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Agency: Why CRFFN Failed To Deliver On Its Mandate 12 Years After Establishment By Former President Obasanjo

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.  

Tony Nwabunike: President ANLCA, Anambra State

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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