By Elizabeth hCukwuma
Those who think that the Council For Regulations of Freight Forwarders of Nigeria, CRFFN, of twelve years ago are still the same today may have to do a rethink. This is because a lot appear to have changed in the Council in the last one year that Abubakar Sani Bello, a retired Army Colonel, was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari , as the Chairman .
Uche Increase, the Chairman of the Council’s Research and International Liaison Committee and who incidentally is the Chairman of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF alluded much to this when he appeared on the Maritime Reporters Association of Nigeria, MARAN, Round Table, on Thursday, October 7, 2019.
Increase was said to have made it clear to those that cares to listen that the Council would start the Enforcement of its Laws next year, noting that many practicing Freight Forwarders would be in trouble, particular members of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, NCMDLCA for not identifying with the Council activities.
He stopped short at saying that Lucky Amiwero, the President of the NCMDLCA, may be the first that may fall f foul of the Law and the Council would not hesitate in arresting and prosecuting him. The CRFFN, Council member’s worry was that Amiewero has made it impossible for the individual members of the Association to register with the Council.
The Value News learnt that of the over 3000 registered members of the Council, none of them came from the Amiewero, led NCMDLCA. Already, there are indications that the Council plans to issue Identity Card to the registered members and Certificates to the Corporate Organisations that would enable them to renew their operating license with the Nigerian Customs Service. The identity Card may have become necessary to ensure that only agents who have business at the ports would have access to it.
The CRFFN member may have sent a signal to Amiewero and the other NCMDLCA, members that they may be’’ treated as touts’’ if they fail to register with the Council as Individuals or Corporate members. Many believe trouble between the Amiewero led NCMDLCA and the Council would actually start when the later would move to enforce its mandate of collecting the Practice Operating Fees, POF, from the agents, which may be resisted by the Association.
He was said to have told those still opposed to the POF, Particular, members of the NCMDLCA, that ‘’arrangement has been concluded to collect the POF fees from all practicing agents in the country next year.
He may have flown a kite when he said that the Council plans to establish the Federation of Freight Forwarders that may not be an all comers affairs like the local Associations. He disclosed that those intending to join the Federation must possess at least the minimum qualification which are yet to be made public. He further stressed that agents who may not want to join the Federation are free to remain in their local Associations.
On why the Council has failed to tackle the involvement of foreigners in the clearing of Cargoes at the nation’s seaports, something that would never happen in Republic of Benin or any other country in the West African sub-region, The NAGAFF, president attributed to the indiscriminate issuance of operating license to Practioners by Customs Authorities.
‘’Any person can become an agent’’, he had said. Recall that Bello, the Chairman of the Council, had said that the only way to eliminate foreigners from the clearing business which ought to be an entirely indigenous business would be to amend the Act setting up the Council in 2004 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
This is where Rotimi Amaechi, the minister of Transportation may have to work closely with the Council Boardmembers to ientify the areas in the Act that needed amendment in order to sponsor a private bill in in the House in respect of the Act for Consideration.Until this is done, the CRFFN, would remain like a lame duck in dealing with the Indians, Lebanese and indigenes of the other West African countries involved in clearing of cargoes in Nigeria.
Increase may have shown that NAGAFF , made an Input in the drafting of the CRFFN ACT, as he criticized the members of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents , ANLCA,’’ who claimed to be brokers when they are not by practice’’. He noted that there is ‘’no Law in the country that has established ‘’Customs Brokerage’’, stressing that to become a Broker, there are certain requirements. According to him, The Brokerage aspect of Clearing is for indigenous persons, for security reasons.Olaywola Shittu, a former President of ANLCA, had scribed Brokerage as one aspect of the Clearing job, insisting that members are Brokers.
Increase may have spoken the mind of the other members when he justified Customs continuous interception and examination of transit cargoes designated for the Inland Container Depots, ICD, established, by the Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC, under the close watch of Hassan Bello, the Executive Director in different parts of the country.
Given his knowledge of the clearing business, he disclosed that the time is not yet ripe for the Customs Authorities to give a free hand to the officers deployed to the ICs to be examine by the officials and subsequently released . He is right. None of the ICDs currently established by the NSC, has been approved by the Customs Authorities including the much talked about Kaduna ICD.
It is not surprising why The CRFFN , member had opined that ‘’it would constitute a security risk for the Enforcement , Customs Intelligence Unit, CIU, and other security operatives involved in the examination of cargoes at the major ports not to examine such cargoes designated for the ICDs before leaving the port.
Maritime watchers believe that the Customs Authorities had to be serious in ensuring that transit cargoes are examined at the ports before allowing it to be taken any of the ICDs because , FIATA, the Organisation overseeing the Freight Forwarding business world- wide and the International Maritime Organisation IMO, ar yet to recognise the country’s ICDs. This may have made their case worse.