Presidential contender in the forthcoming Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) general election, Mr. Emenike Kingsley Nwokeoji has dismissed as erroneous, impressions that his popularity is dwaffed by ANLCA maverick politician, Chief Henry Njoku, from the Eastern Zone who is promoting his opponent , Dr. Kaoyede Farinto, noting that he (Nwokeoji) is fully on ground.
He says that unlike the 2018 National Executive Committee (NECOM) election held in Enugu, any and all acts of fraud in the forthcoming election will be decisively challenged.
In this interview with select journalists, Nwokeoji outlined priority areas he and his team will pursue from day one in office, designed to deliver on his restoration campaign promise to rescue ANLCA from its hijackers and return members to the days of glory, relevance and above all professional benefits.
BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
What are the specific programmes, particular agenda you intend to pursue when you get into office, having built your campaign manifesto on restoration, which is broad?
I have always explained these specifics, everything hinges around restoration, a lot has gone wrong and for us to make progress, we need to first of all restore peace in the association. That is the first thing that we’ll start with, from day one. We need to meet all those that can help us to achieve that, no matter how long ago they have served, so long as we can reach them, we bring them on board, appeal to them, seek their advice, encouragement and things like that. That is one, then as we are doing that too, we are moving into building on the image of an average agent. We need to reach out to all the agencies of government that we do business with. We need to reassure them that we are coming with a new vision and mission and that mission is for mutual respect for everybody; to enable them sees us as partners. And we are going to do a lot of engagements to restore confidence of all these people, which will help us to appreciate each other and help them to buy into our own vision. Because if they buy into our vision, it’s becomes easy for us to flow with them. We are not out to attack or fight them, but they should see us as partners, all working together to achieve same goal of ease of doing business in the industry.
Given your popularity and records, and given hints from industry feelers I have reasons to believe that the South West zone is largely behind you in this coming election, what are you doing to get maximum support and votes from the South East zone, knowing that Henry Njoku who is backing your opponent is also popular there?
In the Eastern zone, l have served as secretary of the chapter, I’ve been two time chairman of Onne chapter, I’ve been zonal secretary and have been zonal coordinator of east. So, if anybody tells you that I’m not popular, well people are entitled to his opinions. You mentioned somebody, the only thing that I’m not and I don’t intend being, is that most of the people even in the west here, that say a lot of things, maybe negative things about me is because of my…without sounding immodest, my uprightness. I can never, God will not let me…I am a minister of the gospel, there is no way I can see black and call it white. It is not possible, that is why all the time I meet the ASECO people here, I appeal to them, if I come to you asking you for anything favor, outside the books, please don’t listen to me. What I always appeal to them is ‘please if you know what is right, do it, do the right thing, create the enabling field. Allow me to test my popularity, whatever it throws up under transparent exercise, I will accept it. Njoku is not on the ballot, Njoku is one of the leaders. I’ve worked with Njoku when I was chairman we were together. When I was zonal secretary, he was the chairman. It’s unfortunate that all of us cannot behave the same way, so when you see some people cling to certain individuals, it’s because of what they stand to benefit when they are not qualified for it. There was a guy here in Lagos that went to Kano and was saying a lot of things about me, what was the problem? He wanted to be an MPS, this other people have promised him that he’ll be an MPS, meanwhile, he didn’t have the qualification, no valid license. How can you disqualify somebody with three years license and then qualify somebody whose license expired long ago? How can you defend it before God? So because they cling on these people that gives them the assurance ‘don’t worry, I will handle it’, how can you handle such a thing? If you are not afraid of man, what about God? So that is the issue, in the east l am on ground, that I can tell you. If you want to conduct this election tomorrow in the east or wherever, I will be comfortable. I will just stay quiet as you saw stay in Enugu in 2018 and watch things flow.
Do you have confidence in this ASECO and the way the board of trustees appears being teleguided by external forces?
