All appears not well in the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN). With freight forwarders as stakeholders, the Council has over the years moved from one crisis to another. This is also the case among most of the associations of freight forwarders or customs agents. The current battle is between the Governing Board and the management team on N800m property fund. The two are at loggerhead over the sum approved for the acquisition of a headoffice in Lagos. Members of the Board had moved against the acquisition of the property located in Lekki. Lagos. Their grouse was that the value of the property was inflated. The Board had set up a Committee to investigate the property which reported that the Lekki building is not worth more than N300m. With such report, accusing fingers were pointed at those who negotiated the deal, including the management team. Though, it was gathered that the assignment was handled by the Ministerial Tenders Board. But in a swift reaction, sources close to the management team said some of the board members came up with the bad report after their demand for sharing part of the N800m was rebuffed.
However, what is amazing is the push by the Board members that the CRFFN administration moves back to Abuja where the Council has uncompleted building project that was started earlier. The Board members argue that it is better to use the N800m to complete the Abuja project where the CRFFN administration will be housed instead of buying another property in Lagos. While this argument would appeal to many as it has a lot of economic sense, yet it leaves a lot of issues to be addressed.
The question being raised by many is why should CRFFN move back to Abuja when 95percent of its members are either in Lagos or Eastern ports? Besides, why should CRFFN administration be the only maritime agency to move to Abuja. All the headoffice of maritime agencies are currently in Lagos. It would be recalled that some of these agencies were in Abuja before they were given a directive to return to Lagos where most of their statutory functions are needed.
Many believe that all the CRFFN board needed to do on discovering that the Lekki property value was inflated was to simply look for another property in areas of their choice in Lagos. With other maritime agencies in Lagos, it would not be the best for CRFFN headoffice to be in Abuja. A member of the Board who pleaded anonymity said the idea of suggesting the movement of the headoffice to Abuja was uncalled for but simply to hurt some people.
Now that the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) has withdrawn its ‘Letter of No Objection’ earlier issued to the Council for the acquisition of the new property, observers say it is time for the Minister of Transportation, Alhaji Muazu Sambo, to wade into the matter. Sambo had last week directed that the planned acquisition should be halted. Maritime stakeholders, including freight forwarders believe that the advice by the Board that the CRFFN administration moves to Abuja is faulty. Some say it also confirms how bitter and bruised some of the Board members could be for obvious reasons. But to the stakeholders, it was not in the best interest of the freight forwarders considering the very objective of setting up the Council. At this stage, they say what is expected of Sambo is to call both the CRFFN Board and the management team to order. In doing this, Sambo should direct that a new property should be acquired. In doing this, the Ministry should engage a reputable estate agent to find a befitting property in Lagos for use by the CRFFN. Sambo in taking this decision should note that Lagos remains the centre for maritime and also freight forwarding in terms of population of members and volume of business. Already, tongues are beginning to wag that the plan to relocate CRFFN headoffice is not without hidden agenda by some individuals opposed to Lagos being the headoffice. Sources said the plot to move CRFFN to Lagos is being sponsored by some individuals who are using some Governing Board members. Sambo should be able ‘nip this in the bud’. Equally, an observer also pointed out, “it is money that is the crux of the matter in the feud between the Governing Board members and the management team”.