The war on the collection of Practitioners Operating Fees (POF) among the various interests in Nigeria’s customs clearing and freight forwarding industry has grown messier with the agents throwing caution to the wind.
The federal government had in February this year approved the collection of the POF expected to amount to about N2 billion annually by the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (CRFFN) at the ports and borders as the council’s lifeline fund.
The fees include N1.20 per kilogramme of air freight, N1,000 per 20-foot container, N2,000 per 40-foot container, N500 per car/jeep, N1,000 per 1×20 truck, N2,000 per 1×40 truck, N3.50 per tonne of general cargo and N1 per tonne of dry bulk cargo while the rate on wet cargo was negotiable.
The former minister of transport, Senator Idris Umar, while in office, had directed that the collection should be shared between the CRFFN and the associations in the ratio of 60 per cent and 35 per cent respectively while the remaining five per cent will be shared among registered freight forwarders. It was learnt that within the circle of the clearing agents, some interests, especially the Association of Nigerian Licenced Customs Agents (ANLCA), were not satisfied with the sharing formular of the 35 per cent among the agents, making the leading agents association to stand against the collection of the fees by the CRFFN.
Newsmen also learnt that similar fees were already being collected by the ANLCA which heightened its anger as it considered that the very foundation of its fund system has been attacked.
As the war deepened, the ANLCA secured the favour of the federal government which two weeks ago, through the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), ordered the CRFFN to stop the collection of the POF. Umar later stated he was not a party to the order from the SGF.
The ANLCA’s national publicity secretary, Dr Kayode Farinto, told journalists in Lagos recently that the directive came through a letter from the office of the SGF, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, (before the dissolution of the Goodluck Jonathan cabinet) and addressed to the deputy president of a faction of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licenced Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Mr Uchu Block. Whilst it was not understood why the letter was addressed to Block instead of the registrar of the CRFFN, Mr Mike Jukwe, the letter was, however, not made available to LEADERSHIP. It was said to have been signed by the director, Economic Monitoring, Multilateral and Research, Elaigwu Ejembi, on behalf of the SGF. But rising from a meeting on last week, a group of seven clearing and forwarding associations under the aegis of Concerned Accredited Freight Forwarding Associations (CAFFA) debunked the letter and threw its weight on the CRFFN, saying it has reaffirmed its “unflinching loyalty to the Federal Government of Nigeria through the CRFFN” and that it is “solidly behind all the actions so far taken by the CRFFN as it concerns the collection of the POF approved by Federal Government of Nigeria.”
Amidst the controversy surrounding the collection of the POF, the CRFFN has kept mum leaving the agents and forwarders associations to fight to finish. The CRFFN was also in 2013 availed by the Ministry of Transport, its parent ministry, the powers to collect a similar fee called transaction fees. But a similar conflict of interest among clearing agents as the current one led the minister of transport to stop the council from proceeding with the collection of the transaction fees. The CRFFN continued to remain impoverished and unable to play its role in the industry due to lack of financial allocation from its parent ministry. The situation has continued to engender concern from stakeholders who have continued to seek for ways to keep the council running. While the ANLCA had supported the collection of the POF initially, it was learnt that it decided to back out because of a disagreement over the sharing of the 35 per cent accruing to the freight forwarding associations.