You see a lot of things are wrong, l will not deceive you. Yes, there was peace move initiated by CRFFN, the day the peace move was, called it consummated, it was only one group involved in the crisis that was there. That is not fair, secondly, the expired NECOM remained in office directing affairs about the election in which most of them are contestants, that is not proper. They are having a whole lot of influence on ASECO and the process. That was why when, my soul rest in peace, the former ASECO Chairman died, ordinarily if we are doing things the way it should be done, a member of the already constitued ASECO should have assumed the position of the chairman, not to go and bring somebody who will now come to learn from the members; because these other people were already acting and in the process. So you are not bringing somebody totally different, we know where the person they brought is coming from. We know who engineered the development, these are abnormal things. But like I’ve told you, I don’t give a damn about this, because l believe this project of restoration is divine. And I can tell you, whoever that wants to take God for granted, l wish him whatever he wish himself.
There are conditions and mode of elections precedent for elections that should be agreeable to all contestants, whether by collegiate system or AGM. If it is collegiate people who registered to vote are required to meet certain conditions, like the possession of a valid custom license. During the days of the fiasco AGMs, Benin, Lagos and so on, there was intelligence about the registration of about 1000 licensed practitioners. If the election is by collegiate method and some of the delegates are not known or do not have the requirements, would that be acceptable to your team?
Definitely it will not, because our constitution is very clear, unless we now have decided to use external people to conduct our election. Which means you can come and be a member of the ASECO. But if not, if they are to be members of ANLCA, the constitution is very clear on that. For you to be a member, you must be a director of a valid custom license company and it’s not a permanent appointment. Any day your license expires and you are unable to renew it for a certain period of time, of course automatically, if the constitution is followed, you have lost your membership until such a time when you are now qualified constitutionally to return to be a member. So I don’t even see or know how if an ASECO person, for instance who do not have a valid license, you will now come and supervise and be flipping through the licenses of other people. For instance, for you to be aspired to be a president or any other position, your license, not just that you must have a valid license, you must have been an operator consistently for ten years. Which means for ten years you must have been renewing your license regularly, up to that ten years. So now, if somebody whose license is seven years cannot qualify to contest an election, then you who have none will supervise the election? It does not make sense, morally or otherwise. You cannot stay there and disqualify somebody maybe with four years license and you say ‘oh your license is four years, you are not qualified for this position’; but meanwhile you that is sitting there, you don’t have a valid one.
If the Board and ASECO are saying the election is by AGM…
Where did you hear that?
I spoke with the ASECO chairman, Mr. Aloy Igwe…are you comfortable with that, plus, earlier during one of your campaigns you stated that chapter election ought to have commenced. And do you subscribe to suggestions that you and your opponent should sign a peace agreement, that whoever wins, the other will not protest?
Well, we have been seeing people, Gen Abdulsalam Abubakar, Gen. Jack Gown, Reverend Bishop Mathew Kukah, they have been calling presidential candidates and they have been signing peace documents. Are we not in court now? Ordinarily, there is no such document, let’s not continue to deceive ourselves and deceive Nigerians. It’s not done anywhere in sane societies. Which means if I present myself for an example, for an election, then you can go and bring the army and bring police and then I will stay there…they will hold me down with gun and then block my people, their own people will vote, they announce the result and then the army people will say ‘you can now go home’. Then I will remember there was a document I signed, so for that I will walk home and say, well done sir, thank God I have my life. No way now, it’s a total infringement on somebody’s fundamental right. You can’t slap a child and say he should not cry? All you can do is to appeal to people’s conscience, you can’t ask me to sign a document to say l must not complain when I don’t know if your boys will use something and break my head, and afterwards you will say l should go to court. Let’s not continue to just copy and paste.
What about the mode of election, the kite being flown about using AGM?
The issue of AGM, that’s exactly why I’m still here. We are stepping into another meeting. Let them make it clear, because the documents they gave to us when we got the form did not specifically mention whichever. We saw what they were doing and we joined them in registering licenses. Registering licenses automatically means you are likely to go through AGM but without boring you with previous, when Chief Ernest Elochukwu contested against Joe Eboje, it was collegiate, Prince Shittu contested against Fleming Momodu, it was collegiate. I contested against Iju, it was collegiate. I may not have the information they have until it ismade clear to us, and if we have any question to ask, we will ask.
