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ANLCA crisis: Unending naked dance in the market place

Since 2018, at the beginning of the life of the current administration of the executives of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), the association has treated the industry stakeholders to the endless dance of shame in the market square.
Power mongers in the association have engaged themselves in awkward and bizarre macabre dance to the amusement of the members of the public, some of who have become disgusted and upset with the needless infighting
The association, reputed to be the first and oldest freight forwarding group in Nigeria, has for the past three years, embroiled in a crisis that could define its corporate existence

In March 2018, the association held its elections which ushered in a new National Executive Council led by Tony Iju Nwabunike who emerged as the President with a slim margin over his rival, Emenike Nwokeoji.

The following month, April, elections were also held into the Board of Trustees of the Association.

Alhaji Taiwo Mustapha was said to have defeated the incumbent, Chief Henry Njoku who was said to have been on the seat for over 10 years.

Chief Njoku was said to have rejected the outcome of the elections and refused to vacate the seat, allegedly emboldened by the tacit support of the President of the Association, Tony Nwabunike.

 Henry Njoku, despite all entreaties,  clung to power till last year when he relinquished the controversial position of BOT Chairmanship.
Since then and even after Njoku’s departure, the association has been on the boil as Alhaji Mustapha vowed to claim his mandate which the National Executive Council of the association said had expired with the exit of Njoku tenure.

In the intervening period, the association has witnessed interplay of intrigues, intense political horse-trading, brit-bats, accusations and counter-accusations, blame-trading, name -callings, and mud-slinging which culminated in polarisation and eventual splitting of the association.

The unfolding drama suggests that the crisis is far from being over.

The contending gladiators have inundated the courts with their schemes to undo one another.
This has resulted in series of court cases, some with frivolous injunctions, that have effectively stunted the growth and advancement of the flagship freight forwarding group.
The latest of such disturbing trends was the interplay of survival tactics of the contending factions.
Last week, the Mustapha faction leaked a time-barred injunction to the press, purportedly restraining members of the ANLCA NECOM from parading themselves in their respective offices.
The other party, the ANLCA NECOM,  reacted instantaneously by suspending the contending faction who got the controversial Court injunction, thus plugging the association into a deeper crisis.
We are saddened by the ongoing show of shame in the association that is supposed to be the flagship of freight forwarding associations in the country.

Our emotion was made poignant by the damage this intractable crisis has done to the integrity of the players in the freight forwarding profession.

ANLCA was established in 1954 and has come to define the freight forwarding practice in the country.

All other freight forwarding associations owe their existence to this great body.

As a result, ANLCA has become a reference point for professionalism, orderliness, organisational abilities, and internal democracy that it has earned as a result of long years of existence.

However, all these attributes may have gone up in smoke and filtered away on the altar of greed, ego and self-preservation.

Yes, we believe this avoidable crisis was sparked off by individual greed and personal aggrandizement, the inordinate attributes of those who are hell-bent on plunging ANLCA into an endless war of attrition.

We believe that a leader who is desirous of serving his people would not want to do so at the detriment of the corporate existence of the platform on which he wishes to serve.

Neither will he do so at the expense of the same people he wishes to serve.

The Eyewitness news views the raging crisis in ANLCA as needless and inordinate which has exposed the selfish intentions of the gladiators.

We are in no doubt that the founding fathers and other past leaders of ANLCA who had worked tirelessly to build this association into a great and virile body would wince at the level of corrosive effect the action of the present leadership has had on the association.

Our fear is further heightened by the fact that the gladiators are still at the throats of one another, as we write.

A factional group led by the Western Zonal Coordinator of the association, John Oforbike, and buoyed by Alhaji Mustapha whom it has loyalty for,  purportedly excised the Western Zone, comprising Apapa, Tin Can Island, Murtala Muhammed Airport, Seme, Idiroko,  Kirikiri Lighter Terminal and PTML chapters from the main association, while electing Emenike Nwokeoji as their President and vowing not to recognise Nwabunike as their President.

The Executive Council, in a counter move, suspended all the chapter chairmen, as well as few members of the National Executive members suspected to have sympathy for the break-away group and Oforbike, who is the rally point for the splinter group while replacing them with a caretaker committee.

The suspended members dared the National Executives, saying they remained immovable while warning the then caretaker committee members to steer clear.

