In the buildup to the collection of the controversial professional operating fees, POF, which has suffered repeated somersaults, Seaport Terminals Operators Association of Nigeria, STOAN, have reportedly keyed into the plan.
STOAN is believed to have in collaboration with the ICT department of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria, CRFFN, begun the synchronization of seaport terminals into the POF collection process under an integrated platform, allegedly under the directive of the Minister of Transportation, Amaechi Chibuike.
CRFFN Registrar, Barr. Samuel Nwakohu said the ongoing collaboration with STOAN is intended to achieve the seamless collection of the POF, noting that the ongoing integration process is designed to support the seamless collection of the POF from source.
Nwakohu said the intervention of the transportation minister has effectively put STOAN in the process, noting that with STOAN in, the implementation is now only a matter of time. He also denied that STOAN demanded to be given a percentage of the collection.
He said, “, “I will tell you, if that is true, then it would have just been easier for me to say, I will pay you this considering how important POF is to me. It will be easy; I will make you an offer so that we can roll. But no! That is not true.
“Initially STOAN resisted, somehow, the minister intervened and they said they will do it. We held a zoom meeting with the minister and them, thereafter; we convened another meeting with STOAN as a whole where modalities were discussed.
“So, we are at the point of integration right now between the terminal operators and our ICT people. That is where we are and as soon as that is completed, in fact, what I agreed with them is once they conclude for each terminal; enforcement starts right away because we have burned time. You know when you are having intergovernmental agencies involve in a project, it is not easy. So, these things take time but I can’t wait, we are at the last stretch of the hurdle.”
It will be recalled that the POF implementation has suffered repeat postponement due to what experts described as hasty and untidy arrangements, since January this year.
Speaking on the process hiccups, a former member of CRFFN’s Freight Forwarders Consultative Forum, Chidi Anthony Opara identified mix-ups and warned that technical defaults in the collection process may throw up litigations.
According to him, POF is a fee payable to industry regulators by practitioners, noting that in the case of freight forwarders, the fee would be paid to CRFFN. He argued that CRFFN adapted the fee without understanding the entire rudiments.
He said, “CRFFN regulates freight forwarders and not importers and exporters. CRFFN therefore, should conceptualize POF in the context of a percentage of the freight forwarding practitioners earnings. The regulator should find a way to compute and collect POF within this context.
“Trying to collect levies on imports and exports, which freight forwarders do not own, which are owned by importers and exporters, whom CRFFN does not regulate will throw up serious legal contests that would not end in the favour of CRFFN.”
Similarly, not all council members of CRFFN are presently in agreement of the POF collection. The Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, in 2017 instituted a corporate suit against CRFFN, challenging the POF collection.
Contacted, Chairman, Board of Trustees of ANLCA, Alhaji Taiwo Mustapha said the renewed bid to embark on the collection will be a violation and disrespect for the laws, amid court injunctions secured by some individual members against the collection.
His words, “The position of ANLCA regarding the collection of POF is clear, we are against the collection. The Board of Trustees and the national leadership will meet and discuss the way forward.
“To the best of my knowledge, the national president, Tony Nwabunike has not called for that meeting up till today, since the matter was tabled last year. Officially, ANLCA is still against the POF. There is a case in court that says the collection should be placed on hold. When people hear about money to be share, they can be funny, but the national officers will burn their fingers if they enter into any bogus agreement against the position of the association.”