So the collegiate sytem has become an established pattern…
It’s not just a pattern, what actually are we talking about? We are talking about ANLCA, and what makes ANLCA? It is the constitution, without the concession, anybody can you can claim to be anything, you can be an actor or anything. There are other associations now, but if you have subscribed to be a member of an association, you must respect the constitution of that group until the day you say ‘I’m no more a member’. Is like you meet a man at Apple Junction, the ask you, where does this road lead to, and you ask him, where are you going? If the man say no where, then he can take any road to take him nowhere, but if he tells you he is going to this hotel, Villa Park, you will now direct him to where Villa Park is. So you cannot just get up because you have been appointed and do as you like. Whatever rule that they are coming up with that does not agree with the constitution, will supersede; that is why we say our constitution is supreme.
We know that ANLCA is challenged in many ways, there’s high level of disenchantment amongst your members, what will you be doing differently to improve on the practice and return the average customs agent self confidence?
I am a member of one of the subcommittee’s setup by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, and in that committee, we were sent to Ghana to actually go to find out why is it that things are working Ghana and not working here. And our findings wa s something that bleeds the heart. And among our recommendations which Shippers Council have started implementing, one of them which is about operational challenges is container deposit. The Shippers Council have been working, maybe very soon they will come up with a solution to that. I walked into your office and I want to pick up ‘this cup’ and you said no problem, what is the guarantee that you will return the cup and return it intact? I said tell me your terms and you will say ‘okay, give me five.’ Five naira may not be the cost of this cup, but at least let me hold something in lieu of the equipment here. And then I will deposit container deposit. And then the next morning, I will return your cup to you, you will receive it and you will check it, there is no crack, it is intact, and you give me a paper showing that you have received it, which we call interchange. And then you tell me go to your office and apply online or whichever means, or through a letter for the refund of your money and I will go and do that. And in the next two, three months I have not received my money. That is robbery because you are trading with my money, I don’t have access to it. You are holding my money, you are holding your equipment. Your equipment is already going doing another job while my money cannot. If it’s a deposit…even we will suggest to the shipping company let us take that responsibility off you. We are not warehousing that money, you ware house it, but it will be our responsibility to make sure that the equipment is returned intact. Once we give paper, which is an undertaking, you make sure that he next day you process it and the man will get its money online. We will take the responsibility off you, do you understand? Tough Shippers’ Council is coming up with an insurance cover, instead of taking people’s cash…you can imagine where you are a major importer, you imported with this shipping line, this shipping line and the other shipping line and you keep depositing money there, the money that you use for your operations are all deposited and tied down because of equipment you don’t need. Who needs a container, you will need a crane to drop it in your premises, it will occupy space, so the earlier you return it, the better. You use your space on time and of course it’s on top of a truck, the talk driver need to drop it in order to engage in another business. It’s not something you can carry and drop and say let me finish here when I come back…you’ll need to engage your crane. So these are among the first things we are going to tackle. The highest should be three days, you have received the equipment and you get a paper showing, yes, it’s received intact. Where is the money? We will fix that problem. If it’s deposit, agents deposit it should not go into your professional account knowing that the owner can come for it anytime. The other one, this is like a national issue… every port has its peculiar challenges, so we’ll look at every issues with the chapter executives and see how we can partner with them to get this resolved. Moreover, you know…the major partners we have is the Nigerian Customs Service, so we’ll partner with them to see how we can have a seamless operation, so that if there is a fault, after all we are only agents, the agent should pass it on to the importer and the importer will handle and treat. But if there is none, for God’s sake, the job should flow. Not for an officer to just sit on a job and start reading it like he’s reading Hardly Chase, just in the process of trying to find where there is no full stop or comma. So where there is some mutual respect and understanding all these things will not happen.
What about complaints by license owner that their licenses are illegally obtained and used to clear goods while the customs that is in custody of the licenses turn around to make trouble. How will your administration tackle such problems?
