Chairman, registered Board of Trustees (BOT) of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Alhaji Taiwo Mustapha has said for the umpteenth time that he still foresee an amicable resolution to the crisis that has rocked the association a little of over two years now.
In a chat with Pinnacle Time soon after the election of officers into the western zone chapters held in Lagos, Mustapha said that commenting on ANLCA crisis is usually an emotional burden because “I still believe that ANLCA crisis is a family issue”, he said.
He spoke about the board election held earlier in Owerri, and said it does not create major barrier at efforts to resolve the association’s dispute, saying he is willing to engage anyone with genuine intention to resolve the problems.
The BoT Chairman said he believe that Dr.Taiwo Afolabi was misled into participating in the Owerri board election, and also took time off to speak about the conflicting status of Lagos and Eastern ports. He spoke with our Editor, Eguono Odjegba. Excerpt:
Give us a brief summary of the efforts towards achieving the Tin Can Island Port and Lagos Airport Chapter elections, and perhaps, what difficulties you encountered along the way
One basic thing about life is to stand firm for justice and for fair play, all these while that the crisis started, one of the reasons we delayed the Tin Can Port Chapter Elections and the Lagos Airport chapter Elections for over one year, was simply because we were looking at it that, perhaps, it could be part of the steps to make peace within ourselves. I remember the last time that some of our guys stormed the National Secretariat, and I kept saying it till tomorrow, I will never deny the fact that I know these guys who actually went to the secretariat, they were our members, but where they got it wrong was when they invited the OPC boys with gun, not that they didn’t tell me that they wanted to protest, they told me they wanted to protest because of the way Tony Iju and his executives were making it look as if nothing can happen in the Western Zone. I told them that, if you want to protest, carry your placards, call the press and stand in front of the secretariat, this is enough protest. Where I am driving at is that, at the end of the day, at the instance of the Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, when we were trying to make peace among ourselves, the Tony Iju and his group brought seven conditions for peace, and one of it was that all the Western Zone elections we had conducted before must be cancelled and re-conducted all over again, and that he wanted to immediately conduct the one of the Lagos Airport chapter. At the end of the day, I told the officer that I only came with two conditions which are; the board elections of 2018 that started the whole crisis must be recognised and respected, we are not compromising that, otherwise, based on what Tony Iju requested that we should go for another board elections, then what is the essence of fighting for the past two years? Part of the conditions I had brought forward was that the Western Zone elections we conducted must stand, but at the end of the day, I agreed that we would conduct the elections all over again, and that I would appeal to all the members, this is because I am sure that these guys would still win the elections based on the fact that they are all popular in their chapters. We agreed on this. The next day, we came back, and Tony Iju said without us agreeing to all their conditions, they are not going ahead with the peaceful resolution. When we met with the OC SARS, we told him we cannot go ahead with the peaceful resolution. The officer told all of us there that, for now, nobody should conduct any elections, we should allow peace to reign, pending when we can make peace. But what we saw next was that, Tony Iju went ahead to conduct Kano and Abuja chapter elections, as well as the so-called board elections they did in Owerri, despite all advise of the Police. When our guys saw this, they started calling me that what stops us from conducting our own elections here? Since Tony Iju has violated the peaceful resolutions given by the police, we should also go ahead and conduct our own elections, so, it was on the strength of that we carried out these remaining elections.
You keep saying that you are still exploring avenues of peace with the Tony Iju executives, now that another BOT is in place, who do you want to negotiate with?
You see, it is important to remember that before this crisis, ANLCA was one family. I believe that ANLCA is still one, and whoever is ready to negotiate and engage us, we are ready, as long as I see that the person is being realistic and objective. It took me time to realize that Tony Iju and Henry Njoku were actually deceiving me personally. At the beginning of the crisis, I met with them one-on-one, not minding what we were discussing at board level or at national executive level, we discuss as friends. As far as we are concerned, the law recognizes us as the authentic, registered BOT of ANLCA. We still cases in court. If tomorrow, Tony Iju decides that he wants peace in the association, I would be the first to jump at it. But if I say that I am looking for peace in ANLCA, and you went ahead to conduct your own illegal elections, despite the fact that the court has ruled that you cannot parade yourselves in office as national executives, to continue on my path of peace that is been insulted without taking proactive position, as the registered BoT on the way forward, that suggests that I don’t know what I am doing. They are busy interpreting the court order differently; they said the court order is for 14-days. The court order is written in simple grammar, it states that “this court order stands until the determination of the case.” It is not every court order that expires after 14 days. When Adams Oshiomole was suspended as APC Chairman, after 14 days, while didn’t he go back to the national secretariat and say the court order is for fourteen days? One “jankara” lawyer cannot just collect your money and start interpreting rubbish for you. If not because of the relationship I still have with Tony Iju, by now he would have been served Form 49, but I told our lawyer to suspend it.
What is Form 49 and what is its implication on those it is served?
