PRINCE OLAYIWOLA SHITTU is the immediate past President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents. He took a retrospective look at the Tony Iju Nwabunike led tenure of The Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents and came up with the following verdict. He spoke Exclusively with Shipping World
Shittu: I don’t think it is magic o. I think approach by individuals differ. When you think you’re doing very well, people who are looking at you might just think you have not done enough, and they needed a change. Anything in life that does not have change, just know that something is wrong somewhere. You cannot be a President of an organization or anywhere else forever. Buhari will not remain President of Nigeria forever. When we had that election, it was a very peaceful election. A lot of people were asking me saying, President, those who think you are doing well, the rate you people are going, we need somebody who will take over from you. Everybody said so, like they’ll be telling Buhari too now to look for somebody that can do better than him and all that. One thing is that I was in office fir eight years together with my Vice. It was an arrangement that was made from heaven as far as I am concerned. No quarrel, nothing. We carried everybody along. We held meetings like the world will end without the meetings. There’s no week we were not holding meetings in our Secretariat. In fact, the need for us to have a Secretariat was because we wanted to be meeting with people. People who are aggrieved will come forward. Some people you feel hate you, I reach out to them. This is because leadership of an Association is different from the leadership of a political party. They are two different things. For a political party, the urge to hold office because of the fallout, because of what you can gain. The power then translates to money, one way or another. For an Association, you all have the same desire, you want to do your business well, we need somebody to lead us so that we can do our business well.
So, you cannot be a leader of an Association and create enmity for yourself. Before we had that election, the two main contenders for Presidency met me at different times. I told them that I’m not a politician, so-so person has met me before you. He said I should bless him. I told the incumbent now who won the election then, that I have sympathy fir my Vice, because I know his capability. I remember most of the time we were in office, he was always traveling from Port Harcourt to Abuja to go and handle issues for us. In fact, he was the representative of ANLCA in Ease of Doing Business as at that time so I felt he was capable. Most of the travel we do together, ideas flow together, and then I said, why not him? I don’t have anything against you already I have promised my Vice to support him. I was doing that honestly from the bottom of my heart. I cannot promise two people for Gods sake!
And I told my Vice, look, if the pendulum changes and you end up not winning this election, congratulate your opponent, for we are all working for this Association. And it’s not compulsory in an Association when you say you want to be their leader, they must take you by force. No. People have what they need to do, whether they use political rigmarole or abracadabra, that is not the issue.
And I was happy that day when my Vice hugged the victor and then peacefully, we all left Enugu. Somehow along the line, by inauguration time, things were showing up that I feel was not right. I had private meetings with the emerged President- that look, if I were you, I would call people who didn’t vote for me if I can identify them and bring them closer to yourself. You don’t need those who have voted for you because they have done the best they can for you,but those you feel did not vote for you, you need to carry them along. That’s the best advice I could give and I thought that advice had been gotten. But the followers of the President also have their own different agenda. We all do business in the ports. We all know ourselves. Nobody is a saint but some are better than others. So, there are people who want to use the position of the Association, the position they may get to further their own personal interest. It works that way too. But the wrong impression they gave that if you didn’t vote for this president, you’re our enemy, go away. That’s the basis of all these issues on ground.
I hosted the President with some of the Executives in our boardroom. And when we were talking, I was repeating the same mantra of …let’s carry people along and the man was visibly angry, he was hitting the table, “Anybody who stay in my front, I will crush them “, he said. I said that’s not the language for a leader. And I told him that day that we’re not getting it, and his followers were echoing, “No, nobody can tell us…”
Instinctively, I knew it was going to be a problem because we have gone through this before. I remember the time when Elochukwu was the President, he was based in Port Harcourt and then there was this gang up by some of the leaders in the South West, and it was a tug of war for him. After four years, he himself was not even ready for another term.
And the reason I went for second term was because we already had the Secretariat project on hand. And people were saying, no, you can’t leave it halfway, you must conclude it. For me, it was a necessity. Before then, all the offices we had been having, the landlords would throw our things out because we couldn’t pay the rent.
I can tell you the Association is not about revenue generation. If you want to do something, you have to convince people on why they should contribute to whatever project you have on hand, whether Secretariat or you want to travel, or you want to do anything, you must ask people to come and join hands, so that’s why you need everybody around.
And when the thing culminated to the point that, it’s like we can do it on our own, I had to back off. I tried to make peace with those who felt aggrieved, people who have contributed. In fact, what pained many of them to my hearing was that they even did personal contribution, to my knowledge, to the realization of the Secretariat. And when they go to the Secretariat, the type of reception they receive, it’s like “dem don come, we don’t need you here”. And I know that in any political environment, because it’s still part of politics too, the one we do in Association, once you tell somebody no, we are against you. What I expect was that, “Una don come, I think we don beat una” and let’s work together. That’s what should have happened.
It took almost one year for me to persuade the President to call the man he defeated in phone, to just say hello to him. And to be honest with you, he did. And that one was surprised that why should it take you so long? If you can manage your life, go ahead and manage na. And he came back to tell me this is the response he got. I said, no definitely, the man you defeated must still feel somehow, continue to reach out to him or reach out to his people. You know, you want to do appointments, call him, I need two people from your end, who do I add and all that. But that was not coming.
And when I talk to people like Taiye Oyeniyi, they are old hands. If they were not useful to the Association, the Association would not have existed up till today. That one is sure. So, you can’t just wish them away. And that was this arrangement that some people who who also took advantage because they don’t want anybody to be seen as above them. I’ll tell you another story. Sometimes I laugh when I was in office that time. When people will go and say that because they are board members, they are superior to the President. But the Constitution is saying that the President is the Chief Executive Officer of this Organisation. So, how could someone whom, when you are having meetings, you are the boss, you are the chairman, then somebody who is one of the members, like the National Executive Council meeting, and the person is telling you that he is superior to you. Those ones, I look at them as little minds.
So, there are some people who want to create an empire for themselves, where they don’t feel that they need other people to showcase what they know, so as not to be seen as being weak or whatever. But I warned. You don’t fight in ANLCA. ANLCA is membership by Corporate bodies and there are people who guard jealously the survival of their company. So, if the Association is going to assist them, then there is no way you can tell me that because you think I did not vote for you, I should get out, my interest is not covered, there’s no way you can achieve anything. And that is the issue of the board.