BY EGUONO OF ODJEGBA
It was a gathering of man-know-man and declaration of hope and adulation by admirers, supporters and operators as Mr. Emenike Nwokeoji and his team rounded off his presidential campaign of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) at his operational base, Onne chapter, Port Harcourt, Thursday; with a nostalgic recall of the good old times.
Unarguably a man of self esteem and uncommon discipline, Emenike who hinged his campaign on ‘restoration’ said no progress can be achieved without peace, referring to the over five years crisis that has created various obstacles for ANLCA and its members and for which a few have continued to feed on; whilst deliberately allowing the crisis to fester.
Known as the ENSO Team, coined from his prefix and that of his running mate’s which is Emenike Nwokeoji and Segun Oduntan (ENSO) Team, the day’s activity started when the presidential candidate and his team were received by the Onne Command Area Controller, Comptroller Baba lmam and his management team in his office.
The Onne chapter chairman, Mr. Mike Ebeatu introduced the ANLCA presidential candidate and his team and the reasons they had come, saying: “Sometime ago, one of the presidential candidate visited, today, we have one of our own, Mr. Emenike Nwokeoji, he operates here. Together with his team, they are here to pay their homage.
“They know the importance of the port, they have gone round the ports in the west, they have been to the ports in the north, and visited the chapters and decided to crown their campaigns in Onne.”
Taking the floor, Nwokeoji thanked the CAC for raising the stake in the administration of the command, noting that unnecessary complaints about unjust delays by customs agents is no longer what it used to be.
He assured the customs boss that he will improve the association’s relationship with the customs if elected, in addition to supporting the customs and other agencies of government to work together to up the overall competitiveness in customs trade and the entire port economy.
He said, “We are here as customs demand, we are licensed customs agents, you licensed us and now that we are trying to choose a leader at the national level, we are going round. It is customary that before we begin our campaign out there, we should pay homage and let you know we are campaigning in your territory.
“Thank you for accepting to see us, all we want to do is to address our members and sell our candidature by telling them about our programmes. You are doing a good job here, please keep it up. May God bless you and your management team”, he added.
Responding the customs area controller welcomed Nwokeji and his team, and explained that the Nigeria Customs Service is always ready to partner with critical stakeholder like ANLCA in improving the overall interest of the cargo clearing value chain and wished him well in his leadership aspiration.
“Our primary assignment is that of duty collection, , suppression of smuggling , trade facilitation and implementation of government fiscal policies. Hence the need for synergy and collaborative efforts cannot be overemphazied. For an association like yours that plays a vital role that is critical to the performance of our job cannot also be ignored.
“We will keep synergizing with you, we recognize you and will keep consulting you in the effort to bridge the gaps in trade facilitation. Thank you for coming around, l wish you a fruitful and successful campaign.”
Addressing Onne chapter members, Emenike said his opponent has nothing to offer the association and its members, and used the question of the fragile peace in the association as an indication of lack of capacity by the former acting president, Dr. Kayode Farinto, who is also seeking re-election.
“It is so painful that somebody has been on the saddle for five years as vice president, and then as acting president for almost two and half years and he is still coming with manifestos to tell you what he will do. Who tied his hands from doing what he is promising to do now when he was there in the past two and half years?
“An acting president is a full president, he is not reporting to anybody, he was there as president, what was he able to achieve? Nothing, not even the peace we are talking about, if only the man has used one year to go after peace, maybe we won’t be where we are now.”
He said that his team started the campaign by initiating peace moves to try to sooth the heart of past leaders the last NECOM and its drivers abused and insulted.
“When we started our campaign, we know that we cannot make progress without peace, we started by paying visits to all past leaders of this association, we visited all the past presidents, pledged our loyalty, asking for their supports and their blessings. We also visited Chief (Henry) Njoku and Kingso (Kingsley Ofor), that is how to build synergy, that is the first place to look for the peace that eluded us”, he said.
He said his campaign pledges are sacrosanct, and vowed to fulfill promises made, making copious reference to his antecedents whilst he served as vice president to Price Olayiwola Shittu.
Emenike also explained reasons he chose to Onne chapter for his grand finale, saying charity begins at home, even as he said that apart from Onne Port being his operational base, it is one of the biggest deep seaports, and hence the sense of belonging.
“We have gone round all the chapters in Lagos, we have gone to Abuja, we visited the Customs headquarters too, and we went to Kano. We are rounding up here because Onne occupies a special place in my heart. Until we had the Lekki Deep Seaport, Onne was the deepest seaport in Nigeria, sometimes when something is close to you, it is difficult for you to appreciate it. So this campaign is home coming for me.
“We are here to campaign for NECOM election, as you people must have heard l was two time chairman here, l was eastern zone Coordinator, I was secretary eastern zone and l also became national vice president for eight years. At that time during elections like this, we made promises, one of our key promises was that within one year of been in office, ANLCA will no longer be tenant to anybody, and we accomplished that in a big way.
“When that edifice was ready, we brought the Customs Comptroller General, Alhaji Inde Dikko, may his soul rest in peace to come and commission it. That alone will show you the kind of synergy we were able to establish with the customs service.”
He cited several examples of the kind of leadership capacity that ANLCA and its members needs at the moment, some of which those that has been in the saddle enjoyed but has been unable to replicate.
“When we took over we inherited about 13 cases…my position as the vice president, l was the chairman of the disciplinary committee, and through the grace of the Lord l was able to handle all the 13 cases and all were sorted out, without us appearing in court.
“Pardon me to repeat myself, one of the most controversial cases we were able to thrash was the case instituted by Kayode Farinto. Even though some Yoruba people kicked and objected that we should leave him out, but as chairman of the committee, l made sure we appealed to them to give peace a chance.
