Chairman of the registered Board of Trustees (BOT) of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) Alhaji Taiwo Mustapha has said that the association is warming up for another election in February 2022 at the expiration of the tenure of the court-suspended National Executive Committee (NECOM) led by Tony Iju.
In this interview session with selected journalists in Lagos, Alhaji Mustapha also touched on moves being made to resolve the four-years old crisis within the association. Enjoy the excerpts as brought to you by DAPO OLAWUNI.
Is it true that the Tony Iju-led National Executive Committee has elongated its tenure in office to 5-years?
You can’t stand something on nothing. In the first-place, the amendment of the constitution of ANLCA was supposed to be done by a legally constituted National Executive Committee (NEC), So, when a President and the National Executives that were already suspended call for NEC to amend the constitution that is building illegally on top illegality. So, they don’t have the mandate and the legal backing to amend any constitution. So, the issue of amending their own tenure with additional one year in their favour is null and void and it cannot stand. Election was held in February and under the calculation, the NECOM tenure is expected to end by February 2022. That is our position.
So, should we expect another election to hold in ANLCA by February?
I don’t want them to preempt us so I am not going to say to the press what our plans are.
How far have you gone with the directive of the court that both sides should go and settle amicably out of court?
We were supposed to hold a meeting on that on 22nd December but we couldn’t do that because more than 50 percent of us were already out on our way out of Lagos for the Christmas holiday. Hopefully, in another one or two weeks, another meeting will be fixed, but for us, we are not in a hurry. We are waiting for their lawyer to fix the meeting.
Where l grew up in Yoruba land, an adage says when you have a bastard child within a family, the bastard will be itchy not to allow peaceful resolution where there is crisis. But when you have a child who is legally entitled within the family, he will always go for peaceful resolutions when there is a crisis especially when the person knows the importance of the legacies of his father or parents. We have been so disposed to a peaceful resolution because we don’t want to destroy the house that we have built. We don’t want to destroy a house we call our own. And it is a case of if you have a mad man inside a China shop, will you start fighting the mad man inside the shop when you know you have valuables at stake? All you have to do is to keep appealing, to gradually push the mad man out of the shop. When the madman is now out of the shop, you may wish to start flogging (him) or just let him go. So, what we are saying is, we have been so disposed and patient about this peaceful resolution to the crisis. The property at the National Secretariat is in our name, the original document of that property is with us. The registration of the association in corporate affairs is in our name. So, if anybody is going to call anyone in respect of the association, like if the government wants to reach out to ANLCA, they will simply go to Corporate Affairs.
And where l have my name to protect, l wouldn’t want anything bad about it to go to the public. For example, when the issue of the closure of the secretariat came up the other time, l knew how many calls l received from government quarters. The position was always, you’re the BoT Chairman, we have seen your name with the CAC, what is happening? So, at the end of the day, amicable settlement is still the option, and l can tell you that is part of why we are doing this.
Just recently, we held a meeting with the CG of Customs and the management. And the questions that came up was if actually the other party is not behaving like a kangaroo according to one of the officers, the relationship between Customs and the agents would have been better than what it is. So, we are looking at the crisis from different angles, that in as much as we are not in a hurry to push this settlement, because we have other plans, we believe it’s up to them. If they like, let them come up to say we should settle, if they like, let them continue the way they are going, but l know that however long it takes, at the end of the day, justice will be served. We have been on it for three years but I believe that very soon, we will get to the end and the whole issue will be resolved.
Your members in the Western Zone are angry with you for being too lenient with the Tony Iju’s group, and that you are scared because you operate in the eastern port
Let me correct that impression. A Yoruba adage says that an elder sitting down sees farther than a young man even when standing. I see beyond the crisis of today, l have gone into crisis resolution in the past, either at my individual level in terms of dealing with people, and even in my village. l have resolved a lot of crises, even the ones that are worse than this. If Tony Iju comes in here now, you will see us shaking hands with each other, smiling and laughing, that is to say that the crisis has not reached a level where it cannot be resolved. I still hold that on my left hand. Secondly, if for example you have your children in the car and somebody hits your car, the first impression your children would have is that you will come out and fight the man who has hit the car, right? But then, for any right-thinking father and or matured person, he wouldn’t do that. So we see all what they have done or said as their own level of immaturity, and their level of upbringing. For me personally, l have a name to protect in the industry, l have a name to protect back in my village, so when there is a crisis, l am always careful to know what should be the limits. I quite agree with our members that this thing has dragged on for too long and that they have suffered at the hands of these guys. But then, you allow certain things to get to a point where you have every reason to say ‘oh so far, l initiated this, you rejected it, at so, so point, l initiated this, you denounced it; so at the end of the day, you have reasons to say l have pursued peace but this people refused to accept peace.
