By Mcanthony Onuoha
Following the distrust triggered by what a good number of maritime practitioners described as gross administrative ineptitude and a sheer lack of transparency as well as outlandish impunity on the part of the Registrar of Council for Regulation of Freight Forwarding Practice in Nigeria (CRFFN), 95% of practicing Freight Forwarders and Customs Licensed Agents have passed a vote of no confidence on the Council and its Leadership.
However, serial cases against the council of which some are still pending before the court as well as allegations of misappropriation of funds and certificate forgery leveled against its Registrar are yet to be cleared.
To add to the trouble is the Practitioners’ Operating Fee (POF), which one of the major Terminal Operators, TinCan Island Container Terminal Limited has already commenced its collection on behalf of the Council. And that, if not carefully handled, could spark off massive violence in the coming weeks.
Presently, two Honourable Members of The House of Representatives, Hon. Patrick Asadu and Hon. Garba Datti Mohammed are sponsoring a bill at the lower Chamber of the National Assembly to see that the collection of POF scales through and becomes a law.
As it stands, a ports revolutionary movement, Congregation of Registered Freight Forwarding Practioners of Nigeria (CREFFPON),is presently making inroads into the hearts of a good number of freight forwarders who are sick and tired of the Council’s non performance laced with non-accountability and recklessness.
Before now, the tenure of the Council’s Board Members has expired and because of that, a new election ought to have taken place to replace them. But without recourse to it guidelines, the Registrar acting with impunity, moved to force appointees of the Council whose two years tenure has elapsed but clamour for tenure elongation out. And that is being decided in the Law Court as those affected decided to take the Council to Court.
According to privileged information, a fresh case has been filed against CRFFN on Monday the 5th of March, 2021 by Africa Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics in Nigeria (APFFLON), and will be heard on a yet to be fixed date , at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos Judicial Division. Joined in the suit is the Registrar of CRFFN, the Chairman of Governing Board, the Ministry of Transportation, and the Attorney General of the Federation. Besides, the National President of APFFLON, Otunba Frank Ogunojemite and the National PRO, Alhaji Giwa Abdulrazak, have so far declined comments on the matter.
The case with Suit Number FHC/L/C3/374/2021 was filed on Monday, 5th of March, 2021, against the respondents over collection of Practitioners Operating Fee by CRFFN.
APFFLON is kicking against the collection of POF even when Board Members who represent the agents are not in place. So the advocacy group that is also made up of registered members of the Council is challenging the collection of the fee that is yet to be approved by the National Assembly.
Recall that members of CRFFN Governing Board whose tenure has elapsed were assigned with portfolios which they man, even as they also represent freight Forwarders at the Council. So leaving a vacuum by not replacing them via fresh election amounts to recklessness. And the question is, why would the Registrar alone would commence the collection of the fee in the absence of those elected by its supposed beneficiaries who are the Freight Forwarders. Laughably, it means that the Registrar who is not a Freight Forwarder is now collecting Practitioners Operating Fee (POF) for Freight Forwarders. Even a layman knows what it portends.
Nevertheless, the level of economic hardship across the Globe due to Covid-19 pandemic has been a major concern, and economies have continued to cushion its effects on their citizens. Maritime Practitioners see the demand for POF by CRFFN at a critical time like this as callous and inappropriate.
Presently, the rhythm of the very drumbeat that ushered these set of administrators into CRFFN is being repeated. As it stands, the Ministry of Transport is planning a kangaroo election to still bring in non Freight Forwarders to manage the affairs of the Council.
Besides, the Lagos High Court will as well be deciding the case filed against the Council by a Cross Section of freight Forwarders challenging an intended tenure elongation, today, being Thursday, the 11th of March, 2021. The outcome of the judgment is being awaited.