Taiwo Adetunji Mustapha is Group Chairman of two indigenous Shipping and Logistic companies, Pyramid Associates and Quicka Nigeria Ltd. He is also the CEO of Pyramid Oil and Gas and Pyramid Agro-Allied Nigeria Ltd and a major player in the freight forwarding industry. In this interview with sunday Vanguard’s Godfrey Bivbere, Mustapha speaks on his election as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents and the controversy surrounding the botched elections into the Governing Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN).
What is your take on the botched Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) governing council elections?
There is more than one angle to look at CRFFN issue. Fundamentally, the question is why the loggerheads and court case? My take on this initially was that we are Customs licensed agents regulated by CEMA; so we shouldn’t be coerced to go under CRFFN. But if must go; what are the conditions as freight forwarders that wouldn’t create more stress on our operations. Then the issue of this Practitioner Operating Fee (POF) collection came up. Our request from the council is that each declarant must be giving some percentage of whatever is generated as incentive for the goose that lays the egg. We all know that ANLCA as the father of all other associations has the population and with better organizational value shouldn’t be placed on the same pedestal with others. So the issue of equal sharing formula with other associations remains unacceptable. Give each declarant, and you know of course we would have bigger chunk. So that is where we stand, and the basis for the litigation. There are other issues no doubt but the sharing formula remains the main bone of contention. The president was to go for ‘political’ solution. He has made relative progress; but I am not sure we are there yet.
Tell us about the genesis of the crisis in the ANLCA BoT and your election as Chairman.
I think it is not fair to imply there was a crisis in the Board of Trustees of our noble association. Yes, we had a little misunderstanding, which is normal with any organization but I think it is not right to say we have a full blown crisis. My first stint on BoT was in 2014. I saw my election as a member of the BoT as my little way of contributing to this great association. For me this was no big deal as all of us related with one another as members of one big family, it was an opportunity to contribute my own quota to the development of our association. At the time we had our inaugural meeting, our current National President, Hon Tony Iju Nwabunike, who was also a BoT member, suggested we suspend the election of a BoT Chairman when he realised the tussle for the chairmanship was tearing us apart.
Chief Henry Njoku and Chief Ernest Elochukwu were both interested in the chairmanship of the Board. Hon Nwabunike then reasoned that such an election would further polarise the BoT and, based on his wise counsel, we suspended the election, but because we needed a neutral person to pilot the affairs of the BoT, I was unanimously picked as Co-ordinator of the BoT where I now played the role of acting Chairman.
But along the line, we also didn’t completely shut the window for a proper election as efforts were also geared towards a proper election. I acted in that capacity for nine months before an election was conducted. At the end of the day, Njoku emerged winner over Elochukwu with 5 to 3 votes; and one abstentia in the 9-man BoT. Remember I said earlier that, at the inaugural meeting nine months earlier, we resolved on a-two year tenure for the BoT Chair so as to give room for whoever may be interested amongst us. But for three years the election could not hold for one reason or the other. And when NECOM fixed its elections for Enugu, some of us were of the opinion we should have a change of baton in the BoT before that of NECOM. But I was personally against it due to his (Njoku) daughter’s wedding.
Meanwhile, Oodua Logistics Forum petitioned the BoT of ANLCA that if care was not taken the BoT Chair, the ANLCA Presidency and ASECO Chair may all emerge from the South-East a development that would not be acceptable to other tribal groups. Following this petition, it was agreed at a meeting of the BoT that the chairmanship should be conceded to the Yoruba and the rest (Nat. President and ASECO Chair) to the Igbo.
Chief Peter Obi was said to have expressed his reservations about Yoruba to keeping to the bargain and suggested the election be postponed till after the NECOM election. And this was duly captured in the minutes. Some of us on the BoT had wanted NECOM and BoT elections to hold on same day, while others opposed the idea saying it would be too clumsy. And this was why we now shifted our meeting/election to the eve of the swearing-in of the new NECOM which was on April 14, 2018 at the hotel room of Njoku at Golden Tulip Festac. Again, this was vehemently opposed by Obi and Njoku. A school of thought at that meeting of the BoT explained but even if elections held on that day, official take-over of the new BoT would not be immediate and that a period of grace should be extended to the out-going Chairman. But after arguments from both sides, Dayo Azeez moved a motion nominating me as BoT Chair while Chief Dennis Okafor seconded the motion. Expectedly, Njoku and Obi rejected the move as Aare Sani Shittu abstained from voting. At the end of the voting, I got 5 votes as against Njoku’s 2. Elochukwu took over proceedings of the meeting when it became obvious to all present that he (Njoku) could no longer contain his emotions.
On Thursday, May 10, the President of ANLCA, Hon Tony Nwabunike, convened a meeting of the BoT. What was the outcome of that meeting?
The National President was becoming very uncomfortable with the wrangling in the BoT, he felt he was one of us in the board; and with a divided BoT, there was no way we could have a vibrant and focused ANLCA and so he decided to have a meeting with us. What he (Nat. President) pleaded was that we give Njoku some time, maybe about 4 months to handover. Initially, five out of the eight of us were against this window but we decided to give him some concession. Some of us were still not happy at the 90-day (April 13 – July 13) period of grace he got but we decided to play along for peace to reign. So as things are, Njoku is outgoing Chairman of BoT and ceases to hold that office after July 13, 2018.
The Publicity Secretary of ANLCA made a statement that there was no agreement as to Njoku leaving on July 13; and may be another election will have to take place.
To my amazement, I read on ANLCA platform some insinuation that there was no peaceful resolution to that effect. In the first instance, Joe Sanni has no locus standi to issue statement on BOT affairs. And I want to believe that no one has directed him to do that.
What is this three months period of grace all about? This does not make logic to many of your members.
Don’t forget that Njoku is a politician. He has also served in various capacities in the past and, if you ask me, I think he needs to be allowed to bow out. Taiwo Mustapha is not blindly ambitious. And I am not out to ridicule anyone in this noble association. I simply look at it that even with NECOM election concluded, Hon. Tony Iju waited for three months before taking over. So, what is the big deal?
What legacies would you want to leave behind by the time you exit as BoT Chair?
There are many operational problems in the port today. And the problems keep mounting by the day as there seems to be a lack of political will to tackle them. We have proliferation of security agencies at the ports, and there are conflicting reports on the part of government, sending one agency out of the ports today; and it would take only days before such agency returns. All these lead to the high cost of doing business at the ports and work against the spirit on the ease of doing business in Nigeria. Have you also noticed the level of decay of port access roads? It is a national shame that we allow these national assets to deteriorate. Tin-can port was built to accommodate 30 million metric tons of cargo yearly. Today, Tin-can processes over 80 million metric tons… and no expansion. Even with the idea behind concession to private investors, no added value.
Another issue of concern to us in the freight forwarding industry is the FG’s composition of the Customs Service Board. I ask, what is the National Universities Commission doing in that board? We deserve to be on Customs board, the boards of the Nigeria Ports Authority, NIMASA and the Nigeria Shippers’ Council. It is wrong to keep stakeholders out of the decision making bodies of these agencies as our presence would help solve the problems in the maritime sector.