Chief Henry Njoku is an influential member of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). I chatted him up on the association’s brewing crisis last week, and just before we were ready to run the interview, he called me to react to the news story of an interview granted us by another heavy weight member of the association, Chief Ernest Elochukwu.
The former Chairman BoT countered many issues raised in the said interview and declared that Elochukwu was fighting him through the incumbent National President, Iju Tony Nwabunike, because Elochukwu failed in his BoT chairmanship bid in 2018. He made other disturbing and weighty allegations.
He answered questions on why he is always at war with ANLCA’s inner cycle of leaders, and also why he purportedly arrested one to me Chairman BoT, Chief James Idornigie. Njoku spoke with Eguono Odjegba. It’s explosive and a must read. Enjoy the conversation. Excerpt:
Good morning Chief, I missed your call
Good morning. I called you because I saw the published interview Elochuckwu granted you. I want to say that almost all the things I saw there were all lies. Maybe you need to have a proper interview with me because all of those things he said there are not correct.
Yes they are bunch of lies and falsifications. So if you want me to give you an update of what really happened then you should schedule for an interview because I will tell you exactly what happened, because those things he is talking about are not correct.
Okay sir, we can talk now
At his stage he should be able to say the truth. When he ran as president of ANLCA he never had peace till the end of it. It was just problems, now another person is running and then you are giving the same thing that people talked about. During his own tenure our things were thrown out of office, ANLCA had no place. You know you don’t derive joy in causing problem for another person, this life is short. There is nowhere Elochuckwu has stayed that there is no problem. When you make trouble, you get to a certain age and then you reduce it. Some of us we have children, they are growing, we are growing, I don’t need to tell lies. I need to say the truth the way it is and if you say the truth God has a way of blessing you. In ANLCA, Tony is there now, you won the election and you said the defeated opponent was there during the inauguration, why are you saying that the election was a fraud? Okay about the issue of ANLCA, have you seen where anybody has said that the Chairman Board of Trustees six years tenure should be rotated? People are saying every two years we should go to the Corporate Affairs Commission to make changes in the register. If a president’s tenure is four years then they should rotate it every two years, does it work like that? And even, he told you that Odua group wrote a letter to the Chairman Board of Trustees. Back then I was the Chairman Board of Trustee and he was president, were we not both Igbos? Did Odua write letter that time? Are you getting me? If he is very sincere, the question you should ask him is, this Odua that wrote a letter during the time of Tony, did Odua write letter during his tenure as president and myself as Chairman Board of Trustees? Odua is a pressure group, Igbo Maritime can write to Odua, there is really nothing there, those issues are not in our constitution, what matters most is what we have in our constitution. Which BoT changes ANLCA register every two years, has it been done since the history of ANLCA? Will it be the duty of Elochuckwu to do it at his own time? Tony is now the president for God’s sake. All those things he is talking about are not why we are where we are. We are not here to make trouble with anybody. So most of those things he said are not correct.
It’s okay you are making this rebuttal, we can take it all now
I just wanted to correct some of the things he said. When we have time I can tell you exactly how it is, word for word. Anything I say they argue is a lie, you can make your enquiry. The point is he teamed up with Shittu. And at a time Shittu was using me and him. He will give me information and we will be fighting each other.
Who were you fighting with?
Elochukwu, until finally he came to my house one day and discovered that what they were telling him from Shittu and what I was being told from Shittu wasn’t in line. And then we said we wouldn’t fight and agreed that when we get there, anybody who wins the board of trustees’ chairmanship should be supported. Now talking about Mustapha, Mustapha was not elected. During our first inauguration they said instead of us to start with a vacuum, let us have a coordinator, and that was how Mustapha came in. It wasn’t by election, it was an interim arrangement as coordinator not even chairman of board. He never even signed a paper, he never changed signatory to the account up till today, so there’s nothing to show that Mustapha is board chairman. He was just an intern coordinator until when we conducted elections. And the day the elections was coordinated, he was there. Elders shouldn’t be telling lies. Elochukwu and Tony come from the same place, and he is just fighting him everywhere he goes. That hatred makes no sense. They said forgiveness is for you, not even the person who offended you, because the person may not even know that he has offended you. Why will you be fighting a man out of envy? If he chose to be good or not that’s his own business, so if you keep saying you hate somebody and because of that you must fight him? Assuming during that election if the former Vice President had won, would Tony be fighting them even up till now?
But is Elochukwu actually fighting the national president?
He is the only one pushing and pushing that Tony’s is not doing well, is he Tony’s God? It’s by the grace of God Tony is still working; the only thing is they have division. But during his own tenure, he didn’t have anybody with him. In Lagos it was the same war, if not that I stood by him in the East, his tenure would have ended without anything, but I did all those things and then we were pushing it. So I like to say that for every opportunity someone is given, you should support him, nobody knows tomorrow. It’s not about how big one is, it’s not about money, it’s about allowing another to move the same way you’re moving, what you do to others is what you’ll receive.
Okay are you saying Elochukwu’s position that you and some other persons were at the CAC to hide ANLCA’s file for almost a year, is untrue?
