By DAPO OLAWUNI
Immediate past chairman Governing Board of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) Aare Hakeem Olanrewaju in this interview with DAILY TREND NEWS correspondent said the current Council members have failed to build on the legacies and regulations that were put in place by his administration, especially on training of freight forwarders.
Olanrewaju said the controvertial Practitioners Operations Fee (POF) collection is needed for organising training courses for freight forwarders, he however said it is the practitioners that would pay the money and not to be collected on every container leaving the port.
You recently criticised the 2021 budget of CRFFN, and said government is corrupting the council, please throw more light
As pioneers of the Governing Board of CRFFN, when we got into office, we were contributing money among ourselves and tasking ourselves, there was no money or vehicles, but I give kudos to the governing council members, including the government appointees among us, we had a vision, my primary aim was to build and professionalise freight forwarding business such that our children unborn would be proud to come into the business, today, if you ask the students what they want to become, they would tell you they want to be an engineer, an accountant, a lawyer and so on, none of them will tell you they want to become a freight forwarder, and even anyone of my children today asks me, what courses do they need to study in school as a freight forwarder, what do I tell them?
Apart from abroad, there is no university in Nigeria that is offering freight forwarding as a course, even myself, I wanted to have more knowledge on the job and obtain a certificate, what most of us are having is “on-the-job” knowledge without any certificate to attach to it.
I am a member of FIATA (Federation of International Freight Forwarding Association) I was already 11years old in FIATA as an individual member, even before the time the CRFFN was established. Anytime we go over there, we hear about the Train-the-Trainer lectures, I wanted to participate in the training abroad but they said No, it is the association of your own country that can carry out the Train-the-Trainer, but as at then, Nigeria has no association in the CRFFN, we were only individual members. Anytime FIATA is having their congress, we usually have the largest participants from Nigeria than any other country.
Subsequently, I started championing the formation of a FIATA association in Nigeria, when we as individual members in Nigeria had our first meeting, we were planning to register the body, but then, we discovered that the federal government has passed the CRFFN Act and the Nigerian Shippers Council was to midwife it, we decided to abandon the idea of forming an association and rather key into the CRFFN. Subsequently, we mobilized ourselves and went for the first elections then, and fortunately, two among us won the elections, myself and Otunba Moshood Tijani.
We did not just found ourselves in the Council, we have been discussing, and I know what I want to achieve in the Council, I wanted to give back to the society, and that was, to professionalise the freight forwarding business and be of international standard.
The first budget we got when we wanted to start renting offices and all that, was N250million, we started taxing ourselves and we moved forward, we raised a management team and employed a Registrar, we were able to register more than 10,000 freight forwarders, we conducted the Train-the-Trainer classes, we registered CRFFN with FIATA among others.
Today, what i am seeing in the Council is disheartening, the budget the CRFFN is getting from the government now is more than the entire FIATA budget, meanwhile, in training freight forwarders, they would be required to pay, when you look at citing of the CRFFN headquarters, it is in Abuja on the way to the Airport, what is a freight forwarder going to Abuja to do?
We have sacrificed a lot for the profession, we are all about professionalism, and this was how we looked at the six geopolitical zones, in each university, we trained lecturers on Train-the-Trainer programme.
From each association, we trained two members on the programme, after which we extended it to shipping companies, customs and so on, these are the people that would train others.
We are supposed to be at the forefront in Africa, but right now we are lagging behind, if you look at other countries achieving so much, it is not their governments that is funding them, they have even gone ahead to establish schools of freight forwarding, all these are money collected from the members.
This is why I said that the government is using bogus budget allocations to corrupt the CRFFN.
Would you say that government should stop funding the Council?
I did not say that government should stop funding the council, but when the government is funding the Council, they should ensure accountability of the money they were giving to the council, and not just repetition of same budget, they should stop building edifices for us that we do not need, what we need is training, thee are people that are accredited to train, freight forwarding is an international business, there are lots of employment opportunities wasting away in the freight forwarding sector, but we are not accessing it, there are lots of ongoing project under President Muhammadu Buhari, for example, in the railway project, how many freight forwarders are involved? The Chinese have taken over the total packaging of the job, and you cannot blame them, it is because most Nigerian freight forwarders are not trained, freight forwarders are not involved in many of the project in Nigeria, it is the foreigners that are benefitting, if you look at the contract package, they have included the freight, transportation and warehousing and so on, all these are supposed to be separated and paid locally, the Chinese would repatriate these monies back to their countries, and they would now give peanuts to Nigerians to clear the cargo for them at the port.