We handled such a case before we left office in 2018. It was a racket that happened at that time. Some people were just busy cloning people’s licenses, these are one of the negative aspect of online transaction, if not, before now we have verification seat, if I sign a document and submit to custom, they push it through the verification seat to ensure that this signature matches with what they have, which we can’t call Form C30. Because every year, for every license you’ll bring names and signatures and pictures of those that will operate that license, so that if any of them sign, they will verify to ensure that this is authentic signature and stuff like that. But things happening online now, nobody goes through that verification seat process any more, and because of that, now we had all those issues. But when it came to our notice, because some of us, some of our members then that we are serving with us as national officers, their licenses were involved as well. We engaged the customs and they showed us all the jobs done. And even the custom themselves noticed that from the commands where these jobs were done, these people never applied or register their licenses to operate from there. Because if I want to operate in Apapa, I need to go and fill that form, make payment against each person that I need to enlist. So, there was no such thing, it was obvious to them and after some investigation, custom released those licenses and allowed them to keep operating. But you know what happens with online things, another officer took over from the same seat and then recalled all that. The system pulled it again that there were some underpayments that we are hanging against all these licenses. So right now they are treating it individually. You go there, explain yourself, depending on how good you have been able to explain yourself, they have been releasing those licenses. But we did it collectively when the problem happened during our administration, all the licenses were allowed to go scot-free because it was obvious that it wasn’t deliberate, they were hacked. I gave you people these background to tell you that we know what to do should such challenge resufface.
Mr. Emenike Kingsley Nwokeoji comes across as a shine person, tell us about yourself, how do you relax?
I am a golfer, I relax playing golf. In fact, as we speak, I have booked a game against tomorrow afternoon by God’s grace when l get to Port Harcourt. By the time I’ve done that four hours walking around that green. lush environment and by the time I get home and food is ready, as you are eating you’re recovering lost energy. I used to be a tennis player, but as one ages, you make more friendly choices. I am engaged in some social services, l am a member of Rotary International, l am into the Full Gospel Businessmen Fellowship International, as that now, l am supposed to be teaching in a training program going on as we speak. Unfortunately, here I am. This is something that was scheduled over three months ago. I’m an adult, over 60 years, l am married to a female wife, have four children and l am a grandfather. I’ve done this job all my adult life.So the profession is what made me what I am. I am into other small, small businesses; you have to get people employed. L own a small hotel, own a transport business, l have a bonded warehouse that am still trying to put together, we have gotten the position and the license. And within this job, I’ve trained out a whole lot of people. In fact, two of them, two of the people that passed through my office, when I mean passed through, I did not employ them as agent, these are people I trained, and I’m proud of them because they are all doing well. They are employers of labour now. Two of them are contesting in this NECOM election.
Your former boss, Prince Olayiwola Shittu said during your administration, ANLCA was a member of FIATA and members traveled to different countries, which era appeared lost and gone. If you win the presidential ticket, will you revive that as well?
If I have a letterhead here now, the first letters I’m going to do is to revive all this. When ANLCA scheduled a meeting, a trainer with GTC London, the consultant to come and train us…when they gave us the invoice, it was so high, so we started looking for alternative. So GTC people say, okay, it’s easier for them the trainers to leave London than so many of us coming to London. And moreover, it’s easier for our members, too, since it might not be so easy for them to get a British visa. We all arrived at acentral place, Dubai. The consultant packaged good accommodation and everything, and the training materials, and they moved from London to meet us in Dubai, and we had that training in Dubai. It was something else, a whole lot of people that traveled for that training, were asking for more. We have done that too. On FICTA, we have gone to Greece, we have gone to Shanghai in China, we’ve gone to US. For the first time, so many agents were traveling outside this country, even going for international engagements. But you can imagine what is happening now; we have lost all that since this people took over. Our mailss keep dropping but we are no more there. You know once you are in their mailing system, it keeps sending to you asking what is going on? We were almost there, even at the point of producing the vice president.You know Nigerians, we can’t hide wherever we are, we always add colour to events. So with our number, when others were coming with four or five, you see us coming in colorful outfits, occupying major and strategic positions in such trainings and seminars. They are missing us a whole lot, we will also ensure we return to that past glory and allow other people to enjoy that international exposure.
Academics, I only have Ordinary Diploma.
But you come across like a scholar, like holder of a doctorate degree, is that through personal development?
Yes, personal development, I’ve gone on a whole lot of training. In Full Gospel we train a whole lot. I have gone to so many trainings outside this country, trying to improve on the only thing I know, and I’m doing. So I’ve worked and served in so many government committees, one of them before the last one was a committee on Ease of Doing Business where I worked with the chairman being the former Vice President, Prof. Osibanjo, and the co-chairman being the Custom Comptroller General. We were the first Executive Order One, it was from our committee. So I was in that committee, we were sitting most of the time at the Villa.