By DAPO OLAWUNI
Chief Emenike Nwokeoji is the Presidential hopeful in the forthcoming National Executive Committee (NECOM) elections of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA)
In this interview with selected journalists in Lagos at the weekend, he spoke on his campaign which hinges on Restoration of ANLCA, the oldest freight forwarding association in Africa, back to its right track.
He acknowledged that there has been a lot of degradation in the customs brokerage practice due to poor leadership in ANLCA for the past five years, and that members are now stagnant, facing a lot of operational challenges.
Emenike Nwokeoji in this interview however assured that his administration would bring back the good old days where ANLCA is recognized worldwide through frequent international travels, foreign training programs across the work among others.
QUESTION: What are the first things you would do if elected into office?
ANSWER: Everything hinges around Restoration, a lot has gone wrong, and for us to make progress, we need to restore peace in the association, this is the first thing we would start with, we need to meet all those that would help us to achieve this goal, we would bring them onboard and make use of their advice and encouragement.
As we are doing this, we shall also be building on the image of the association, we need to reach out to all the agencies of government that we do business with, we need to assure them that we are coming with a new vision and mission, and that mission is for mutual respect for everybody, to enable them see us as partners, we are going to do a lot of engagements to restore the confidence of all these people and this would help us to appreciate each other and for them to buy into our vision, we are not out to attack them, they should see us as a people ready to work together to achieve the same goal of Ease of Doing Business in the port.
QUESTION: How is your popularity in the East, and how sure are you of their votes, knowing fully well that Henry Njoku, also in the East is supporting your opponent?
ANSWER: In the Eastern Port, I have been Secretary of ANLCA chapter, I have been a two term Chairman of Onne Chapter, I have been Zonal Secretary, I have been Zonal Coordinator in the East, if anybody tells you that I am not popular, the person is entitled to his own opinion. Most of the people in the West here talking negative about me is because of my uprightness, I am a minister of the Gospel, there is no way I would see White and tell you it is Black, that is why, anytime I meet ASECO people here, I told them, if I come to you to ask for anything outside the books, don’t listen to me, what I always appeal to them is that, if you know what is right, do it for both of us, allow me to test my popularity and I will accept it.
Henry Njoku that you mentioned is not on the ballot, he is one of the leaders, I have worked with Njoku, when I was a Chairman, we were together, when I was Zonal Secretary, he was the Chairman. It is unfortunate that all of us cannot behave the same way, when you some individuals clinging to certain individuals, it is because of what they stand to benefit, even when they are not qualified for the position. In the East, I am on ground, that is what I can assure you, if you want to conduct this election tomorrow in the East, i would be comfortable, I would just stay as you saw me seat in Enugu and watch things play out.
QUESTION: Do you have confidence in this present ASECO to conduct this election? Considering them being teliguided by external forces.
ANSWER: A lot of things are wrong I won’t deceive you, yes there was peace move initiated by CRFFN, but the day the peace move was consummated, it was only one group that was there, this is not fair. Secondly, the expired NECOM remained in office, directing affairs of an election in which most of them are contestants, this is not proper. They are having a whole lot of influence on the ASECO and the process, that was why, when the former ASECO Chairman, Aloy Anokuru died, may his soul rest in peace, ordinarily, a member of the already known ASECO should have assumed the position of the Chairman, not to go and bring somebody who would now start learning from the members.
Already, we were already into the process before Anokuru died, you are now bringing somebody fresh to the whole process, and the person you have brought, we know where that person they brought is coming from, we know who engineered his coming onboard, these are abnormal things.
However, I don’t give a damn about all that, because this project of Restoration is divine, and I can tell you that whoever wants to test God, I wish him well.
QUESTION: There are conditions agreeable to contestants before election, whether is by Collegiate or by AGM, if either of both do not have the requirements, would this be acceptable to your team?
ANSWER: Definitely it would not because our constitution is very clear, unless we have now decided to use external people to conduct our election, but if they are to be conducted by ANLCA members, the constitution is very clear, for you to be a member of the association, you must be a director of a valid customs license. It is not a permanent appointment, any day your license expires and you fail to renew it for a certain period of time, automatically if the constitution is followed, you have lost your membership, until a time when you are now renewed. So, I don’t even see or know how an ASECO person for instance, who does not have a valid license, now coming to supervise and flipping through the license of other people. For instance, for you to be a president of ANLCA, your license must have been in operations consistently for ten years, which means you must have been renewing your license regularly. Now if somebody whoose license is seven years, does not qualify to contest the election, how can somebody without license now supervise the election? It doesn’t make sense.
