…Port Police Commissioner Urges CRFFN To Sensitize Freight Forwarders Before Collection
By DAPO OLAWUNI
The Commissioner of Police in charge of Western Ports, Mr John Ogbonaya Amadi has waded into the looming crisis between freight forwarders and the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) even as he advised the Council to ensure sensitization of freight forwarders before collecting the controvertial Practitioners Operating Fee (POF)
A mediation meeting held at the office of the Commissioner in Apapa yesterday had in attendance the Registrar of CRFFN accompanied by his management team, Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) Executives of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) among others.
The Commissioner noted that there is a huge communication gap between the CRFFN and the freight forwarders it was meant to regulate.
He however said that the police would not allow the POF collection to lead to a breakdown of law and order at the port, even as he advised the CRFFN to hold a meeting with the grassroot freight forwarders, especially those at chapter levels
“What I have seen here is communication gap, perhaps the CRFFN may have been interacting with your leaders at the top, but your leadership at the top have not been carrying you people along”
“This is one thing the CRFFN should be able to resolve, everybody should be able to be made to understand that this money is not an imposition on the freight forwarders, but that it has an approval from the Federal Government”
“If you as freight forwarders have issues you don’t understand or challenges, it should be ironed out at regular meetings.
If you also feel that the CRFFN is not doing the right thing, even after you have made your case known to them, you have the right to write to the Federal Government or the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA)
The freight forwarders at the meeting insisted that they cannot pay the controvertial POF at this time, even as they called on CRFFN for extention and more time to be able to disseminate information to their members.
On this, the police commissioner told CRFFN that “We need to approach the issue with an open mind.
The two parties have to hold a meeting where they can discuss these issues on time extention, you are supposed to work together, this is not a military regime where things are done by fiat, you need to carry people along and sensitize them, carry out an advocacy, even the last freight forwarder should be able to understand what this money is all about so that we dont have misunderstandings”
He urged both parties to take advantage of the meeting and make progress.
“If you could make the collection transparent and open, I dont see anything you are losing, the cost still goes back to the importer and the final consumer” he said
Tge commissioner however stated that his statements are advisory and not binding on the CRFFN. “The reason we are here is just to prevent crisis at the port” he said
Speaking at the meeting, Registrar of CRFFN, Barr Mike Nwakohu said freight forwarders do not have respect for the CRFFN, and that they pass all manners of insults at the Council.
He explained that the Council has held various trainings and engagements with freight forwarders, but that many of them are not even ready to listen to the Council on any issue.
“We have done a lot of training in relation to the resources available to us, we have done trainings at Port Harcourt, Lagos, Rockview Hotel, Airport Hotel, we have done other training online and we keep disseminating information”
“But, some of the freight forwarders choose not to know, they chose to insult the Council, they have no respect for the CRFFN, they believe that they have been practicing freight forwarding before the Council was established”
Barr Nwakohu however maintained that the POF collection would continue because it is an order from the Minister of Transportation, with approvals from the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the approval of Ministry of Finance.
“One promise I made to you all today is that the issues you have raised which I consider important would be addressed”
“I have no control over time, I am also under pressure to deliver on my mandate. If you have any difficulties at the port, there are hotlines you can call us on, these hotlines work, I can assure you the challenges would be solved”
“From registration on our website to subscription does not take one hour”
Some of the ANLCA executives at the meeting are; Alhaji Mojeed Akanni, Ojo Akintoye, Barr Michael Ovien, Alhaji Idowu Owoade, Nzeribe Ebere, Wale Cole, and a host of others.
In his summation, Alhaji Mojeed Akanni said the CRFFN should suspend the POF collection because it failed to carry the freight forwarders along before commencing collection.
Barr Michael Ovien argued that for ten months during Covid-19, the platform of CRFFN has been shutdown. He said that payments for registration and payments online are made but documents are not ratified by CRFFN.
He alleged that there are some few groups which CRFFN only gave access, and these are the ones making the POF payment onbehalf of other freight forwarders.
He alleged that the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) is paying POF on behalf of unsuspecting freight forwarders, and that the percentage of the POF which is supposed to be given back to the freight forwarder, would now be collected by NAGAFF at the end of the year.
“The communication between you and the freight forwarders is not there, the challenge we are having is that the last meeting held at Rockview Hotel in Apapa was the last meeting held with us. The CRFFN platform is there but we cannot access it”
“The CRFFN has selected some few groups that have really keyed in, they are the ones we are paying through now, they are not the real owners of the job you are doing, someone like NAGAFF with DTI Cafe registered with CRFFN are paying POF onbehalf of other freight forwarders, and at the end of the year, the money meant for the declarant goes to them” he said
On his part, Mr Ojo Akintoye argued that due to the Covid-19 and non-functionality of the CRFFN website, many of the freight forwarders have incurred arrears in their annual registration fees for corporate and individuals, and that this runs into N60,000 per person.
He lamented that right now, freight forwarders who have not paid these arrears cannot pay their N1,000 POF by themselves unless through a DTI cafe or other licenses registered with CRFFN.
He also argued that “This is a period when we renew our licenses with Nigeria Customs Service for N500,000, this is a period that children are resuming school, give us time to put our acts together to pay”
Representative of STOAN, Barr Boye Uzamot said the terminal operators received directives from Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Transportation as well as from NPA to commence collection of POF receipts before cargoes are released.
“I confirm that we have a memorandum of understanding dully executed. I also confirm that the collection has commenced at all the terminals except one or two”
“Also confirm that periodically, they have asked us to forward situation of things to NPA as far as POF collection is concerned” Uzamot stated.