Form 49 is served on people who have violated court order, which is contempt of court. Form 48 would first be served on you as a warning, after one week, if you are still doing the same thing, Form 49 would be served on you and you would be taken to court, and when the Judge sees it that it is glaring you violated the court order, the next thing is that the person goes to jail. But I asked myself, what do I stand to gain if I send the person I called my friend to prison? It is going to be a lasting wound, so, on the basis of that, I told my lawyer to hold onto Form 49. So, if by all these, I am still looking at fundamental ways of getting things resolved and Tony Iju and his group is calling us nobody, by going ahead to conduct another so-called board elections, it means that they are not ready for peace.
Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, SIFAX Group Chairman was elected into the Owerri organized board, do you think this could bring about peace?
I don’t have anything personal against Taiwo Afolabi, this is because I have a strong feeling that he was misled. But let’s now assume that he was not misled, and he knew the details of the whole crisis and yet he decided to go into the Jankara election, for me, I still don’t have anything against Taiwo Afolabi or his co-board members. The issue didn’t start with them. For now, I still want to take it that those who were elected into that board, especially Taiwo Afolabi were misled. He is somebody I respect a lot, though we do not have a close relationship. I believe he was not aware of all the details of the crisis in ANLCA, and that they just put his name to come and participate in the elections. But by and large, my advice to Taiwo Afolabi is that he is too big to dabble into this kind of rofoRofo politics in ANLCA. Right from the beginning, I kept telling everyone around me that I stand to gain nothing in this whole board election but for the moral duty of standing for what is right. For me, I don’t see anything material in it, but I see it as a call to serve my people, you cannot tell when you would need them tomorrow, money is not everything.
But those who say they know you think that you look bothered
How can I not be bothered when my professional family is at war? It is not as easy as those with conscience looks at it. ANLCA is one family. When Tony Iju lost the House of Representatives elections and came back, I called him privately, I begged him to find a place in his heart to overlook the fact that the Western Zone did not support him when he contested election, that even if he won with one vote, that he is the leader of all now. He agreed with me. But the events that followed did not show that he was ready to remove that grievance from his heart, what he did was to start appointing coordinators for the various chapters, he should have allowed these guys to finish their tenure and have his peace. Unfortunately for those he appointed, none of them could get close to the port, not to talk of going to take over. The one that went to Seme Border chapter with six of our members to take over were all humiliated. Later, when he saw that his move was rebuffed, he called all the substantive chairmen of the chapters for a meeting at the Secretariat, they all went there to pay homage and pledge their allegiance. I thought that from there, we will be able to move forward, but just about one month after, he started issuing letters that he wants to conduct another elections and that he is giving them only three months. This was like dragging the clock backwards.
While the Lagos ports are choked up, insecurity has also affected optimal use of the Eastern ports, how can we get a turn around?
You see, insecurity is a major problem. Almost on daily basis, you hear of piracy attack or similar incidents within the Lagos anchorage outwards to the Gulf of Guinea. It is also prevalent in the Eastern ports because of the nature of militancy in the Niger Delta. The oil majors and politicians contributed to the whole issues. When I first arrived in Port Harcourt about 30 years ago, it wasn’t like this. We call Port Harcourt then the garden city. We could go to the club, leave that one and go to another, jump from one beer parlour to another, from 12 midnight and even at 2am, and you have nothing to worry about. I remember one incident as a young man, when l left my car engine running where I parked it, with the key in the ignition. I was with some of my friends. I guess we had had too much to drink and went inside without a care for the car. At about an hour later, another friend brought the key to me and said he went to wee and saw the car engine running, with the glass down. That is to tell you how peaceful Port Harcourt was then. But when the militancy started with the coming in of politicians in 1999, the region started slipping into insecurity, from the boys that were used to rig elections and at the end of the day, were not empowered by those who used them. They were already used to free and big money, and when the money stopped coming, they looked for alternative, and that was how insecurity in the South-South began.
Kidnapping started with foreign oil workers
Yes, they started with the whites; they kidnap them in the creeks and channels. And when the whites ran away, they came for Nigerians. From there they went to the barges, and then the platforms and then vessels. So, the eastern ports came under severe state of insecurity. But in spite of these, I can say authoritatively that Port Harcort and Onne ports are operating optimally and doing very well. West African Container Terminals is 100% active, their operational space is filled up and there is already incident of vessel queue happening now. Calabar major problem is the channel, NPA started working there at a time before they abandoned the place. I am sure the dredging hasn’t been completed. Eastern ports channels are not big enough to support very large cargo vessels, while the Warri Port started losing traffic due to multi-tribal fight. Today the Warri Port and environ is now very peaceful, but the existing investments have already gone out of that axis. That is the reason the Lagos ports is still the port of attraction, which only government can reverse through deliberate policy actions. If the road from Calabar to Aba through Onitsha are motorable, it will encourage Aba and Onitsha traders to say let us use Calabar port, but the channels cannot support sustainable cargo traffic in its present state. Forget the politics some people tried to play with the Calabar Port in the past. Both the Calabar Port and connecting road networks are bad. Those are the current challenges, because the major issues of insecurity are gradually fading away. So getting a turnaround depends on the federal and state government, coming together to fix the connecting roads, and like I said earlier, using policy to turnaround those other ports that currently underutilized.