QUESTION: Are you comfortable with this election being done by AGM? Despite your constitution says it should be by collegiate, would you be willing to sign a contract to accept the outcome of the election like somebody suggested during your campaign visits?
ANSWER: Gen Abdusalam Mohammed and Bishop Kuka have been calling Presidential candidates and they have been signing documents, but are we not in court now? There is no such document, let us not deceive ourselves and Nigerians, it is not done anywhere in a sane society. It means that if I present myself for an election, you can go and bring Army and Police, then they would hold me down with a gun and throw away votes form my people, restrict them from voting, while the other candidates is allowed to vote. After the whole thing the Army can now allow me to go, then I would remember a document that I signed and go home to thank God for my life? There is way this can happen, it is a total infringement on somebody’s rights, you cannot slam a child and say that he should not cry.
On whether the election would be done by AGM or collegiate, the document they gave to us when we purchased the nomination form does not specifically mention which one, we saw them registering licenses and we also did the same. This means that you are ready to play along whichever way they want to follow.
From the time Elochukwu contested against Ebojie, Prince Olayiwola Shittu contested against Flemming Momodu and I contested against Tony Iju, these elections were all done by collegiate. What makes ANLCA is the constitution and you must respect it. You cannot just get up because you have been appointed and make a new rule.
QUESTION: In terms of operational challenges, what is the level of degradation the profession has gotten to, and what would you be doing differently when you come onboard?
ANSWER: I am a member of one of the subcommittees set up by Shippers Council, in that committee, we were sent to Ghana to find out why things are working over there but they are not working here, out finding is something that grieves the heart. Among our reports which Shippers Council has started implementing is about container deposit refund, very soon the Council may come up with a solution to that. After payment of container deposit, the shipping companies refused to pay refunds even after their containers have been returned. The Shippers Council are coming up with an insurance cover, instead of taking people’s cash. These are first of the things we are going to tackle. The highest is three days, the deposit must be refunded immediately the container is returned.
We would look at each chapter in partnership with the Executives to look at their peculiar challenges and get them resolved. Moreover, you know our major partners are the Nigeria Customs Service, we would work with them to see how we can have seamless operations.
QUESTION: Tell us a little about yourself, your background and how do you relax?
ANSWER: How do I relax? I am a golfer and I relax playing Golf, after walking round that green fields, by the time I get home, I feel relaxed. I used to be a tennis player, but as one ages, I dropped it. I am a member of Rotary Club, and I am a field rep in the Gospel. I am an adult of over sixty years, married to a female wife with four children, I am a grandfather, I have done this job for all my adult life, so the profession is what made me who I am today. I am into other small businesses that helps to get people employed, I own a small hotel, I own a transport business, I have a bonded warehouse that we are still trying to put together, we have gotten the provisional license. Within this job, I have trained people, they have passed through me, I did not employ them, I train them to get to where they are today, and I am proud of them, they are now employers of labour and two of them are contesting for this NECOM elections.
I have served in so many Committees, one of them is the committee on Ease of Doing Business, I worked with the Chairman being the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, and the Co-chairman being the customs CG, we were given the first Executive Order 1.
QUESTION: When you served under Prince Olayiwola Shittu, we saw ANLCA travelling around the world for various training programs, are you promising to bring back this era?
ANSWER: If I have a letterhead here now, the first letter I will do is to revive all that. When ANLCA scheduled a meeting for a training in London, for consultant to come and train us, the bill they gave us was so high, so we looked at that it might not be so easy for all our members to get British visa, so we all agreed to get the training done in Dubai with all arrangement packaged by the consultant. The training was very good, such that participants were asking for more.
We have done that on IFCBA also, we have gone to Greece, China, United States and so on. It was the first time that many clearing agents were traveling outside this country or getting international passport.
But you can imagine what is happening now, emails from those international organizations keeps coming, but because we are no longer there in office, we cannot answer.
We were almost getting Chairmanship of one of these organisation, they are now missing us a whole lot, I would be happy to return these good old days, the exposure which we enjoyed, other members must also enjoy it.