Soon after, Tony Nwabunike prevailed on the NECOM to give the ‘rebel’ members an amnesty by re-absorbing them back into the association.
But this gesture did not placate the aggrieved members who are still at the loggerhead with the ANLCA NECOM.
The two factions recently held parallel elections into the chapters of the Western Zone, thus installing parallel executives in these chapters.

It was a battle of wit and a stand-off between the two groups which is threatening to further plunge the association into a deeper crisis if nothing is done.

The signs are ominous and it is only the quick intervention of the past leaders of the association that could stave off what could be a great conflagration that could consume the 67-year old freight forwarding group.

It is as a result of this we call on the well-meaning leaders of the association to intervene in this needless battle of supremacy before the legacy they bequeathed on the present crop of leaders and members goes up in flame.

We also want to appeal to the National President of the association, Nwabunike, to rise up to the occasion and take a decisive step to douse the tension.

It is said that when two elephants fight, the grass suffers.

Unfortunately, while these shenanigans are going on, members who are supposed to be served are now like sheep without a shepherd, left unattended to while the freight forwarding profession which the leadership is supposed to protect and edify is being desecrated by this avoidable and needless crisis.

We, therefore, appeal to the warring parties to sheathe their swords in the interest of peace and the well-being of members they were elected to serve and in the larger interest of the freight forwarding profession.

They should allow the collective interests of members to override their own personal interests.

That is the hallmark of responsible and responsive leadership.

Our appeal is predicated on our concerns that as long as this “mud-fight” continues, it will bring public odium to the oldest freight forwarding group in Nigeria.

The gladiators should therefore end this public show of their naked dance in the market square which is embarrassing to the well-meaning stakeholders, the founding fathers of the association, and stakeholders generally.

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  1. Chief Ernest Elochukwu

    August 1, 2021 at 6:04 am

    Your editorial on ANLCA crises contains some factual errors. First, saying that the Mustapha faction recently leaked a time-barred injunction to the press suggests that your tabloid is part of the crowd of laymen attempting to be emergency and halfbaked lawyers. What time barred the order? Secondly, at no time did any group in the Western Zone said that Emenike is their National President. They merely drew an analogy that if Nwabunike would not recognize Mustapha as the authentically elected Chairman of ANLCA BOT, they too would not recognize him as National President.

    Beyond the foregoing, I thank you for your concern for ANLCA and hope that those concerned would heed your voice of reason.

    • Funsenge

      August 1, 2021 at 1:02 pm

      I thank you Chief. I take both your harsh criticism and eulogy in good faith. However,it is unfortunate that the elders of the association, of whom you are one,are not helping matters. Rather than been stabilising factors who should work for the progress of the association, they are the ones who are unfortunately stoking the embers of discord.

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The Gradual Decapitation of Shippers’ Council under Jime.