“At a point l appealed to him personally, l said to him, “can you go and see how you can appeal to the, please appeal to your brothers”. He told me he will not, that they did not pay his school fees and therefore he will not beg anyone.
“But we didn’t want to continue to carry that baggage, we took that decision against popular opinion and we brought him in. You can ask him…not only bringing him in, we got members to buy form to for him to become the national publicity secretary…let him deny it. We bought him form to contest the election.”
Despite much reluctance, he accused those in the immediate past NECOM seeking new mandate of lacking sincerity.
“Why l am saying this? It is election time, and a lot of promises are being made. The last time the national presidential election campaign was here, my own brother, Tony Iju who l lost to in 2018 made promises, one of the key promises he made to chapters everywhere was that, no longer will chapters pay anything to the national, that national will be paying money to the chapters. What happened to that promise? But of course it was a silly promise, mere deceit.”
He said the ineptitude of the last national leadership has created operational laxity and openings for official exploitation should not be rewarded so as not to worsen an already bad situation.
“The most painful aspect of that tenure is that now, the only people that do not put alert on our job is the transport union. Every job gets alert from everywhere and yet we had leaders, when you ask them, they will say it is because of crisis, crisis they created themselves!
“When the administration came in and they were having small issue with the western zone, they went to meeting and somebody said, ‘fire them’ and our association took a decision to suspend all officers elected in the west, including past national presidents; something you can sit down and sort out.”
The leader of the ENSO Team promised to use his God given gift of managing crisis to carry out his restoration agenda, as well as using various models of capacity building to achieve broad based results consistent with his restoration programme.
“God gives gifts and l can tell you without sounding immodest that one of the gifts that God has given to me is how to reach out to people, get what l want without necessarily shouting and fighting. During my tenure as chairman the number of task forces l handled…l don’t pray it should come to this our association again…one of them was PIDA.
“When Ali was Minister of Finance, he got PIDA…accountants were now supervising customs operations, you won’t know who to go to. What of task forces led by DCGs? At a point we had task forces that were led by DSS and EFCC, all these challenges were handled during my tenure as chairman in this place, and l can tell you…ask anybody, all those task forces, God used me to turn them into the benefits of agents.”
“In the area of capacity building, most of the big boys in the industry today cut their teeth in clearing during my tenure as chairman. People that came to Onne with okada, before the end of my tenure, they were landlords and they were buying cars. And for those that were not able to raise any bill of laden, weekends, we give stipends for at least transport fare to go home.
“And when you have a job and you have challenge, you come to us, personally l will walk to the controller and say ‘this man has this issue’, and he will say ‘ah, chairman what do you want? Go and meet Oyegbuna in the wharf office’, if l say please tell me what to do, he will say just ‘go there.’ Why am l saying all this, you need to have a way of relating with people, it is a gift, if by the grace of God you people give us your support, if l return here in one year, ask me, “one year has gone, what have you been able to do among all your promises?”
He said he will reduce the beggarly situation amongst members, resuscitate accountability and allow members to challenge him on his election promises.
“Give us your votes, as for my opponents, as good as they are, we have given them enough time and they have shown us their capacity, and anything you’re given extra won’t make any difference. You say your salary is not enough, l don’t know how you will be able to build a house foundation with stipend from over time.
“I wanted you to ask questions about operational challenges, you didn’t. You can’t continue to come here and remain a beggar; we want to restore everything that we have lost in the past five years. We want to restore our respect and our dignity, we need to restore relationship with every organ, all the agencies of government…let them not look at us as servants.
“We are licensed by customs service and they have this measure of respect for us, but because of the leaders we put forward, we ran ourselves down. May the Lord help us in this journey, thank you for your time”, he said.
On his part, Oduntan enjoined members of the chapter to regard Emenike Nwokeoji not just as the right candidate but in addition one they must support and vote as a regional bloc owing to inherent power rotation that exists in ANLCA.
He said, “My name is Prince Segun Oduntan, l am a former chairman of Tin Can Port chapter. With politics, it is normal to differ here and there, but ANLCA is one family. We realized that much has gone wrong in the past five years, that is why l decided to join Oga Emenike to run for office so that when you vote us into office, we can fix what has been wrong so that you our people can smile once again and be proud once again as a family.
“When those of us still struggling can smile again, those of us a bit okay can have rest of mind that each member of the family is going home with something. We decided to run for this office not because we have not been there before but because there is yearning by many for change. It may not be that bad here at Onne, elsewhere most of our members are not finding it easy. If you go to Apapa, Tin Can, PTML, Seme, a lot of things are wrong because of poor leadership by those we elected in 2018.
“When that election came, two Igbo men contested and one won. The person who won took us to the middle of the sea and jumped ship, he ran away. Even before then we have lost leadership, l am a Yoruba man but was born at Ogui Enugu State, l stand for what l believe in, whatever it will cost me… that is why you are seeing our campign philosophy as restoration team. I am following an Abia man this time around, one of your own. You have the opportunity to be seeing your president around, and if there are challenges, you can approach him and together with the chairman, they would be resolved.
“I will be his vice, l will not thwart his effort, will not run him down, mine task will be just one of extra tyre. I have made myself available to assist him, l don’t have a programme, it is his programme l will key into and run the race with him. You all know what went wrong…your brother that ran away, it is my brother than stampeded him into running away. I am not going to push this one to make him run away.
“Please go and tell those who are not here that the Igbos have two terms, the first term was cut short…they didn’t tell me should not be there, sit down together and talk to yourselves. If you throw away this opportunity, it is up to you. Since Iju your brother ran away, this is your second term, open your eyes, if you miss this one, you have missed a big opportunity.”
Others who spoke during the campaign include Nze Theordre Ejezie, running for national Assistant Secretary and Zubairu Mele Abbaganama, contesting the National Financial Secretary ticket.