Yes his position is not correct. When ANLCA’s BoT issue came up was when Peter Obi went to court, we now wrote a letter to Corporate Affairs that nothing should happen to the register until the court determine the case before it. And that was the first part, during the process of the election and the trouble started, they tried to go to the Corporate Affairs to tamper with the papers. So I wrote a letter saying the parties should remain where they are until the court determined what to do. You can’t go when the court is already working in the paper to go and start changing things. So as regards most of those things he was saying, you know we are all humans no matter what we do God sees all, if anybody wants to say the truth this is what played out. Before now when we got in as a BoT, ANLCA’s legal adviser, Osonwa was given money to go and perfect our papers. He did adverts and all that, but along the line the money went down and the job was not completed. Now we gave BoT Secretary, Taye money two times, he told us he found another lawyer, each time we game him money he ate it, he didn’t register them in the Corporate Affairs. So when they started the trouble, Obiagwu went to court and said this people who have not even registered cannot come and say they have taken over the BoT, that if you want to do election, you must perfect your papers to be a member before taking over from anybody, hence Obi agwu went to court to challenge the authenticity of who is a board member and who is not. And the court ruled that those people are not board members, that as far as they are concerned the authentic chairman of the board was still me, until my tenure is complete. So when people try to change it and play tricks, those things are completely rubbish. I am giving you the full details of what happened. What happened was on the day of the chairmanship election between me and Elochuckwu, in other to calm him down; some persons suggest a two year seat rotation. After the two years, Dayo said there is no need to change him, as the man is doing well in office. They rested the matter, and if you are told the seat was rotated every two years, ask when the election of Tony was conducted how many years remained. It was a year plus, and that is when you want to conduct the election? That shows you that it was not done in good faith. How can the board which has been there for six years they couldn’t register themselves, start to blame the new president? Was he the Secretary, was he the President as at the time you were elected?
But Elochuckwu also said that it was not the business of those who have just been elected to perfect their signature in the ANLCA register at the CAC, whose constitutional responsibility is it?
Well like I told you before, ANLCA’s legal advisor was paid N500,000 plus to perfect the document when Shittu was there, the money dried up with no results. Taiye Oyeniyi came and collected money the money went down. Same Taiye came again as Secretary of the board for money. I mean if the legal adviser couldn’t do it for you, then they are given to the Secretary of the board, he is in position to register it. This is somebody who is already in the board and he refuse to do that, will you blame the new president who just came in? Are you blaming me or is it that we didn’t release money, or we didn’t agree, or is it that it we didn’t make it known in our meeting that this thing has not been perfected for how many times?
So it wasn’t deliberate?
No it wasn’t, what happened was that during the period of trouble after Tony’s election, the court ruled that since they didn’t finish their registration, I cannot be removed as chairman. Obiagbwu asked the court to interpret whether they have the power to remove me from office or not, and the court says as far as it’s concerned they aren’t even board member as reflected in the register with the Corporate Affairs.
The name Henry Njoku within ANLCA resonates with profile brawls, talking about the said framing up of exBoT Chairman, Idornigie, fighting ex National Presidents, Shittu and Elochukwu over ANLCA Secretariat and board leadership rotation ; and presently efforts to muscle Mustapha, current BoT Chairman. Are these facts, why are you always fighting?
You accuse me of so many things as if am quarreling with you, why? Maybe you’ll have time to come to places like Port Harcourt, you know when you people stay in Lagos like you said, you can’t get the whole picture. I run a bonded warehouse and I am a customs agent like Elochukwu. I don’t have quarrel with him. I would have been happy for you to mention those who have been calling me names. Throughout Elochukwu’s tenure as president, it was me who was supporting him. You can ask him, I was the Eastern Zonal Chairman then. That was before I became Chairman Board of Trustees. After the board election Joki refused to hand over the association’s register. We pleaded with him but he refused to. We begged and begged and when he still refused, we have to apply force to collect the document. I didn’t quarrel with Joki, are you getting me? Also throughout Shittu’s tenure I never quarreled with him. I only had problem with Shittu when he tried to, just like you talked about the secretariat, the secretariat was between me and Shittu. You know when people talk about it I laugh, but I know, when Shittu was annoyed and started insinuating because of election. Shittu was Port Harcourt Airport Chapter Chairman and I was his vice. When he left I became the chairman. Let Shittu show you one singular thing that he did as the chairman. But if you go there, within one year that I was there, I built a small office for them. I bought three plots of land there. I bought station wagon for them for use of office. And throughout my stay there was no problem. Now coming to the board, I’m the only person who has served two terms, I served for twelve years, but I don’t look at it as something. Every time people are coming from different backgrounds, but if the leadership, like Shittu for instance, Shittu knows what he did. When he became president, there were people who gave him trouble, people like Taye and co. What he did was to bring them in and put them in the board. And even in the board, they were still fighting, every day I was settling fight between him and them and I did that throughout and I made sure there was peace. Even the board, when it got to a point that Elochukwu wanted to take over from me because he said that I wasn’t fighting Shittu enough. I said I didn’t go there to fight. We have to make peace and work together. We are agents and we came together to collectively pursue our clearing interest, we have to collaborate.
