By DAPO OLAWUNI
With all the insecurity, banditry, kidnapping for ransome going on around Nigeria, it is shocking to know that last week, the Nigerian Military Police found the time to provide escort services to the National Executive Committee (NECOM) of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) led by Tony Iju Nwabunike on their visit to the Tin Can Island Customs command in Lagos.
The Military Police vehicle with registration number NA 5263, was stationed outside the customs command for the period the association politicians transacted their businesses.
The first question that comes to the mind of the ordinary port users when on seeing the military escort van and their merry go around officers would be, is the Nigerian Military this idle at a time like this?
Even the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali with his background as a former military high ranking officer and former militaryadministrator of Kaduna State, has never at any time deployed any form of intimidation by going about with military escorts around the port.
Our correspondent had reported last week Thursday that during the NECOM visit, there were sporadic shootings in the air by the military when they arrived at the Customs gate, a situation that sparked fear in the mind of port users, even though the report was quickly dispelled by the NECOM and their social media vultures who immediately pounced on our correspondent, calling him names.
The essence of the visit by the embattled national leadership of ANLCA was simply to introduce, and foist a factional executives into the Tin Can Island Chapter, but this was eventually botched as the Customs Area Controller, Compt Musa Baba Abdulahi, being a stickler for law and order, and of course due process, refused to be dragged into ANLCA’s dirty politics.
Rather, he asked the ANLCA leadership to go and resolve its internal crisis rather than parading some set of factional leaders.
While ANLCA has a history of its leaders paying visit to the Customs Area Controller for matters of mutual interest, this particular visit is believed to have been carried out in bad faith amid allegations that the visit was intended to achieve ulterior motives.
Informed sources explained that the visit was not only an attempt to intimidate members opposed to the leadership style of the embattled National Executive Council (NECOM) of ANLCA, but also intended to manipulate the area customs management into accepting the factional chapter leadership, despite the existence of a functional executive validly elected January 14, 2021, and inaugurated by the Registered Board of Trustees (BOT) of ANLCA, led by Alhaji Taiwo Mustapha.
When our reporter reached out to feel the industry pulse on the development, a number of stakeholders and members of ANLCA who prefer not to be identified, said it was wrong for the military to get involved in association’s politics, especially at a time the country is having serious security challenges, with soldiers and logistics in short supply.
Most of those who spoke on the development said the presence of the soldiers created panic and apprehension within the port business area.
Further findings also indicated that the soldiers were on ground until those they escorted to the customs area command for political activities returned after more than an hour, before driving away, still offering protection to members of the NECOM.
While it is unclear who authorized the deployment of the military for escort duty to the court suspended ANLCA national leadership, our correspondent gathered that investigations is currently ongoing to reveal the truth as some members of the association are believed to have taken up the matter.
Recall that Tony Iju was attacked on February 18th, 2021 at the PTML Chapter of the association where he attempted earlier to sell factional executives the NECOM created to the area customs management.
During the visit, he was allegedly attacked by aggrieved members who disposed him of his phones, cash and other valuables, and believed to have effectively frustrated the plot.
Probably to forestall such from repeating itself, the ANLCA President resolved into using the army this time around for protection despite the Nigerian Police and Western Ports Commissioner of Police interventions for an amicable resolution of the crisis.
Following the attack on the ANLCA President at PTML terminal, some members of the Registered Board of Trustees and Western Zone and PTML chapter executives were arrested and detained for several days by the Police Force Zonal Headquarters Lagos, on trumped up charges by NECOM. They were alleged to have masterminded the attack.
The PTML Chapter executives have however denied having anything to do with the attack, noting that members of the association who were unhappy about the ANLCA leadership incompetence and sufferings of members due to the leadership capacity displayed by the NECOM, led to the attack.
A concerned member of the association who spoke with our correspondent last week condemned the use of military tactics by the ANLCA President, saying that “If he is so popular and well accepted, why is he bringing military police to intimidate us at Tin Can Chapter?
“All past Presidents of ANLCA and other executives that have visited Tin Can Port, none of them have had course to parade with heavy security because there was peace and they are good leaders widely accepted, but in the case of Tony, this is an indication that he is not wanted by his people, he has been rejected” he said.
The focal point of all practicing agents at Tin Can Port is the National Complex around Tin Can 2nd gate, where 90% of licensed customs agents have their offices located including the secretariat of the Tin Can Island Chapter.
Surprisingly last week, the visiting NECOM, probably for lack of confidence, could not even step down from their vehicles to address their members who were anxiously waiting to see the President.
Instead, the NECOM proceeded into the Tin Can Port Terminals to address random clearing agents working inside the Ports and Cargo Terminal and TICT Terminals.
It is on record that the Chairman, BOT of ANLCA, Alhaji Taiwo Mustapha, on January 14, 2021 after the election of officers into chapters of the western zone including Tin Can Island, enjoined the newly elected chapter executives to rededicate themselves to the service of members of the association, to eschew bitterness and rancour, and to remain above board in both their professional and leadership duties.
Addressing the elected officers after receiving their Certificate of Returns, Mustapha admonished them to strive to lift up the image and voice of ANLCA once again in their respective chapters, and to continue to cultivate peace towards amicable resolution of the crisis that has bedeviled the association.
While Mojeed Akanni emerged Chairman during the Tin Can Chapter election and returned unopposed, Chief Mike Okolichi was elected the Vice Chairman, Barrister Michael Imonitie Ovien, Secretary, and Yetunde Akanbi , Financial Secretary.
Also elected was Olanrewaju Mayowa Taiwo as Assistant Secretary, Adebowale Bare, Treasurer and Idowu Owoade, as Public Relations Officer.
Observers are worried that despite attempts at pretenses by the present NECOM that ANLCA still command’s the amount of respect it enjoyed in the prior administration, the association have lost its voice and so much goodwill.
This is even as those who expressed concern note that without purposeful reconciliation between NECOM and the BOT, ANLCA will continue to lose relevance to other sister associations, some of which are already positioning themselves to take the lead, while secretly also working with some insiders to destroy ANLCA.
One can also trace the genesis of the crisis to greed and power mongering, aptly demonstrated by the two gladiators in the association’s board fight. The epic fight has since assumed one of ego where Chief Henry Njoku has done everything possible to ensure that Alhaji Taiwo Mustapha, who succeeded him is not allowed to function, while Mustapha and his team have resorted to legal means to remain in office. The soul of ANLCA has so far remained trapped in the ensuing BOT/NECOM war.
We understand that there was a gentleman agreement among the BOT as to the tenure of the leadership, but Chief Henry Njoku allegedly refused to honor the agreement immediately Taiwo Mustapha was elected in 2018.
Since then, the association has been thrown into crisis and myriads of court suits. The body language of the NECOM under Tony Iju shows that he is in support of Henry Njoku holding on to power, a situation that created disaffection between him and the Western Zone leaders.
Recall that there are two court injunctions that has been instituted against NECOM led by Tony Iju, one is from the Federal High Court in Ikoyi Lagos, under Justice Aikwa, directing that the NECOM should stop parading themselves in office as National Executives.
The second injunction recently emanated from Federal High Court in Kano Judicial Division, suspending the outcome of the AGM conducted in Owerri in 2020, and directing the NECOM to stop acknowledging the officials elected in that controvertial BOT election.
Whether the NECOM respected the injunctions, we cannot say. But our position is that, the resort to use of military in pursuing set association goals is not too good for ANLCA image.
Hiring the military to achieve political end does not portray NECOM in good light, and worst still, not only failed to achieve it’s purpose, but has further worsened the crisis, while portraying the Nigeria freight forwarding in bad light at the international community.