On March 4th,2020, the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria(CRFFN) was rudely shocked when angry freight forwarders spurned the collection of the controversial Practitioners Operating Fee (POF).
The collection of the fee, which was in the mould of the Internally Generated Revenue(IGR) of the Council, was to commence on that day but met a brick wall as freight forwarders, who were to pay N1000 on a 20-footer container and N2000 on a 40-footer container, stood their ground against what they regarded as another regime of charges.
The POF has been a controversial issue as far back as 2015 when it was first mooted.
The affiliated associations of freight forwarders had engaged the CRFFN over the matter as a result of disagreement on how best to share the proceeds.
This has stalled the collection since then.
Sir Mike Jukwe, the pioneer Registrar of the Council, pushed hard for the collection of the fee during the interregnum which followed between 2012 after the expiration of the tenure of the second governing council and 2018 when the third and the incumbent Council came on board.
But he did not succeed in his move until he bowed out for the incumbent Registrar, Mr. Sam Nwakohu to succeed him.
The present CRFFN through the Registrar has made an elaborate plan to get the POF on board.
It was able to secure the necessary government approvals to give legal backing to the project.
The council, in a deft move, was also able to make all the five affiliated freight forwarders associations, which hitherto kicked against the POF, to buy into the project.
What the council and its sponsors, however, failed to reckon with was the capacity and resilience of the traumatized freight forwarders to rise against the project.
Despite the supposed enlightenment campaigns mounted by the council, the supposed government support and the inexplicable and sudden endorsement by the leadership of the freight forwarders associations, the CRFFN got the full dose of anger of the hapless freight forwarders who are already reeling under the burden of multiple charges and challenges at the ports.
We are least surprised at the reception given the project by the freight forwarders.
We are convinced that POF is dead on arrival. Despite its noble objectives, its collection is ill-timed.
Presently, freight forwarders in Nigeria are faced with innumerable operational challenges which have made the operating environment very unfriendly and suffocating.
They are battling with over 30 different types of charges from Nigeria Customs, Nigerian Ports Authority, NIMASA, and the duplicating charges of government agencies.
Nigeria Shippers’ Council , which ironically is supposed to regulate these charges, is also bracing up to introduce Cargo Tracking Note (CTN).
The freight forwarders are equally not spared the exploitative charges of the shipping companies and terminal operators.
To introduce yet another regime of charges at this period , no matter how good-intentioned it may be, was to say the least, not only insensitive but shows the initiators are not in tune with the reality on ground.
Since the incumbent governing council of CRFFN came on board in November 2018, it has not done much to earn the trust and confidence of the freight forwarders.
It hasn’t done much to resolve some of the operational challenges facing the teeming freight forwarders.
We consider it preposterous that the only project which the council has assiduously engaged itself with since 2018 is to impose additional burden on its hapless constituents.
If the council had expended half of the zeal and resources it committed into POF to tackling some of the challenges of the freight forwarders, the payment of POF would have been voluntary as it would have enjoyed wide acceptability.
But rather, the council resorted to arm-twisting and threats, saying no cargo would be allowed to leave the port without the payment of POF.
The Registrar, Mr Nwakohu, has gone about the whole exercise with exaggerated sense of contentment as he dished out directives to even the terminal operators who they did not factor into their sharing formula.
Little wonder they dumped the plan to use their facilities to collect the disputed charges.
We noticed with muffled indignation that since the Registrar was appointed, the only project which occupied his attention and interest is the POF.
Little is heard of the efforts being made to resolve some of the operational challenges of freight forwarders.
We are equally taken aback by the sudden endorsement of the five associations of freight forwarding groups.
These were the associations that few years ago stoutly resisted the POF and were at each others throat over the sharing formula.
Now they not only embraced it but also resorted to threatening any of their members who may not accept the payment with sanction. We are not however surprised at their sudden love for POF, given the juicy offer made by the council.
It is estimated that about N5billion will be generated as proceeds from the POF annually.
Out of this, 35 per cent of the money goes to the associations, while the Federal government gets 25 percent and the CRFFN gets 20 per cent while the consultants of the project, SW Global, receives the remaining 20 present.
The carrot is attractive enough to make the associations’ leaders concede to a plan to add to the burden of their members.
In the same breath, the relevant government agencies will need little persuasion to endorse the plan with their own share of the bounties.
But all the parties to this project have conveniently forgotten that no amount of intimidation nor threats can bend the will of the people.
Our position should not be misconstrued.
We are not against POF. As a matter of fact, it is necessary that the council looks inwards to generate funds to drive its activities as the government subvention which was put at N2.7 million monthly, is hardly enough for the overhead costs.
Our position is that POF collection is ill-timed.
Its collection during the trying times of freight Forwarders is antithetical to what the CRFFN stands for, that is to regulate the operations of freight practitioners and work to further their cause as well as welfare.
The present governing council should use the remaining period of its two-year tenure to engage in resolving the operational challenges of the freight forwarders.
In about eight months from now, the tenure of Alhaji Tsanni Abubakar-led council will come to an end.
We think that rather than add more to the pains of the freight forwarders in terms of additional charges, the council should bequeath a legacy that will leave a lasting memory of comfort and nostalgia with its constituents.
We advise that the council should not test the will of the people as they are ready to resist any imposition of additional charges.
Already, Chief Ernest Elochukwu, a former president of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents(ANLCA) and who is also a BOT member of the association, has threatened to mobilize other aggrieved freight forwarders to resist the collection of the POF, using any means, including legal remedy.
The council should therefore make a tactical retreat in a bid to stave off any face-off that could result in the disruption of port activities.
The council should regard the people’s rejection of the POF as an eloquent testimony of the lack of popularity of the project among the freight forwarders.
Any further attempt by the council to force the project down the throats of freight forwarders would lower its rating among them.
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