BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
There is no gainsaying the obvious that the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agent (ANLCA) has been in crisis, a needless one for that matter, which has put the association at a cross road.
It is common knowledge that the crisis which started in 2018 following the new Board of Trustees (BoT) leadership election, which was precipitated by sit-tight syndrome, further exacerbated by leadership ego; the two worst possible malaise that can afflict any organisation.
There is no doubt that the facts of what happened and what has so far followed is known to those that have been following the development. Without controversy, those who ignited the crisis and have continued to fuel it, directly and indirectly are still active.
They are not merely still hanging on to the reins of power through utmost desperation and process manipulations, but more confounding is the fact that they have also been scheming to retain power through electoral trickery, convoluted conspiracies at unusual official high places, and through the unimaginable display of shenanigans possible only amongst renegades and a tribe of the underdogs.
So far the developments have been one of continuous minuses which has literally brought ANLCA to it’s kneel; with the attendant loss of relevance, influence and indeed, direction. For a once proud association with undisputed national identity, industry visibility and goodwill, its primary goal which is the protection of members overall gains against unjust fiscal and operational policies, and checks against oppressive and official high handedness, have since been lost.
As the association continues to drift, so have the members, who have been wandering aimlessly like sheep without shepherds in the past four years. The situation has not been helped with the neo-emergence of narrow minded and selfish individual members and outsiders, who have set out structures and super structures to unscrupulously exploit the crisis for ignoble motives, and in part to make themselves relevant.
The worst are those with knee jerk partisan consideration, thus worsening an already bad situation. But let us hurry pass the shadows of the recent past and focus on the 2023 elections that has willy-nilly, been fixed for July 5, with the clouds of melancholy and uncertainty that has since the beginning of the desperate electioneering through failed Annual General Meeting (AGMs); that practically rendered the political atmosphere tepid and uninspiring.
Gratefully about three weeks ago, the atmosphere changed into one of huge hope and great expectations with rumour of the coming of the former most cerebral Vice President of the association, Mr. Kingsley Emenike Nwokeoji, and the eventual purchase of a presidential nomination form for him by a group of supporters, led a formidable former ASECO Chairman, Barr. Raymond Oyinba .
As with all good tidings, there followed barely a week after the purchase of the vice presidential ticket nomination form for Prince Segun Oduntan, as Nwokeoji’s running mate. While Oyinba led the group to obtain the nomination form for Nwokeoji, Baba Alhaji Audu, leader of the Arewa Maritime Group, led the supporter’s group to pick Oduntan’s nomination form, in a carnival like manner; as the women danced and the men rejoiced.
Pius Ujunuono, the erstwhile interim president of the national executive committee (NECOM), described the Nwokeoji/Oduntan joint ticket as the most heartwarming news coming the way of the association in recent time.
“We are not happy, we are expectant and hopeful that after the long period of impunity by those who lack personal discipline and public decency, the duo of Nwokeoji and Oduntan have stepped out to wrest ANLCA from captivity.
“All the smiling faces here is the expressions of our hearts, we are elated because we are hopeful that the good days will be here again, where customs agents and the ANLCA family can now reconnect with the mission and vision that brought us together.
“I am a realist, l am not saying Emenike and Oduntan’s victory at the election will be a walk over, we know about the landmines and sordid fraudulent machinery those desperate to hang on to power have erected, but having been bruised and shortchanged by them for this long, l believe that common sense will prevail, so that together, we can say to them, enough is enough.”
He continued: “Ordinarily, like Emenike said in a recent newspaper interview, we needed to put our house in order before talking about election, but like most of you in the media know, those holding the association to ransom are intent at stretching their impunity so that they can perpetuate themselves in office.
“In order to avert this, the good people in ANLCA resolved that since it takes iron to cut iron, we should confront them at the election they have desperately designed and seek through the otherwise constitutionality of the process to end their reign of impunity.”
Speaking after picking the form, Alhaji Audu and others in the supporters group said they believe that Prince Segun Oduntan has the experience, the exposure and personality to join Nwokeoji to secure a breather for the revival of ANLCA through effective reordering of priority that recognizes the yearning of members; and to work to reposition the association, in the determined effort to achieve a rebirth.
“We are not happy with the situation ANLCA is in now, so we are looking for a great man that will carry us along and bring us back to the right track. We need government of national unity, somebody that is going to unite our association and to carry everybody along, and to sanitize the system”, he said.
Also speaking, Chief Chukudi Ike faulted the presidential interest of non Igbos in the association, even as he enjoined members to insist on presidential zoning arrangement, which makes the 2023 presidential contest the exclusive preserve of interested Igbo candidates.
“I happen to be one of the front runners for the support of Emenike Nwokeoji, at least to complete the tenure of the Igbo in line with the zoning arrangement which has given us a pedestal for peace and equity. I am a full believer (of the rotational arrangement) and I will continue to support it anytime, any day. That’s why I am now saying that it is not yet time for the Yoruba to come into leadership, because I worked with President Olayiwola Shittu for eight uninterrupted years of two terms.
“The Nwokeoji/Oduntan Team wants to rescue ANLCA from the doldrums’. We got to a height which was very, very enviable under the legendry leadership of Prince Olayiwola Shittu. He took ANLCA to a very great height and today, some of us, seeing ANLCA in a shadow of itself, we don’t feel happy. That’s why we have come to pick the forms, first for Emenike, and today for Oduntan as his running mate.”
He described Nwokeoji as an accomplished customs broker, a competent and detribalized personality, who demonstrated his worth and versatility as a loyal vice president to Prince Olayiwola Shittu, between 2010 and 2018.
