By Ambrose Okehi
It all started I8 years ago precisely November 1999, when a revolutionalist, a core democrat,a builder of people and an advocate of change came into the scene with an idea to bring changes in the way things are being done in the freight forwarding subsector of the Nigerian economy.
That was a period when those into this freight forwarding operations were regarded as mere clearing and forwarding agents, backward and forwarding and all kinds of names. It was a time when freight forwarding practitioners were known and addressed as ordinary touts and uneducated fellows. Also those were the years when agents, as some of them who were into Customs processing and documentations were seen, as those who know nothing about Customs classifications and documentation and the processing procedures but were concluded to be only good at bribing their ways through in order to ensure that their consignments get out of Customs ports.
Those into freight forwarding then were as well seen as dropouts and good-for-nothing and has no say or contribution to the nation’s economy.
Then came a voice from the wilderness.
But that lone voice from the wilderness came calling, educate yourselves! Educate yourselves!! Educate yourselves!!!
That was the voice of a retired and a former Customs officer, Dr.Aniebonam, who used to be an officer of the old Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) but was earlier acknowledged that ANLCA is not the right place to be for a persons like him.
That was because Dr. Aniebonam has seen from afar what many experts in the industry could not see then, even some of the myopic elements have up till this time refused to see and acknowledge.
What did Aniebonam see? He saw and still seeing an association that has come to bring about professionalism into the freight forwarding practice in Nigeria, a system that will see the freight forwarding operators measuring with their counterparts in other professional bodies like the Nigerian Bar Association, Nigerian Union of Journalists etc.
This idea of ”ANLCA is not the best place to be” as its mission, vision and programmes were in contrast with what this liberator has in mind.
So, this single reason led Dr. Boniface Aniebolam to leave his vibrant position in ANLCA then to form what is known today as NAGAFF, the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, an association he and his numerous members have nurtured from the day one to the limelight.
Today NAGAFF is not only in the same rating with ANLCA but seriously aiming at edging the old aged association.
Today also the long struggle for sharing formula between the two notable groups in the industry has been resolved, particularly at the last council election where the six ratio sharing formula was held. Though NAGAFF was leading as per the registration of eligible membership for election into council board as that helped to resolve that naturally.
Immediately, after dumping ANLCA in November I999 to form his own association that is today making waves and has come to dominate the entire magot of the freight forwarding subsector of Nigerian economy.
This man, Dr.Aniebonam,Ozo Ebubechukwu, the liberator of freight forwarders, a social crusader, a real democrat,an advocate of change, a man so dedicated to the course of seeing to the wellbeing of people around him. A man well vast in his area of calling.
Though he has concluded arrangement to exit from active association activities as well as active politics has been working towards seeing who takes over from him and person who will keep the light burning.
”I have already told you that I am exiting from full active practice and NAGAFF activities by the end of this year. Either as a politician or as an association. I want to go and prepare for my old age. So all I did was because of all of you (the freight forwarders). The only way to pay me back is by the time I will exit from active practice finally by next year, if I am alive by the grace of God. Therefore, I want to see my back better than my front. That is what you owe me. If you listened to the NAGAFF president, Chief Uche Increase, you will see that he made a passive statement that ten years ago, as the first president and founder of NAGAFF I exited and gave way for people like late Inua Mohammed. That is what you are owing me.Then, why are you owing me?
Dr. Aniebonam who just celebrated his birthday last Tuesday, September I8, 20I8 amidst glamour and you can bear with me that I have not trained.
On what Aniebonam is expecting from the young freight forwarders whom he is leaving the struggle to, the great maritime icon said: ”You can bear with me that have not trained someone who would wear this big shoe. I felt unfulfilled. That is to say I still have a job to do before I make a U-turn. What is the U-turn is all about the Council for the Registration of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN). The Council is the most important instrument you people have as freight forwarders.”
Still commenting on the instruments available to them and how they will benefit the practitioners, the founder said that : ”Today, there are two legislative instruments governing the clearance of cargoes in and out of the Customs ports. We have the Customs Excise and Management Act (CEMA) and the CRFFN Act No. I6 of 2007).”
Commenting on the importance of the law to the freight forwarders, Aniebonam who is already preparing for his retirement from active practice said that : ”We have a sister association who claims to have been in business since I954. And with due respect ANLCA brought us where we are today; that seems we have been where we supposed to be. You see, without any act of respect for the freight forwarders and when you look at the impact we are making in the economy. So, everyone of you must take responsibility. The CRFFN law provides for all of you the opportunity of becoming great in Customs ports. If you don’t got hold of CRFFN, I don’t think you have added any value to what we are doing.”
The founder also thanked all the members of NAGAFF for their roles during the just concluded CRFFN Board election particularly in seeing that NAGAFF took the leading roles. ”I want to thank all of you. Why I am thanking all of you is because of your involvement in the last council election. And for you to be a member of NAGAFF, you must be a member of CRFFN. You went out of your ways to pay all the money. Six members of NAGAFF were elected into the Council’s governing board. And also you made sacrifices. Because,what I told them was very simple. Now, you know I don’t have money, what are we going to do? And they told me ”Doctor, if it is about money, don’t border, stop crying.” I had a dedicated account, a dedicated account for that and I am the one who stopped them from paying into that account. As soon as the money became available, I moved. As at the time of the election was about to commence, and registration started,.NAGAFF was registering I,I00 and other associations in Nigeria registered 200 members. So,we have to take up this fight from there. And for long, you know, the problem between NAGAFF and ANLCA has been the sharing formula. Yes, the sharing formula and dichotomy between NAGAFF and ANLCA they claim they have been in business since I954 were resolved that day.