*Says POF is a fraud
By Francis Ugwoke
A member of the Board of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Chief Ernest Elochukwu has said he will never pay the controversial Practitioners Operating Fee (POF) at the ports.
Elochukwu who described POF as illegal and therefore a fraud said he is prepared for legal action against the collection.
He told SHIPPING DAY that he will be joining other customs agents to take any necessary action against the payment of POF.
Noting that his association, ANLCA, withdraw from an earlier court action against the collection from the back door, he said he will join other agents who are in court already against the collection.
He argued that POF being championed by the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding (CRFFN) was not a regulation of any of the Governing Board of the Council.
According to him, it was the former Registrar, Sir Mike Jukwe who in collaboration with other interested parties that pushed for POF to be gazetted even when there was no regulation by the Council members.
When reminded that POF was introduced to save the Council from financial issues, he argued that CRFFN like other agencies of government had been under subvention by the government and therefore could not have been without funds.
Elochukwu challenged the Council to account for its budgetary allocations in the past and show evidence of audited accounts.
He also revealed that the Second Council had come up years back for an alternative funding following the Onosanye Panel recommendation in which there was speculation on possible removal with similar agencies from budgetary allocation.
“That was what gave rise to the Second Council discussing about alternative source of funding. That was when the practicing fee was discussed. A Committee was set up to liase with the associations on how this funding can be realized. But before the Committee could start working, some people started building castels in the air and sharing the money that has not been collected. This was also what led to the stagnation in the reconstitution of the Third Council which ought to have been reconstituted since 2012. It was because of the controversy generated on how to share the money collected that affected the constitution of the3rd Council. So between 2012 and close to 2018 there was no Governing Board. This was why the Council was run solely by Jukwe, So nobody regulated on the POF”.
He argued that since no council regulated on the POF, it was wrong for the Council under Jukwe to go and gazette it.
“This makes POF illegal and therefore a fraud. What I am doing is to expose illegality. In this country, we owe ourselves the duty of not encouraging illegality. It is for all to know that what is being done is fraudulent”, he spoke to SHIPPING DAY on phone .
He said he will join others in court already to fight against the collection.
He added, “ANLCA was in court over this matter but without consultation withdrew. But some other individual members went to court after ANLCA’s withdrawal. I will join this group. Together we shall fight against illegality. I am doing this for posterity”, he said.
It would be recalled CRFFN Registrar, Bar Mike Nwakohu, had recently launched POF collection with the terminal operators being incharge of the process.
Under the arrangement, the terminal operators are to be given an Excel sheet to record the collections before a customs agent is allowed to carry his cargo out of the port.
The fee is N1,000 for 20ft container and N2000 for 40ft containers.
Nwakohu had told newsmen, “Terminal operators have nothing to do with the process on the portal; the only role they play is to verify the receipt against the control document to ensure one has paid before leaving the port”.