*Crisis Takes Toll on ANLCA
*Less Privileged Members Suffering as Licenses are Lying Idle in NCS Headquarters
*Carpets Nwabunike for Directly and Indirectly Encouraging Crisis in BOT
*Otoge Campaign will kick off Soon in ANLCA
Alhaji Taiwo Mustapha is the Chairman, Board of Trustees (BOT) of the umbrella body for licensed customs agents in the country, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) which presently has Anthony Iju Nwabunike as its National President. In an exclusive interview with Maritime Bits Editor-in-Chief,John Iwori, shortly after the maiden meeting of the board this year at Dikko House, the corporate headquarters of ANLCA in Lagos, Mustapha bares his mind on the key issues bedevilling the BOT after its inauguration, developments in ANLCA since the election of Nwabunike into office, among other issues. Excerpts.
If I may ask, what informed the basis of your meeting today at Dikko House, the national secretariat of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA)?
Ideally, board members meet at intervals and since the beginning of this year we have not met. So it is good for us to meet. That is number one. Number two, there is a court ruling that we should go on arbitration to resolve some of the issues we are having within us. So this is one of the reasons we have to meet as board members. Besides, we are constitutionally empowered to intervene in the association whenever the need arises. In a nutshell, these are the reasons why we have to meet as members of the BOT in Lagos.
What were the decisions you took and why was the meeting so long?
Just like I said earlier on, the last time we met officially was last year. We have to meet and review a lot of the things that have happened in the association as well as come out with measures that will make us to move forward. As a result of the decisions we have taken, we have to extent invitations to two members of NECOM members (that is, the National Vice President and the National Secretary). We have to invite them so as to initiate certain things within us and that took longer time than we expected. Moreover, a lot of other issues came up in the course of our discussion that we did not want to drop them just like that. So we have to discuss everything all together.
From the look of things, the decisions you took at the end of the meeting you had today seemed not to go down well with some of your members. What is your take on it?
It is not really whether it goes down well with all the members or not. The issue is that we are supposed to be eight of us at the meeting but only four of us were present and we invited two of the NECOM members. As a matter of fact, the disagreement was not between members of the board present at the meeting, rather it was members of the NECOM present that it did not go down well with. They were having some wrong information within themselves. What I could call being misinformed about certain positions of the board but today I think they gotten better information as they were more enlighten about the whole thing. Of course, our position has not change and it will not change, mainly over the issue of our election that we held on the 13th of April 2018. So, we have maintained our position and we will continue to maintain that. We will never change our position over that. That election has taken place and it stands.
Against the backdrop that you are eight in number in the board why was only four of you present in the meeting? Those people that were absent at the meeting, were they not invited and if they were invited, why were they not present in the meeting?
Well, everybody was invited. Oneof us, Chief Dennis Okafor is out of the country. For the remaining three persons, I would not know what kept them away. I cannot speak for them. The reasons for their absence are best known to them. For us, they have decided to form their own faction of the board and that would not stop us from holding our own meetings or moving forward and take certain decisions that would move us forward.
As it is, what do you think is the way forward for ANLCA?
Part of why we have to invite the two NECOM members was to be able to pass our position and some messages across to them and the National President. That is, our position over certain issues. We also made it clear that we are still open to peaceful resolution about this whole crisis. Initially, we felt we should not bother him due to the fact that he has been busy with his own national election because he wanted to go into the House of Representatives. However, since he did not win the election, he is back with us. One is to tell the National Vice President and the National Secretary that he is warmly welcome. That we feel for him as our brother that he did not win that election. Sometimes elections are like that. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. We believe that he has another opportunity in 2023. It looks far but it is not. We will always be there solidly behind him in any of his political journey. However, the bottom line is the way out. The way out is for all of us to come together to a round table conference and give ourselves frank and sincere talk. With that, we should be able to face the reality of who has actually gained in this whole crisis. It is only ANLCA as an association that has suffered and more importantly, our members who are less privileged. The crises have not stopped my own business. It has not stopped any of my jobs. It has not stopped Chief Henry Njoku business, neither has it stopped Chief Ernest Elochukwu business. It is the association as a body that is suffering. In fact, a good number of our members are suffering. So many licenses are lying down unattended to at Nigeria Customs Service Headquarters, Abuja. Since the crisis started, we have not been able to form a formidable force to be able to face Nigeria Customs Service act on these licenses lying idle in their offices and some other operational issues. In a nutshell, it is the association that is actually suffering. It is high time we can call ourselves to a roundtable. Then we will be able to resolve it within ourselves. That is when we can begin to get something done, something tangible, something positive for ourselves and the association.
If I may ask, what is the bone of contention?
