Anybody who doesn’t recognise me as President is not a  chapter chairman in ANLCA – Nwabunike 

Tony Iju Nwabunike,  the National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) has displayed an uncommon resilience in the face of daunting challenges in navigating the ship of the association.

In this exclusive interview with FUNSO OLOJO, Nwabunike dismissed what he described as insinuations that there is crisis in the association, pointing out that his group is united and indivisible body where he is in charge. He spoke on other sundry issues.

Q. Give us your perspective on the current crisis in ANLCA.

A. As far as I am concerned, there is no crisis in ANLCA. My administration remains intact. My NECOM is intact.

Yes there is a leadership crisis on the board of ANLCA but that has never affected the smooth and robust day to day running of the association. This has never affected my objective and resolve to reposition the association and take it to an enviable position that will be a pride of all members.

Neither has the rumpus in the board of ANLCA derailed my vision of prosperity , professionalism and sustainable growth and development I have of the association.

In fact , it has emboldened my determination to succeed in my desire to take the association to the greater height that will defile and confound those who have written us off.

I have the support and cooperation of all the chapters in the Western zone who have given me the mandate to go ahead despite this avoidable distractions.

You will notice that all the chapters in the Zones were fully represented in today’s meeting (Tuesday 25th) which was very fruitful, engaging and conducted in an atmosphere of conviviality.

This is to debunk the rumour that there is a crack in association. We are one indivisible , strong family.

Let me say this. ANLCA is a microcosm of Nigeria with diverse groups, tribes and interests.

All these diverse tribes and interests are represented in the association which makes it broad in composition and outlook.

So ANLCA is not for only one tribe. Not for Igbos, Yorubas or Hausas, but it is national in outlook. Our diversity is our strength.

In such a diverse group, you can’t rule out a little misunderstanding which is what is happening in the ANLCA board and I hope the differences will be resolved soon.

They are our fathers and they should be able to sort themselves out amicably like elders they are.

Q. As the President, what would be your role in resolving the differences among the elders in the board who are fighting themselves over  positions.

A . I won’t blame my predecessor who actually conceded a whole lot of powers and recognition to the Board of Trustees.

Other sister associations like NAGAFF, Council of Managing Directors and ARREF , do have board of trustees but they are not visible. I am sure you don’t know the chairmen or members of these BOT of other associations like you know that of ANLCA.

BOTs, anywhere, are advisory in nature and character. They are not to be seen , they are supposed to offer advice to the NECOM which is at liberty to take or reject such advice.

What is happening in our BOT is not a welcome development. But I am working assiduously towards amicable settlement of the contending issues.

My first meeting with them to resolve this issue wasn’t too fruitful. But I am not relenting. I am still begging them to shield their swords and allow the association to move forward.

They are only eight members and it is baffling if eight elderly ones cannot sort out their differences but unfortunately allow it to spiral out of control.

However, I will not allow this messy situation at the Board to distract me . The mandate which all the chapters in today’s meeting (Tuesday, 25th July) gave me is to move forward despite the happenings in the BOT, and forward I shall move. Nothing, not even the unrest in the board will abort the dream I have of ANLCA.

Nonetheless, I will not relent in my resolve to end the problem on the board.

I will continue to appeal to their conscience that what is going on the board does not portray them in good light as elders because some of them had led this association before in  different capacity .

 

Q.  I could infer from your statement that the crisis  in the board was as a result of powers and recognition ceded to them by your predecessor.

But what does the constitution say about the powers and duties of BOT?

 

Q. (Hands over a copy of the constitution)

The constitution is explicit on the roles of each of the organs of the association such as BOT, NECOM and the NEC

Their functions and duties , as I said earlier , are purely advisory. The constitution does not even create the offices of the Chairman,  Secretary  and the rest.

So , it is disheartening to note that few people are fighting the association because of the differences among the elders in the BOT.

I want to reiterate my appeal to the warring elders and their supporters who are fighting the association to shield their swords and join hands to build this association into a virile and formidable entity that would be an enduring legacy to our children.History will not be kind to whoever is bent on destroying the legacies our fathers bequeathed on us since 1954, rather we should collectively pass on a better and strong association to the next generation.

 

Q. Would there be any previledges or spoils of office  these elders may be fighting themselves for. Because if their role is just advisory, there shouldn’t be this cut -throat fight among them

A.  That is the mirage of the office. Even me, I am at a loss as to the reason for this problem because there are no special previledges attached to that office.

Apart from the little sitting allowance, there is nothing special they enjoy.

They don’t have portfolio. They don’t have budget or allocation. Neither do they collect salaries.

Most of them are so well made that they don’t even need to use their position or office on the board to do their work. So, I can’t place a finger on any alluring reason for their differences.

 

Q. It is generally agreed that as the President, you have the capacity to resolve this crisis on the Board if you put your foot down. People alleged that probably because you take sides that is why you are hesitant to act decisively.

Can’t you wield the big stick?

A.  Wield the  big stick on my fathers? (laughs). Why should I take sides? I am the President of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents. I was elected in March 8th, 2018 and by the time I finish my tenure, I will leave and another person will take over.