Arguably, the Nigeria Shippers’ Council is gradually losing its bite.
The council, which was bequeathed to the present Executive Secretary of the agency,  Emmanuel Jime, by the vibrant and energetic Hassan Bello, its immediate past  CEO, is becoming a lame duck, a toothless bulldog that is gradually losing the sting, ferocity, and vibrancy it acquired under the immediate past helmsman.
Unfortunately, Jime, a politician, who took over the mantle of leadership when his predecessor honourably bowed out of service, is presiding over a whimper of a council, which is gradually becoming colourless in character and hollow in value.
The current face-off between the freight forwarders and the shipping companies has exposed the extent to which the council has lost respect, character and bite within the short period that Jime took over, and these are the vital attributes that the retired Bello has built into the agency.
Before Bello took over the council and shortly after it transmuted into the industry economic regulator, Shippers Council was greatly incapacitated with a voice not more than that of a whimpering child: muffled, shaky, devoid of life and confidence.
But immediately Bello, widely regarded as one of the best and finest technocrats to have passed through the industry, took over the whimpering child, he polished the colourless agency into a formidable, respectable and effective regulator whose words were order to which the powerful but arrogant shipping companies have come to defer and hold in reverence.
But after the exit of  Bello, the Shippers’Council she bequeathed is gradually losing its taste and value for which it was known.
The face-off between the shipping companies and customs brokers has brought this unfortunate reality to the fore.
In October this year, angry freight forwarders issued a two-week ultimatum to the predominantly foreign shipping companies in the country over their unbridled and mindless extortion perpetrated through numerous illegal charges.
They listed their grievances which they wanted to be addressed without which they will ground port operations.
Even though the contending matters are within the sphere of influence of the Shippers’Council, it was the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding Practices in Nigeria(CRFFN) that took the initiative to broker peace between the two feuding parties when it convened a peace meeting.
The Shippers Council, the economic regulator, was only coopted into the peace meeting when it became glaringly clear that it has lost the initiative to be proactive.
Notwithstanding the presence of the Council which is their regulator, the arrogant shipping companies snubbed the peace meeting when they refused to attend.
Undaunted though, the CRFFN, which has clearly seized the initiative from the laid-back and lacklustre Shippers’ Council, reconvened the peace meeting last week Friday with the Council tagging along with other agencies like a lame duck.
Once again, the shipping companies, even though reluctantly sent representatives, didn’t accord much respect to the conveners of the meeting.
With annoying arrogance, the service providers partially conceded to one out of the numerous demands of the aggrieved freight forwarders when they agreed to give them six days period of grace for demurrage instead of the 14 days grace the freight forwarders asked for.
Even, the six days grace period was not clearly defined but dumped on them with you- can- go- to- hell -if- you- don’t want- it – attitude.
Expectedly, neither the Shippers’Council nor the CRFFN could do anything as the meeting was deadlocked.
The outcome of this issue has clearly defined the present state of the Shippers’Council.
It has clearly exposed the council under the present leadership as one which lacks the capacity to protect the interests of shippers it was created for.
It has shown a council that has lost the initiative to act and one which is not proactive.
It has lost the verve, glamour and the springy movement it was known for under the past leadership.
The freight forwarders themselves have expressed their lack of confidence in the ability of the  Council to resolve the lingering issues and stave off the impending strike which the customs brokers have vowed to embark on at the expiration of the new ultimatum, given the deadlocked peace meeting.
Although the shipping companies are not better in character and temperament under the past leadership of the council, Bello was still able to rein them in with his high level of interaction, engagement, consultations and high wire diplomacy that made the  Council achieve a considerable level of compliance and cooperation among the service providers.
Though the battle was tough and long-drawn as the recalcitrant shipping companies resorted to litigation to entrench their operational impunity, they however found the sheer determination, resilience, passion and uncompromising attitude of Barrister Hassan Bello too strong to break.
Does the present ES possess such attributes that helped his predecessor to succeed?
Only time will tell.
But the signal of lethargy, despondency, and lack of direction exhibited by the council so far in handing its core mandate in the early days of the current leadership, gives no reason to cheer and the situation was compounded by the equally visionless public affairs department of the council which is headed by a person of similar professional incompetent genes.
It clearly shows that Jime has inherited an oversized shoe.
The highly exploitative shipping companies may want to take advantage of the lack of will of the present leadership of the council to renew their onslaught on the users of their services.
They may want to exploit lack of experience in the workings of the industry of the present helmsman at the Shippers’ Council to unleash operational terror on the weary freight forwarders.
The present face-off between them and the freight forwarders is a test case.
If the Shippers’Council and the CRFFN fail to broker a truce between the two warring parties and stave off the impending service disruption, then Jime would have failed his first assignment as the Chief Executive officer of an economic regulator which has failed to tame one of its constituents.
Then and unfortunately too, that will signal the beginning of the descent of the council into the pre-Bello era when the agency was a toothless bulldog, which could only bark but shy to bite.
The reason for the sudden dip in the fortune of the council may not be far-fetched if we look at the antecedents of all the agencies of government where top appointments were used as political patronage to rehabilitate politicians, especially those who suffered political setbacks.
Unlike his predecessor, Barrister Hassan Bello, who is an industry man that rose through the ranks in the Shippers Council,  Hon. Emmanuel Jime is a thoroughbred politician and former APC governorship candidate in Benue State whose passion for ruling the state may still have an overring place in his mind.
That has always been the fate of government parastatals which are headed by active politicians as all other assignments will take a back seat in the pursuit of their political goals and ambition.
The same scenario is playing out at the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) where an active politician heads the agency whose 2022 budget proposal was recently dismissed by members of the Senate committee who described the presentation of NIWA’s  Chief Executive as incoherent and inconsistent with the figures presented.
Contrast this with the cheering performance and runaway achievements being recorded at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) whose Chief Executive, just like Barrister Bello, is a  ”home boy”, a home-grown, thoroughbred professional.
Or better still juxtapose that with the impressive runs of the helmsman at MAN, Oron who is also not a politician but professional.
You can call them a tale of two cities. One headed by politician and the other by professional.
The success of the present ES in his onerous task of steering the ship of the Council will however depend on the willpower, cooperation and commitment of the Directors he inherited who were part of Bello’s roaring success.
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The Politics of CVFF disbursement.