Any contract issued in Nigeria, whether as federal government or state government, it has 40% freight component, but freight forwarders are not allowed to access this moneys, you begin to ask yourself, what is the interplay between the Cabotage Law and the Nigerian Local Content Development Board.
Our local content law in Nigeria is off.
Why do you think the CRFFN is still backwards after so many years?
It is all about intention, those that are in the Council today do not get their intentions right, we have set up certain standards by which anybody going into the Council must attain, apart from the CRFFN Act, we have put certain regulations in place, anybody coming after us is to continue from where we stopped.
The enforcement unit of the Council is supposed to be working and checking if new entrants into the job are qualified to even be at the port, there must be specification and specialisation in the CRFFN.
What is your advise to the present CRFFN Board?
I am not happy with what is going on in the CRFFN today, if you look at the manner the first elections into the council was conducted, you would agree that what happened with the present council members is not an election but a “selection”, and anywhere you carry out selection instead of election, it means the participants are representing a flag, even though they are in the Council, they are representing the interest of their master, this is why we cannot move forward.
As a leader, you need to ask God for wisdom, I realised that anywhere there is money, there would always be trouble, so when we were talking about POF collection, I always step it down at the meetings as Chairman, and even when I was Vice Chairman then, I always advise my pioneer Chairman to step it down, we should first let the people know the reason why they want to pay the money, we must give them value, and let them know why we are here as governing board members, when this is done, and you ask them to go and pay POF, they will not say No, because it is something that would benefit them.
Fortunately, I have ensured that we done all we needed to do about the regulations in the Council, the last issue that came onboard when I was about leaving office was the POF. Training is very important in any organisation, we made a regulation back then that Customs should not license anybody who have not been trained by CRFFN. If you join the Nigeria Customs Service today, no matter your qualification, you still have to attend their customs training college. The training aspect is where I was expecting the present council to take off from, but since they took over, we did not see them doing anything, no Annual Freight Forwarders Summit, No training, No sensitization, all what they have been interested in is collecting POF and registration fees.
The POF has been a contentious issue, is it freight forwarders that would pay this money or the containers?
We were like nursery school children when we got into the Council, but in the Act, it was mentioned that we can collect subscriptions, how we want to collect it is left for us to define, when you want to join the Council you obtain membership form, as a member you pay certain fees. The budget we got from the government at that time was just a start-up fund to sustain the council until it is self sufficient, it is not to start building edifices around, the money the council needed is for capacity building, to train in line with FIATA standards entails a lot of money, you have you fly-in the resource persons to conduct the training.
In clear terms, it is the freight forwarder that should pay the POF and not containers. Before we had CRFFN, various associations were at the port collecting money from their members, they use the money to run their secretariat.
I am not against collection of POF, my position is that there must be accountability, we need the money in order to conduct training programmes, conferences and equip our library, and to equip a library costs money.
The tenure of the current CRFFN board members have elapsed and yet they are not leaving, going forward, what do expect?
If a student has done well in class, there is no need to repeat the class, I have been there as the Chairman of CRFFN, when my tenure elapsed, they were calling me to do extension of my tenure but I said No, let other people come into the council and add impetus.
I want to see a situation whereby Nigerian freight forwarders would be of international best practices in terms of training. Also, we have been crying of lack of jobs, but yet the jobs are there, the question is how do we access the jobs? How many freight forwarders can quote for a project? Some cannot read a bill of lading. I want to see CRFFN taking the bull by the horn, there should be attitudinal change and let us face what the Act is meant for.
Recently, the World Customs Organization gave your company, Talod Ocean Airfreight a merit award, what impact would this have on your operations?
When we established Talod in 1990, though I have been operating before then, we were always educating even the importers, and anything that we know that would tarnish our image, we dont do it. We have suffered a lot, there are lots of jobs that will fetch you millions but at the end of the day you will face the storm.
There was a big challenge too when I became the Chairman of CRFFN, my integrity profile had to increase, I had to be a good example for the people I am leading.
I thank God today that, all the sacrifices I was making then, somebody was watching, with the team of Customs officers we have in the country today, nobody can say that maybe I have gone to bribe the customs CG to get the award, it was based on merit.
This is what I preach to upcoming freight forwarders and even the ones that we are contemporaries, you don’t know who is watching you, so integrity matters a lot.