Yoruba says when somebody sends rat to you and you are sending snake in return, should that have been the necessary step to have been taken? On the other hand, the adage says at the point somebody is sending a snake to you, don’t wait, send a missile to that person. So, on our side, we have waited, we have initiated several peace moves, and I quite agree with our members that we are getting to the point where we should not allow the crisis to go beyond this stage. And l can assure you that inasmuch as we want to keep our plans to ourselves; definitely they won’t go scot-free if they reject this last option of peace move to end the crisis.
What are the basic terms for settlement you would be requesting for?
The basic term for settlement, we all know it. They should respect the BOT election, which actually brought this crisis. Without that, it means there is no resolution. Once they recognize the BOT election, every other thing will follow. If you can still remember when we conducted the Tin Can Chapter election, part of what l said that day was that despite where we were, there is still room for resolution. We suggested then that ‘look, we still have so many vacancies in different chapters, that for peace to reign, Tony Iju or his NECOM should nominate some of our members into those vacant positions so that we can kick start the peace process properly and start having a normal relationship. But they refused, they went ahead to conduct their own elections, but after the so-called elections they conducted, what did they achieve with it? Which of them have been able to take over any chapter? They won’t be able to. The fragile peace they have been having at the Airport Chapter still boils down to the fact that we didn’t want to give them headache there, and that is why up till tomorrow, they still don’t have what is a normal executive in that chapter.
Your recent visit to the customs CG in Abuja has been described as illegal by the ANLCA Vice President, Kayode Farinto
If you are bathing in a river and a madman comes to carry your cloth, will you start running after the mad man to the village naked to say bring my cloth. Who will they call a mad man when you eventually get to the village? It is not everything we should react to. Farinto, as far as I am concerned, has some elements of immaturity. We know the kind of jobs people like Farinto are doing and because all those loopholes have been blocked that is why he is bitter with the current management of Customs. We know what pains him and why he doesn’t want anybody to relate with the Customs. In as much as we still accept the fact that there are issues in our operations that we need to iron out with Customs, but when you stand on this side and keep throwing stones and for years you are not getting results. For the past two years, that they keep criticising the customs management, what have they been able to get out of it? For me personally my job may not suffer because of my relationship with the top management but then there are some of our members who are actually suffering so I can’t seat on the fence and say it doesn’t concern me and don’t look for solutions to their problems and part of the solution to the problem is to take the issue up from the top because there is limit to what an Area Controller can do. So that is why we initiated it on our own. The fact remains that the Customs management knows that there is a crisis in the association and they know who is on the wrong and right side of the law. The suspended NECOM have made a series of moves to have meetings with some of them but they rebuked them. They made moves with the Corporate Affairs, they rebuked them because they know they don’t have what it takes legally to be there. So, for those of us who have the legal backing to call ourselves the BOT, then we shouldn’t allow our members to suffer. By February, their tenure will end, what will they point to that they have achieved for four years?
The National Assembly late last year held public hearing on amendment of Customs Act, what sections do you find troubling to your profession?
On the day of the public hearing, I told my people to step down because, if we had gone there, we would be making two different positions as Kayode Farinto and Tony Iju were already there. I and Chief Elochukwu were in Abuja, but if we had gone there, it would be making it open to the world that we have a divided house. It is unfortunate that they could not even represent us properly or articulate their thoughts, and I was ashamed that day, to see somebody standing in for ANLCA and giving such a presentation, no proper homework was done on the Act. We didn’t say we should go there and attack customs. When we saw what they have done, we have already taken it up at the Senate level, of course the Act would move from the House of Representative to the Senate. Basically, the section we have kicked against till today is slamming a 25% penalty on every debit note, it is like adding salt to injury. Before now, it has always been a N600 penalty on every debit note. In fairness, the N600 is already outdated, even my son can bring out N600. But what we are saying is that, even if you are removing the N600, we should be able to agree on a percentage, if they say 2.5% on every debit note raised, it is still understandable. Any greedy officer will now be eager to raise a debit note because they know that the 25% penalty would shoot it up. This is now inside the amended CEMA, and it was among the points we have raised.