidential candidate’ not minding that consensus candidacy is only an internal mechanism. So while Oduntan is saying Igbo should complete their term, HRH, Eze Demian Obianigwe led Igbo Maritime is saying Igbos should vote for Kayode, isn’t this a moral conflict?
No, l will not call it a conflict, I’ve not seen any conflict in that regard. Yes, a candidate visited the Igbo group in question, paid homage to them, were you expecting them to say, ‘yes, you are welcome but we are not going to vote for you?’ You see, something happened…I will tell you because when it matters, I will always tell stories to illustrate some things. After Sam Mbakwe’s regime as governor and he became Igbo leader, journalists corned him just the same way you have done and they were asking him, ‘Dear Sam, we have seen you endorse different candidates for the same position.’ He said, do you mean it, the journalists said yes. How did that happen, he asked them? They said, ‘we saw you raising hands…the hand of Mr. Okeke…and then Mr. Okafor came and you raised his hand too.’ He now asked them, you saw the pictures, where were they taken? They say ‘in your village.’ He said okay, ‘Dear Sam was in his house and some people came and told me they want to be governor, and on their way out, they say I should take picture with them and raise their hand; and I raised their hands. The significance of raising their hands is to present them to Imo people. It is Imo people that will make the governor, it is not Mbakwe that will make somebody governor. I hope this has answered your question?
Somebody visited an Igbo leader, came with kola nuts, traditionally, he cannot tell you, go with your kola nuts or go with your drinks, or we are not in support, no. They told him and he says no problem, ‘we have listened to you, you can count on our support.’ Until another person gets there and they tell the person, go away, we have already sold our support to somebody, it is only then they would have taken a position. Don’t forget that Eze Obianigwe is a traditional ruler, we are all free to lay claim to him as a father.
How best can the freight forwarding industry, the customs brokerage practice be improved in the coming years, especially with the new incoming government?
You know in Nigeria we have been living on hope, we are believing that the incoming government will change things for the better. That’s why as Nigerians, we are still alive, that’s why we are still Nigerians, we believe that tomorrow will be better than today. As for this government, they didn’t do anything, they are not the first. About the freight forwarding industry, all they are interested is additional taxation and every year they put how much they will generate. I can tell you that I look at it, with due respect…I think people running our economy…I am sorry, I don’t know how to qualify them, they quote billions they have generated and they tell you it’s an improvement; first quarter of this year is better than first quarter of last year. What was the exchange rate last year and this time of year…because it’s an international trade. The dollar I used in shipping a container last year, can l use the amount to clear a container this year? The exchange rate keeps going up, so if one dollars last year was giving you say N400 plus, and today is giving you N700, it is like an ant on the tray that keeps moving round and believe it is making progress. Moreover, you cannot make progress when you continue to put square pegs in round holes. How much do they involve people that know much about the industry? Do you just put people…everything is politics, you appoint people that knows nothing about an area, and you put them. It’s like what is happening in our ministry of sports. You bring somebody that has no interest in sports, no interest at all, not that he played or participated in anything nor was interested. Since there is no even yardstick to determine performance, whatever any appointee does is okay; he’s performing. He will write budget and waste his time as well waste our time instead of moving forward. Look at under 17 tournaments we have gone ten times, internationally. We won five, three other times we came second. Now we can’t even represent Africa.
Industry observers think that given the obsession of the current governing board of CRFFN with ANLCA, other accredited associations are really not within the performance radar, is this good for the freight industry? It got so bad to the extent ANLCA factional board of trustees recently told the former they board of trustees cannot be intimidated by CRFFN posturing. Does this worry you?
First, of all, I will advise other associations…when the hawk is being slaughtered the and the chicken is moving around, the chicken should know that it is the relation that is being killed, that one day, it may be his turn. Other associations that are folding their hands and watching what is going on should watch it. It’s our people in CRFFN that sold us out, in an effort to protect their own personal interests. They are the people engineering all the crisis, maybe by the time the chairman will complete his tenure, the only report he will write on his stewardship report is on ANLCA. He really needs to tell the world what other things he has done, what other things, what other areas; what other impact has he made in the life of an average freight forwarder and clearing agent. Look at Nigerian Shippers’ Council, how they are using all manner of effective committees to make their impact felt. For CRFFN, it is just to write budget and collect money. It got so ridiculous to the point that the chairman of CRFFN proposed to be chairman of our ASECO, haba! So I don’t want to talk about that because we have representatives. I call them representatives because they are there in the board because of ANLCA and they are there engineering all these because they want to protect their own personal interests. So do you blame CRFFN Chairman? What does the chairman know about ANLCA? Absolutely nothing, that’s why he says he’s coming to make peace, and he didn’t ask what was the cause of the problems; as the first step. If you want to make peace, the proper thing…that is why we have courts, you want to hear from the two sides. It will help you to come up with an informed opinion on how to go about it. At what point did he invite both factions? Never, not to my knowledge. And then if you want to make peace, you want to make peace in a hall filled by members of one faction…has he ever done a letter to the other group to say come, let me hear from you? Why is this thing lingering for the past five years, it’s affecting my own personal performance; both of you come, lets dialogue. That’s the way to make peace; he couldn’t even give that resemblance that he is sincere in his motive.
Sir what will be your message to the vast majority of ANLCA members who are disillusioned about the state of affairs? Do you have any message of hope for them?
My message is that they should not lose hope in ANLCA, we all are part owners of ANLCA. We will not allow personal interests of few people to drown us. We have suffered enough because of personal interests whereby the main reasons for our association has almost been destroyed. Any of us can go into the port, clear our goods and go, but for us to come together to associate means that there are things that when we are together, we can push to the highest level. When last did such a thing happen? When last have we moved as one? Everybody is on his own since Shittu left office; and when you ask them, they will tell you because there is problem. Haba, because there is problem, have they not been eating? Are they not running their companies? Have they shut down their offices because there is problem? I like to apologize especially to those who are vulnerable amongst us, those who have been struggling without effective assistance of the association so far, for disappointing them. We live to tackle problems…that is the essence of leadership, there is problem everywhere. America is moving forward, was their past president not taken to court? Even President Biden, when he declared his interest for another term, so many people kicked against it. In UK, the installation of the new King of England raised issues, did it not come with some problem and people were arrested? The time you show capacity is when you bring those in opposition and those in support together to achieve a common purpose.