By Stephen Ubanna
The era of shipping Companies terminal operators and those who have no business at the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, controlled sea ports in the country doing whatever they like is over. This is because Abubakar Sani, a retired Army Colonel, and Chairman, Board of the Council For Regulations For Freight Forwarders of Nigeria, CRFFN an agency under the Ministry of Transportation, has mobilised the members who are drawn from the various Associations of the Agents such as of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, among others to ensure full implementation of the Council mandate.
The Sani led CRFF Board may have sent a signal to the shipping companies and terminal operators when it recently it took on the Onne port based West African Container Terminal, WACT, over its outrageous fees slammed on importers’ Container landed at the terminal before being allowed to take delivery of it.
Henry Njoku, representative of ANLCA in the Council may have taken advantage of the Council members visit to the Maritime Association of Nigeria, MARAN, International Press Center, Apapa, to speak on the activities of the terminal operator, which he claimed is hampering trade at the port.
According to him it takes about three days for the terminator operator to locate an importer’s Container and position it for examination at the terminal operator. An aggrieved Njoku disclosed that that the importer is made to pay 1.5 % surcharge on the Container. More worrisome was the policies put in place at the terminal which makes the clearing of Containerised cargoes cargoes to take about three months to take delivery of a Container at the terminal which forces many agents to abandon their Containers at the terminal because of the outrageous demurrage.
It was not surprising why the Council is battling the Onne based terminal operator to refund the accumulated demurrage collected from the importer with his Agent including the 1.5 surcharge out of their own gross inefficiency to locate and position Containerised cargo after about three day s for examination at the terminal. This is bad news to the shipping Companies and terminal operators which may no longer do what they were doing in the past because of the 7-yer non inauguration of the CRFFN Board .
Many believe that the Council could bark and bite now because Rotimi Amaechi, the minister of Transportatiion at the instance of President Muhammadu Buhari has given the 12-yearr old Council a functional Bordate to execute its mandate.
Sani , who assumed duties as the Board Chairman, last November, disclosed that the Council could not have made any appreciable impact in the Industry because of poor funding from inception. He noted that the agency started getting its budgetary allocation from the government in 2017 under the Katsina state born Nigerian President which had been sustained by the government, an indication that the establishment of the council by the former President Olusegun Obasanjo had established the Council for political reasons as there was no financial provision for the proper take of the Council.
He however, lamented that the the N5.9 billion budgetary allocation for the Council in 2017 was were tied to Capital projects such as building its operational and Administrative offices in Lagos, the nation’s commercial hub center, Zonal offices and the land border offices at the land border stations across the country . Prior to the inauguration of the current Board of the Council, the2017 budgetary allocation to the Council became an issue as Prestige Ossy , a one-time practicing agent at Onne port and now a member of the House of Representatives had raised alarm over fraudulent activities of the Council.
Ossy, who could not hide his feelings had urged the House Committee on Ports, Habours and Waterways to investigate all the alleged financial and Administrative Infractions against the Council, noting that a budgetary provision of N5.9 billion was approved for both Capital and Recurrent Expenditures for it in 2017 but that was how far he could go.
Barely one year in office, the retired Army Colonel led CRFFN, appears to have demonstrated that the council is out to cut waste and save money for the agency. One of such wastes is the Container terminal at Ozubulu, Anoambra state, the home town of Tony Nwabunike, a former Chairman of the Council, which was said to have been smuggled into the Council projects to be executed by his Administration. That much was confirmed by Njoku, the Current Vice Chairman of the CRFFN Board.
The Council major source of funds according the CRFFN, Chairmanare the Registration fees which the Agents pay as Practising Operational Operational Fees. POF. The Council may not have been weak in implementing the manadate forcing critics to describe it as a toothless bulldog.
Olayiwola Shittu, Chairman, Skelas Nig, limited, a Port Harcourt based Clearing agency and a former President of ANLCA, had worked against the collect of the PF by the Council. He was said to have petitioned Aamechi, the miniter of Transportation to halt the collection of the fees by the Council but that was how far he could go.
Given that Shittu, the former ANLCA, could not halt the collection of the POF, Sani has made it clear to those that cares to listen that agents who want to sill remain in business must register with the Council and be issued with an Identity Card and Registration Certificate in order to have access to the port without harassment. The Council was said to have to have started the sensitization for the registration exercise since 2013 but the response had been very slow.
Insiders told the Magazine that the Council had so far registered over 2,000 individuals and over 600 Corporate members since the exercise began.
Perhaps to force the Agents and Corporate Oraginisatons to register with the Council, Sani, the Council Chairman, has made it clear that a time when Corporate Organisations may not be able renew their operating license with the Nigerian Customs service, NCS, unless they have something to prove that they are registered Council members.
This may have informed why the Council Chairman could beat his chest that very soon to they would no longer depend on government subventions to survive but would join other revenue generating agencies like the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, NCS, Federal Inland Revenue Services, FIRS, among others to be remitting money into government coffers from the POF collections.
Going by the sharing formular for the POF approved by the Federal Executive Council, FEC, the Council would take the lion share of 60% for running of the office while the federating Associations share 30 % while the remaining 10% would be remitted into government coffers.
other sources of income, the Chairman said are t the NPA, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Nigerian Shippers Council , NSC and Nigerian Inland Waterways, NIWA which are agencies in the ministry of Transportation.
Given that the CRFFN Board has settled down for work, Maritime analysts want the Council to go ahead sanitise the nationan’s freight Forwarding industry by initiate laws that would eliminate foreigners in the cargo clering business at the nation’s seaports as obtained in Republic of Benin and other ports in the West African sub-region. Take for instance, foreigners, particular Nigerians who have cargoes to clear for clients go through the Beninese registered Freight Forwarders to take it out of the port for the Nigerian Clearing agency.
Sani and his Council members, agents said may have to stand their foot down to force out the foreigners in the Clearing business in the country before they take over the Industry from Nigerians. ‘’The Council must be ready to protect the Industry for Nigerians.
Despite the various challenges that had confronted the Council over the years, an elated Sani had said the Board under his close watch will address the problems headlong to ensure that the country aligns with the ‘’global best practices and the Industry standards’’. He cited some of some of the achievements of the Council in the last one which include engagement of a new Registrar, relocating the CFRRN Corporate office from Abuja to Lgos, establishment of the standing Committees, which is what the Act establishing the Council had specified, and gazetting of PR actioners Operating Fees, POF. This is in addition to engaging a Consultant for effective and efficient revenue generation, Completed accreditation for the training of Freight Forwarders with the University of Lagos, Othman DaFodio University Sokoto, University of Nigeria, Nnsuka and University of Makurkudi, Benue state.
A s an agency of government, the Council, was said to have designed and started developing a Corporate Headquarters at Abuja, worth millions of nira. Perhaps, what should gladden people’s heart was the Completed integration into the NPA platform for effective revenue generation. Many believe that the Council could not not have achieved this milestone without developing a road which had facilitated the repositing of the Council after 12 years of existence without any concrete thing to show that it has done except purchase of Hilux Prado Jeep, 2017 model, for the 32 members of the Board which sources claimed the past Council leadership were said to have spent the sum of N448 million, at the asking price of N14 million each.
Iwas alleged that former Management had secured a loan to finance the payment of the 32 exotic vehicles in the anticipation of the collections of the POF which was said to have been used as a Collateral.
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