So why should I take side on an issue involving my fathers, my friends.

Both Alhaji Taiwo Musthapha and Chief Henry Njoku are my close friends. So who do I take sides with? Why should I take sides?

Though people do think I am close to Henry Njoke, but my best friend on the Board is Alhaji Mustapha.

This wrist watch (thrusts his left hand forward to show a gold plated wrist watch), Alhaji Mustapha gave it to me. I go to his house and eat. Even till tomorrow, if I go to Port Harcourt  I go to his house. Likewise Henry’s house.

 

Q.  Then why should people say you take sides with Henry Njoku?

A. That is what I have been telling you.

For Henry to have stayed this long and people say they want a change. Yes, I support the change. But let me tell you what they are saying, that if Henry should leave, he leaves with his Secretary, Chief Taiye Oyeniyi.

What am saying is that when Henry and Taiye leave, the Board will elect new ones.

 

Q.  That is the condition for peace?

A.  I am not giving them condition. I am merely rehashing the position of the people.

Let me tell you this, all the various tribes in the association, Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa have all written on this crisis.

Let me shock you. The Hausas are even agitating for positions on the board. They are asking for prime positions.

If Igbo are saying Yoruba cannot take the Chairman and the Secretary while Yoruba are saying they will take Chairman and the Secretary.

The Hausa are also saying which positions are they giving them. For peace to reign, the chairman of the BOT is Yoruba, the Secretary, Ibo and Hausa is also given a position.

 

Q. What does the constitution say on this?

A. The constitution is silent on positions of Chairman or Secretary of the board.

Q. Why should these positions be created?

A. For their convenience, I guess.

 

Q. If you have your way, would you clip, so to speak, the wings of the BOT so it would not constitute itself as distraction in future as it is presently the case?

A. If I have my way and they will be sincere to themselves, they will remain as quiet as other BOT in other sister associations. They will confine themselves to the advisory role assigned to them by the constitution.

BOT are not supposed to be involved in day to day running  of the  association.

Do you know that Customs too have a board and it does not distract the Customs management .

 

Q.  We learnt that the whole Western Chapters said they didn’t recognize you as their president while the Eastern Zone Chapters were said to have threatened to pull out of ANLCA if Henry Njoku was forced to step down. What is your reaction.

A. I am not aware of the so -called threat by the Eastern Zone Chapter.
Let me tell you, 95 per cent of the Western Zone Chapter Executives are long overdue for elections. Their tenure has expired.

As far as I am concerned, anybody who says I am not the President is not a chapter Chairman. Simple.

 

Q. So all the Chapter chairmen are with you?

A. I don’t know.

 

Q. You are on the second year of your four-year tenure.
What are your plans to consolidate and even surpass the achievements of the last administration in ANLCA?

A.  That is what we are doing right now. I want to professionalise our members. We are going to pursue vigorously training and retraining of our members to enable them know their nomenclature and tariff.

This will made them to be abreast of the new trend in the trade that would stand them in good stead to compete favourably with their counterparts in the developed countries.

We have intention to set up Institute of Chartered Customs Brokers. We are going to sponsor a bill in the National Assembly  and we hope to pull it through in record time.
We want to Charter ourselves like other professionals such as Accountant, Engineers, Surveyors.

We want  an average customs broker to know his onion so he can command respect.
Also, we are in the process of automating our operations.
We also want to interface with other government agencies in the ports like Customs, SON, NAFDAC, NDLEA and the rest of them on training of our members.

 

Q.  Your members are faced with lots of operational challenges with some of these agencies at the ports like Customs, SON, Police. What are you going to do to liberate them from these agencies?

A.  It is simple. When we have a deep relationship with these agencies , it will become easier to sort out this challenges. It will be a one -stop shop kind of interaction that will bring mutual understanding among ourselves.

More importantly, we must play by the rules. We must be compliant with the guidelines on clearing procedures in order to stave off some of these challenges.

We also need to educate our clients, the importers, on the need to know the guidelines and procedures on importation, what to bring in and what not to import so there will not be tension created between the customs brokers and the Customs.

 

Q. What legacies do you want to leave at the end of your tenure?

A.I want to bequeath on the industry a disciplined, organised and professional customs brokers who can stand their  own in this profession and compete with their  counterparts in the advanced countries. A crop of professional Customs brokers who would be pride to the country and the profession.

 

Q. Do you have any regrets?

A.  Yes. My only regret is my not having a wonderful relationship with the BOT.
Not having a board that is not giving me the necessary support to solve  the myriad of problems confronting the association. But I hope in a very short while, all these things will come to an end.

 

Q.  What is the state of freight forwarding profession in the country?

A.  Foreigners have taken over our profession. They have taken over shipping, Customs brokerage, terminal operations. Where is our regulatory agencies which should checkmate the activities of these people?. Are these people engaged in capital flight?

What is the contributions of port concessionaires to the development of our port industry? Have they renewed  their contract  for those whose duration of concession has expired?

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