If signals from the office of the Minister of Transport are anything to go by, the Minister is set to direct the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), to resume collection of the controversial Practitioners Operating Fee (POF).
But maritime pundits have started objecting to the rumoured development, saying, the Act establishing CRFFN does not empower the minister to regulate the Council even as the Council has not been reconstituted. They also argued that the Minister should not do that because there is a subsisting order of interlocutory injunction filed by the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) restraining the CRFFN and the Federal Ministry of Transportation from implementing the POF.
Already, several clearing agents groups and the CRFFN are inching closer to head on collusion over the current moves by the council to use the Ministry of Transportation to compel collection of the POF. The controversial fee, when collected as it applies to all cargoes imported into Nigeria, is expected to fetch CRFFN over two billion annually.
Sources say the CRFFN may have misled the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi into issuing a directive to the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to forcefully collect the controversial POF, which was suspended by the Federal Government in February 2015, through shipping companies and terminal operators.
The Minister had in January granted approval for the collection of the POF despite a subsisting order of interlocutory injunction filed by the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) restraining the CRFFN and the Federal Ministry of Transportation from implementing the POF.
Firing the first shot, National President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agent (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero described the fresh move by CRFFN as illegal stating that the Council is only empowered to collect the POF through its governing council, which has not been reconstituted.
While wondering why the Minister would involve himself in the controversial collection of the fee, he noted that “It is an illegal act, it is not done. Under what law is the Minister going to do that? Since there is no board, there is no council”.
“Why is the minister putting himself in this kind of controversy? He should not put himself into a problem he will regret. He should look at the law because when there is no board there is no council.
“The Minister should confine himself to areas that have to do with his powers. Under the CRFFN law, he does not have such regulatory powers,” he said.
In an interview over the new development, former National President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Chief Ernest Elochukwu said ANLCA can’t take it lying low especially given this government’s position on the issue of discouraging corruption.
According to him, “ANLCA as a responsible body will do all it takes to let the authorities know that what we are talking about is about corruption, it is about illegality”.
Elochukwu who heads an ANLCA special committee on the levy argued further “Turning transaction fee without legislation into POF or whatever it is called; on its own is an illegality because some of us need to know how the issue of POF came about in the place,”
Also reacting to the matter, National Publicity Secretary of ANLCA, Kayode Farinto, said “We are not in banana republic and we are going to kick against it if it is true. Not even when everybody is saying charges in our industry is very high and there is lull in business”.
“In whose interest is POF and what has CRFFN contributed and why is the Minister giving directive that the POF be collected knowing full well that the case is in court?”