The bone of contention right from day one after the inauguration of the national executive council is nothing but with the election that took place within the board. That is the chairmanship of the board of trustees, ANLCA. As a matter of fact, eight of us were in that meeting and we decided to have a change of leadership. So I was nominated to contest the post of chairmanship of the board and I won the election, hands down. It was five against two while one of us abstained. So the bone of contention is that the person who lost the election, Chief Henry Njoku refused to step down and hand over to me as his successor in office. The National President, Hon. Anthony Nwabunike whether directly or indirectly is the one encouraging this crisis. This is because it is very simple, after the NECOM election that took place in Enugu, he won by three votes and all of us agree that the election was quite okay and none of us should contest it anywhere. Even those that went to court, our board members were already talking to them that there is no basis to contest it. They needed to withdraw the case from the court. This is because we did not want crises. So we expected that the same thing ought to have been extended to the board election. We held the board election, even if it was one vote against the other person that lost the election, in democracy, the ideal thing is to allow peace to reign by accepting defeat. As at today that you are interviewing me, we have held series of meetings after that, but there is no way out. All these things boil down to the fact that the National President is not prepare to face the reality that my election as the Chairman of the board has come to stay. Even if you had wanted, probably because of what the other person was clamouring about. “Oh, we never prepared for the election. Oh, we did not want the election on that day. Oh, there was no election or whatever”. We expected him to call a meeting and let all members of the board come back together and say, do we go for another election or not? And let us put everything into vote. Even if we want to go into another election, what is the position of five against three or five against two? I mean we are dealing with numbers. It is democracy. This is politics and politics is a game of numbers. For instance, can two be more than five? It is not possible.
But I could recall that in one of your meetings, the National President, Anthony Iju Nwabunike said, leave it for me, I will sought it out and ask that the board members should give Chief Henry Njoku more time, I think three months or thereabout. The extended time he asked for has since elapsed. What happened?
In one of our meetings, after my election when the crisis was just rearing its head, we agreed to meet with him. The eight of us met with him. We were nine in that meeting and he requested that we should give Chief Henry Njoku five months. He never even contested the fact that there was an election. He said okay, I agree that there was election, but we should give Chief Henry Njoku five months to tidy up his office, prepare handover notes and relinquish the position to the rightful person. Some of us did not want it, but we had to pacify fray nerves. Let us give him three months instead of five months. The position we took was a compromise. It was a matter of give and take. You moved an inch; let me also move an inch for the sake of peace. Finally, the antagonists and the protagonists accepted it. The three months was to commence from the date we held that meeting, not from the date that we held our election. Okay, fine and good. In spite of the misgivings by some members, we all agreed to give him the benefit of doubt. Regrettably, this has led us to nowhere as three months, four months, five months, six months, and now it is already eleventh months since our meeting with the National President. For anybody who is serious minded and ready for a peaceful resolution of the crisis, that is enough. I have even met even Chief Henry Njoku three times after the election. We were both in Port Harcourt and I have met him three times saying okay, how do we go about this? What do we do? The first time we met, I said to him, okay, you do not want to leave the position, fine and good. Let us call for a meeting for all of us together and just appeal to everybody, look guys, I still want to remain the board chairman and let it be within the eight of us. I cannot sit down with you and you are telling me to go and tell the other parties and say I am not interested in that election. It is not because I am ambitious. It is about the fact that we elected him initially and he won his own election by just one vote against Chief Ernest Elochukwu at that time. It was four against three and we all agree that fine, he has won his election, he has won. Even when we did not prepare for that election that same night that we held his own election, I was the coordinator of the board then, I was the one who conducted the election. But he won four against three and we all agreed. So why is he finding it difficult to accept defeat, dragging his feet on another election that is five against two? Repeatedly, we have asked what exactly is the issue? If you have been in a position for ten to eleven years and you are still holding unto it. Why? Is it supposed to be a traditional or chieftaincy stool? He is supposed to hand over. So at the end of the day, we have got a National President that is encouraging this crisis and I can say this to his face any time any day. He is not prepared to face the reality. Enough is enough and we will soon get to that point in this matter. I was actively involved in the Otoge movement that is the “enough is enough” campaign in Kwara State. I was actively involved. By the grace of God, we will have it again in ANLCA. Enough will soon be enough of all these issues.
What is your parting word?
My parting word is that, not because I am involved in these whole crises but because I have the love of ANLCA at heart. That is why, even with all the insinuations coming from both sides, no, we cannot do it this way, we have got to turn everything to violence. We got to turn everything to crises. No! I have not yielded to anything contrary to the laws of the land. I am in love with peace. I am a peaceful person and I have always believes that for every crises, there must be a peaceful resolution at the end of the day. However, we should not test peoples’ will and patience. We should not stress it to the limit. You cannot continue to say, okay, let me give it more time, making it look like the other person must be a weakling. No! It is just different approaches that people have to different issues. Before now, we were part of those who were actually giving the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki advice in Kwara State. We said, look, this thing will soon get to a stage we will not like. Let us change approach. Otherwise, this will get to a stage where people will not be able to take it again. We made it very clear that it is high time we start thinking of another approach to these issues. However, when you take people for granted for too long, it gets to a point that at the end of the day, what you will get out of it is what you never expected. That is my position on this matter. I am of the view that we should quickly and very soon come to a peaceful resolution within ourselves, so that we can move forward in ANLCA. Otherwise, it will be too late.
Thank you sir for your time.
You are welcome!