It will be recalled that owing to Nwokeoji’s charming personality, undivided loyalty and leadership acumen, Shittu stoutly supported his ambition to succeed him; that very rare gesture to be seen in our polity, either at the national or sub national levels.
Despite losing the 2018 election to Iju Tony Nwabunike allegedly, fraudulently, he conceded defeat in a sport like manner and also graced Nwabunike’s inauguration ceremony in Lagos. Perhaps, no one could be more unassuming, more open minded and committed to the ideals, goals and aspirations of ANLCA. It is for no other reason that Ike summed up the acceptance of Nwokeoji and Oduntan to throw their hats in the ring as a ‘rescue mission.’
He said, “Emenike is a seasoned maritime practitioner, he worked closely with the most brilliant and the most successful president of ANLCA, Prince Olayiwola Shittu, and I know that he will carry on from where we stopped and rebuild what has been destroyed. He is coming for a rescue mission, to rescue ANLCA”, adding:
“Remember that Prince Oduntan was Chairman in Tin Can Chapter at the time, when you look at their joint ticket (Nwokeji and Oduntan), it gives you hope and assurance. To rescue ANLCA means to reunite, focus and work, not to abuse or blackmail institutions and establishments.”
On his part, Kabiyesi Waidi Ajibola Sadiku, a member of the supporters group noted that ANLCA is presently on the precipice and requires people with vision and character, influence and the wherewithal to embark on its rescue, as against those without capacity.
He said, “We are here to support Omoba Segun Oduntan to be the running mate to Emenike Nwokeoji. We have been getting it wrong for quite some time and as a family, we must take steps to get it right. We did not come to the port to do unionism, but along the line, unionism joined us together.
“I don’t want to talk much, but I want to say we don’t need hustlers in this business any longer. We need leaders who can use their money and influence to take us to a very enviable height. ANLCA is in a trouble state, we need people who can fix the problems, not people who will be adding to it, a hustler is more concerned about himself and not the association.”
Earlier, Joe Sanni, former media aide to Prince Olayiwola Shittu, had raised concerns about the conduct of the upcoming election without a validly recognized Board of Trustees (BoT), describing it as illegal, saying it has the potential to further stretch the crisis.
“One thing very fundamental is the fact that an association/voluntary organization cannot exist in the eyes of the law in Nigeria, without a CAC-incorporated registered Board of Trustees (BOT) – (See CAMA 2020,Sections 823 to 835).”
Noting the criticality of the BoT in safeguarding the sanctity of ANLCA, especially during elections, Sanni in his latest commentary on the state of ANLCA alleged that certain elements in the association have left no stone unturned in the bid to have a BoT that is pliable, malleable and amenable to manipulation just so to protect certain established interests and illegalities.
Like those routing for fresh breath, Sanni expressed delight at the emergence of Nwokeoji and Oduntan, signing them off as ANLCA’s Messiah.
“Assuming without conceding that the electoral processes that is ongoing in ANLCA presently isn’t what it should be, fact is that men of integrity like Emenike Nwokeoji for National President and Prince Segun Oduntan for National Vice President, are showing up on the scene.
“While Emenike has occupied various positions at the Chapter and Zonal levels before serving as a very loyal National Vice President (2010 to 2018), Prince Segun Oduntan served meritoriously as Chairman of Tin Can Chapter between 2017 and 2021.”
While Nwokeoji is on record as having served in a number of capacity in ANLCA leadership as well as having served in many inter-governmental committees, those familiar with the politics of ANLCA say Oduntan grew the asset base of Tin Can chapter, and established a free insurance scheme for members of the chapter, whilst he served as chairman.
For all it is worth, the July 5, 2023 election is not only a defining moment but one of decision time. It is the offering of a rare opportunity for members of ANLCA to choose wisely and correctly, by voting Nwokeoji and Oduntan.
From all indications, testimonies and affirmations, the two gentlemen holds the answer to the revival of the association, and as sure guarantee to better time for members and their businesses.
It is not difficult at all to appreciate that both Nwokeoji and Oduntan are eminently accomplished and blessed, and therefore in a position to give back through honest and selfless service. What can be more serene, their emergence was clearly a product of recognition, consultation and amity; unlike the demonstration of morbid desperation of some, which has assaulted the sensibility and tranquility of members and the industry at large.
Nwokeoji and his running mate have lived past everyday struggle for survival. While simply maintaining and nurturing their businesses, their present efforts to return to active association politics is said to be simply as a result of the yearning to help pull ANLCA out of the ditch.
In doing so, they have resolved to give their time and energy, give themselves and resources, which is the hallmark of genuine service. Like the National Secretariat that has lost colour, fixture, beauty and attraction, and have become a dungeon of sort, Nwokeoji and Oduntan have also elected to rebuild the business relationships that guarantee higher yields, profitability and fiscal stability.
With their experience and abounding goodwill, ANLCA will move past the pariah status it has landed, with its members in the past four years. It can only get better when ANLCA is again able to relate appropriately with Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigerian Shippers Council, Nigerian Customs Service, Nigerian Aviation Authority, amongst others; and there is no doubt that these two gentlemen holds the ace to total recovery.
The other option is for ANLCA and its teeming struggling members to remain where they have been in the past four years, looking forlorn and neglected like an orphan, with no agenda, no consequential official recognition and or partnership, no leadership affluence and capacity to attract attention, with vulnerable members having no one to fight for their rights and privileges.
These are the deficits that Nwokeoji and Oduntan have pledged to come and correct and to reverse, and all they are asking is for members to show the required courage to choose service over sentiment, capacity over brigandage, competence over arrogant posturing, lawfulness above impunity, and accountability above rascality.