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Politics of Hadiza’ s Removal as NPA MD

On May 6th, 2021, the tenure of Hadiza Bala Usman, the  Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), was abruptly disrupted by President Mohammadu Buhari.

In a terse Twitter message by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, President Buhari approved the recommendations of the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi, that the financial activities of the NPA from 2016 to 2020, which have been a subject of controversy, be investigated while Hadiza, should step aside.

Since that announcement, there has been a flurry of reactions that are heavily steeped in mere insinuations, speculations, conjectures, assumptions, truth, half-truth and outlandish claims from stakeholders, depending on their interests and emotions.

But one thing stands out from the whirlwind of emotions that greeted Hadiza’s travails, and that is, the accounts of the NPA were not tidy.

The public, ever since the announcement of the shakeup in the NPA, has been entertained with unsolicited official disclosure of secret memos which both the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi and the beleaguered Hadiza pushed to the public domain to justify their respective positions and possibly court positive emotions of the aghast public.

The official memos, which are marked “secret” in the civil service bureaucratic parlance, and which the two sides would have kept close to their chests, have become a common sight on social media.

But that was not the grouse of this platform nor the subject of its intervention on the matter.

We find the way and manner Hadiza’s suspension was couched and executed as curious, untidy and hasty which easily lends itself to wild speculations of a witch hunt.
Before we are accused of undue bias and sympathetic to Hadiza, let’s us state here that we are neither her friends nor foes.

After careful study of the whole drama, we discovered that there are more questions left unanswered.

Let us quickly state here that we are not absolving Hadiza of any complicity or making any attempt to portray her as a saint in this matter.

As a matter of fact, we wholeheartedly welcome the audit exercise of the NPA accounts and any other public accounts of government agencies, for that matter.

We also support the probe and sanction of any public holder who may have betrayed the public trust bequeathed to them.

However,  what this platform frowns at is if the suspension order was done with malice and intention to settle political scores.

If this is so, such exercise would have lost credibility and moral values, no matter its good intentions.

We are puzzled by the issues surrounding Hadiza’s sack.

From the analysis of the event, it was the audit report from the Budget office of the Federation (BOF)  that prompted Ameachi’s memo to the President for a full-scale investigation into the NPA’s finances.

We welcome this development as it tends to promote accountability.

But what we found discomforting is the prayer of the Minister, which the President curiously granted, that the Managing Director of NPA should step aside before the probe is conducted.

We are at a loss if such a probe could not have been done without the suspension of Hadiza.

To us, suspending Hadiza before the probe was prejudicial which would prejudice the outcome of the probe.

It also presupposes that the accused have already been found guilty before the actual probe begins.

Curiously, apart from the Chairman and the Secretary of the probe panel, other members are yet to be appointed before Hadiza’s sack.

Also, in as much as the buck stops on her table as the Managing Director, Hadiza alone does not constitute the management of NPA which accounts are under scrutiny.

Curiously, Mohammed Koko, the Executive Director, Finance and Administration, who is the  Chief accountant of the NPA and under whose purview these spurious transactions are supposed to be made, was not only spared the searchlight but asked to step in as an Acting Managing Director.

To us, this arrangement stands logic on its head.

As the Head of Finance in the NPA, one would have thought all these controversial expenditures over which dust is now being raised, should have passed through his table.

Unless, of course, if they have been done without his approval and protest of which the yet to be constituted panel has not heard.

We are not trying to shield Hadiza from being investigated not justifying any sleazy activities in NPA, but our stand is that such investigation should be carried out within the ambit of the law and in deference to the civil service extant laws which govern such procedures.

Accordingly, the accused should have been given a fair hearing before any action is taken.