As former Coordinator of the Eastern Zone are you aware that agents there are currently not paying their membership dues?
If you come to the East, they will tell you, all these things that happen in the West do not happen in the East. If the agents are not paying their dues, maybe the people at the national office, at the headquarters are not following them well. It is the responsibility of the national to get them to make payments. I know they are paying; maybe they are not paying as much as they are supposed to pay. But that is not my responsibility. What I do is that at any time they have issues anywhere with customs, if they call me, I’ll answer and go there and help resolve the matter. There was a burial we did for the former Lagos Airport Chapter Chairman Alloy when the mother died. One of our members that died in the Eastern Zone, we spent about N15million to bury him. The family did not spend a kobo, we did everything and even gave to the mother, the remaining money. So if anything happens to anybody, everybody will rally around and take care of them. But in the West Zone, you know, there are lot of businesses people are on their own. But in the East Zone, people are in their offices, you see most of them on the street. Are you getting me? Maybe you just see few people, maybe those who are doing operational work. I will tell you, maybe one month, two months or even three months for me to reach the port, what am I going to do there when I have people working? So when you people, like you now, nobody knows where you’ll be, you try as much as you can, make inquiry very well, observe, cross check. When they say every little thing they go to court how many times have you seen us go to court? It’s just unfortunate. What Tony did, when they finished their election and Tony saw that they were fighting me because of my position during the election and Tony did not go ahead to support them, are you getting me, they decided to fight Tony.
You are arguing that Elochukwu is always fighting Tony and not the reverse or in defence?
This thing started with Shittu. When the election began and Elochokwu and Shittu were supporting Emenike, and he didn’t succeed, and the target was I engineered his defeat. The people of Eastern zone voted for Tony and they must fight me to remove me. If they say rotation of the board chairmanship was the problem, why did I stay until Tony was elected? On the day of the inauguration they said they have removed me, but I stayed on after the inauguration. And we asked question, I said okay if you are going to remove me, go and regularize your registration. The meeting was just to preview what we will do the following day during the inauguration. So based on that, somebody said, Yoruba people said that…the question I asked was when Elochukwu was there as president, was I not the chairman board of trustees? Were we not both Igbos, why is it that it is at this particular time that Odua Maritime is making such request? Nobody can use that, ANLCA constitution does not recognize that, we did not even decide it there, it was just simple understanding. Sometimes it will work, sometimes it will not. But we always have this understanding, maybe after these peoples tenure, we will run, but that does not mean that…when Elochukwu ran, he ran with Joe Eboje. We had people from Lagos who contested too. What am saying is that Elochukwu came into the board with the idea that he will take the chairmanship from me. But when he didn’t succeed he now supported Taiwo who Shittu brought in. In other places, if you ask where I have worked I will tell you. I was Disciplinary Committee Chairman, I was Vice Chairman Port Harcourt Airport, I was Chairman Port Harcourt Airport, I was Eastern Zone Chairman two times, I was ASECO Chairman two times. I have held several positions in the association. Taiwo has not held one. How can you just come from nowhere and become Board of Trustees’ Chairman? The issue is, while Elochukwu felt bad about it is that…why am saying this is that Elochukwu said Tony is fighting because of one man’s interest, is it my interest? If it is my interest…it isn’t about me. While they were seeking to take over, Obiagwu went to court that he wants to know who is qualified to be in the board and the Federal High Court ruled. So it is not a matter to do with Tony, because what they wanted Tony to do was to declare that this one is the authentic board, this one is not. I am giving you the true position of what happened, that’s why when you asked… if you know me well, you wouldn’t bother to ask me questions based on the lies they fed you with. I have five children, they are all graduates with masters degrees, so what am I looking for is it money to train them? I have a bonded warehouse, by the grace of God, am comfortable, so why will I be making trouble? Even the trouble that was between Tony and his Vice, which danced in newspapers in the West, I reconciled them. Let me tell you why I said I won’t blame Tony, he has constituted a Peace Committee headed by Mohammed Isa. Isa is an ex-BoT member. The committee came up with resolutions and Tony tried implementing it but the people are still fighting him. Will he sit put until they cut his head? I build I don’t destroy. Tell Shittu to take you to Airport Chapter and show you what he did there as Chapter Chairman, my own legacy are still visible.
This is a man who finished two terms of eight years as National President. People are supposed to be celebrating him, are you getting me? But he cannot visit…okay, since he left office, has he been to any occasion in the East or anywhere? He has not because of what he is doing. You don’t destroy a place when you leave there because…if you throw a stone into the market, you don’t know whether it will hit your mother or another person. I don’t have any problem with anybody, even between me and Elochukwu, we just disagree based on principles, such that anytime he says something that is not correct, I will counter and say it as it is, that is it. Even after Shittu’s first tenure and he wanted a second one, and the board said no there must be a proper election, they did election at midnight or so. It was the same group of people and Elochukwu who wrote in the newspaper that the election is kangaroo election. Even me when he said I should give him my signature, didn’t I give him? Did I care about what he was writing? I did not fight because I wanted us to achieve some level of success. But we disagree and agree, anytime we disagreed, we work on it and agree.