If found guilty, then she could be removed and probably prosecuted to serve as a deterrent.

But now that she was first removed before the panel, which was supposed to investigate her was even constituted, is tantamount to having found her guilty before she is heard.

What happens if, after the investigation, Hadiza is found not guilty of this alleged monumental fraud?

Of course, there is no way we can search the anus of an old woman and not finding feces

Would she be recalled if not found guilty?

We doubt that possibility because there was no such precedence of a sacked CEO of a government parastatal who was recalled.

The only of such scenario was Habib Abdullahi whose recall as MD of NPA during Jonathan administration was terminated by Buhari who incidentally appointment Hadiza in his stead.

If that is the case, it would have amounted to a miscarriage of justice.

The frenzy of activities that eventually culminated into the suspension of Hadiza gives little room for thoroughness on the part of the Minister, a hasty action which could easily be constructed to mean that Hadiza may have been a victim of political vendetta.

The Minister, based on the audit report from the budget office of the Federation(BOF),  raised a memo to the President on March 4th, 2021.

He got the Presidential approval on March 17th, 2021.

Hadiza,  apparently having got wind of the memo and the  Presidential approval, put up her defence in a four-page memo to the President through his Chief of Staff on May 5th, 2021.

In the memo, which was personally signed by Hadiza, she tried to controvert the N165.3 billion which the Budget Office said was the shortfall in the amounts which the NPA was supposed to remit to the federation account between 2016 to 2020, on the basis which Minister got the presidential approval to suspend and probe Hadiza.

“We wish to state that the Authority’s basis for arriving at the Operating Surplus on which basis the amount due for remittance to the CFR is guided by the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 as amended and further based on the statutory mandate
Part 1, S.3(1) (b) &(d) whereby the Fiscal Responsibility Commission issued a
template for the computation of Operating Surplus for the purpose of  calculating the amount due for remittance to the CRF ( attached herewith as annex 2 is the template as conveyed to the Authority).

“Accordingly, the figures so provided by the Budget Office of the Federation as the Operating Surplus for the respective years on which basis they arrived at the  shortfall are derived from submission of budgetary provision, not the actual amounts derived following the statutory audit of the Authorities financial statements.”

The next day, on May 6th, 2021, Hadiza was suspended.

The whole drama smacks of high wire political deft moves by both sides.

From the two memos, we find out, and sadly too, that there was no love lost between Hadiza and Ameachi.

Ameachi, having secured the Presidential approval to hit Hadiza with a sledgehammer, probably held back possibly to strike at the least provocation.

Hadiza provided the opportunity when rather than addressing her defence of the allegations to the Minister as her immediate boss, chose to go straight to the President through his Chief of staff.

This, we believe, may have prompted Amaechi to activate the lethal weapon he has secured from the President.

Because the second day she addressed the memo to the President through his CSO and which we are not even sure had gotten to the CSO, she was suspended before the letter could get to Mr. President, thus effectively foreclosing any shift in the President’s approval.

This scenario, unfortunately, showed an arrogant act of insubordination on the part of Hadiza who side-tracked her boss and chose to go straight to the President, an action which we unequivocally condemn.

It has become a subject of gossip in the industry how Hadiza has routinely disregarded official protocols by going straight to Mr. President in matters she should have referred to the Minister, her immediate boss.

Her memo to the CSO of the President at least gives legitimacy to this ‘gossip’.

To us, it was this flagrant disrespect to the office of the Minister that Ameachi wanted to punish which led to this avoidable crisis.

To us, this has established that the roforofo fight at NPA was between Ameachi and Hadiza which we believe was personal and an attempt to settle political scores.

Being that as it may, we also find it strange and curious that Hadiza, whose tenure was renewed six clear months before it expires, could suddenly fall out of favour.

In an unprecedented move, Hadiza, appointed in July 2016, had her tenure renewed in January 2021, six whole months before she completes her first tenure, and was gifted with another five-year tenure, which would have made her the longest-serving Managing Director in the history of the NPA, if she has been allowed to go the whole hog of her tenure.

Was the presidency not aware of the Budget office report before Hadiza was gifted another five-year tenure?

We however believe that the true complexion of the drama at NPA will emerge in the days, weeks, or months ahead as the macabre events unfold.

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