There’s a dangerous crisis currently brewing in the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), and unless the Federal Government quickly wades into the matter, it may soon erupt and destroy the foundations of this important maritime agency.
It has to do with the mega controversies that have continued to trail the tenure of Barrister Samuel Nwakohu two years after his appointment as the Registrar/CEO of the CRFFN.
These controversies as characterized by several flashpoints undermining the administration of the Council under Nwakohu’s watch, are capable of jeopardizing the efforts and expectations of the government, according to findings by this Newspaper.
At the root of the crisis is the series of allegations by the CRFFN Management staff against the Registrar/CEO, bordering on abuse of power, financial mismanagement, high-handedness, age falsification and alleged certificate forgery.
Nwakohu, who was appointed Registrar of the Council in February 2019, is said to be a close associate of current Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, whose Ministry oversees the agency, and who is now said to be making frantic efforts to save the Registrar from possible sack and prosecution.
It all started when, soon after Nwakohu took over at the maritime agency from the immediate past Registrar, Mike Jukwey, a group of Management staff began to accuse him of embarking on reckless mismanagement of the council’s resources, ignoring laid down financial guidelines for the appropriation and disbursement of public funds.
Believing that Nwakohu’s actions amounted to gross financial misconduct, the said management staff of the council sent a petition to the Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, accusing the Registrar/CEO not just of financial recklessness, but also of high-handedness, poor management and a myriad of other misdeeds bordering on criminality.
The Council’s Governing Council however undertook to look into the allegations contained in the petition, setting up an ad-hoc committee for this purpose. The committee has since September 2020, submitted its findings to the governing council.
But while the ad-hoc committee was still in the throes of concluding its investigation and submitting a report, another petition against the Registrar/CEO was sent to the Chairman, Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) by Royal Integrity & Accountability Organisation (an anti-corruption outreach for Mass Mobilization & Action Against Corruption). In the petition dated 25th November, 2020, the organization told the CCB that “our attention and knowledge has been drawn to various acts of corruption, Mal-Administration, financial misappropriation and infractions on staff going on in the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) under the current Registrar/CEO Bar. Samuel Nwakohu.”
Our Correspondent obtained a copy of the petition, which was signed by Ekwoyi Ochigbo, Executive Director of Royal Integrity & Accountability Organisation and received/acknowledged by the CCB on 26th November, 2020. The petition was also copied to the Attorney-General & Minister of Justice; the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Transportation and; the Board Chairman, CRFFN.
According to the organization, the grounds of the petition were that “The Registrar/CEO did not apply online for the job before his appointment; The Registrar/CEO falsified his age to get appointed; The Registrar/CEO lied on oath by declaring two different ages in court; The Registrar/CEO did not attach credentials before his appointment; The former Registrar/CEO retired on account of his age having attained the retirement as as required by law – Public Service Rule -0200810 section 1-5 (while) the present Registrar (Bar. Samuel Nwakohu) has already attained the retirement age being (64 years presently) and ought to have retired like his predecessor, Mr. Mike Jukwe.”
Other grounds of the petition were that “He is employed as a Public Servant and NOT political appointee; High handedness and MAL Administration; Financial Misconduct and misappropriation; Acting contrary to the public service rules and other extant circulars, etc.”
The five CRFFN Management staff had alleged in their petition that the Registrar had claimed N7million as overhead between March and July,2020 out of a total available fund of N11million, representing 63 % of the funds and that he allegedly paid N8million to as fake CSR to a Federal University in Gombe without documentary evidence or receipt from the school, while N400,000.00 was given to a lady under the guise of a beauty pageant as CSR, without relevance to the maritime industry.
He was also alleged to have made a donation of N4million to his alma mata, Okirika Grammar School Old Boys Association as CSR, and paid N24,217,000.00 to a fake NGO whose activities had nothing to do with CRFFN without due process. He approved and was bent on collecting N47,946,000.00 as additional training fees to the N109million earlier approved and disbursed to ADG International Resources, organizers of the February 2020 CRFFN seminar which held at Radison Blue, Ikeja Lagos.
The Registrar was further alleged to have collected N10million to pay for rent for a non-existing office for CRFFN in Asokoro, Abuja at N0. 33 Lord Lugard Street. This earned him a query from the governing council.
On September 3, 2020, the 25th Governing Council meeting of the CRFFN set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate the allegations against the Registrar/CEO. Members of the committee were: Hon. Hassan Jonga (Chairman), Chief Increase Uche, Dr. Kayode Farinto Collins, Dr. Bakare Adeyinka and Rt. Hon (Pharm) Donatus Ozoemena (Secretary), while Dr. Benson Edosonwan and Abdulazeez Abba Umar were later added as members.
In its report to the governing council, the committee said of the allegation of financial recklessness against Nwakohu that, “Available documentary evidence of his (the Registrar’s) gross financial misconduct, recklessness and misappropriation are not just obvious, but numerous.”
The committee found among other instances of financial misconduct that Nwakohu spent N109 million on a fictitious training program for staff, well above his threshold as Registrar, and without recourse to the tenders board and the governing council. The Registrar equally made a “fake and non-receipted” donation of N8 million to the Federal University, Kashere. He made a similar donation of N4 million to the Okrika Old Boys Association, going totally outside the CRFFN mandate. According to the committee, Nwakohu also spent the sum of N10 million on a “non-existent” office accommodation for the agency in Asokoro, Abuja. Among numerous other allegations of financial misconduct, the committee found, Nwakohu also approved for himself and without due process the sum of N47 million which he paid to NGOs of his choosing, totally outside the CRFFN mandate.
Perhaps the most significant finding of the committee was that Mr. Nwakohu did not meet the requirements for the position of Registrar, which he continues to hold till date. The petitioners had alleged that not only did Nwakohu not apply for the job when it was advertised, he also failed to produce sufficient documentary evidence of the academic qualifications he claimed to have acquired.
Nwakohu, who is a lawyer, had only presented to the Council at the time of his appointment, a photocopy of his supposed Call to Bar certificate, purportedly issued by the Nigerian Law School in December 1985, as well as, a photocopy of a supposed “Bachelor of Arts” certificate in Law, purportedly issued by a UK tertiary institution, the “Ealing College of Higher Education” in July 1984. The Ealing College of Higher Education is currently known as the University of West London, according to findings by this Newspaper.
What Nwakohu had presented in lieu of his academic credentials were “a police extract on the loss of all certificates”, and an affidavit issued by the Lagos High Court in June 2005, to the effect that he had “misplaced” all his certificates, including his WAEC O/L certificate, his degree certificate and his NYSC discharge certificate, the committee found. The committee confirmed in its report that Mr. Nwakohu did not apply for the job he is currently doing.
“From the additional documents the Registrar submitted, it shows clearly that: i) The Registrar did not apply online as claimed.
ii) His credentials were not available at the time of the interview, therefore he was interviewed based on his profile, as against the guidelines of the advert,” the committee said.
The committee also reported that Nwakohu engaged in “deliberate falsification of records” regarding his age, to divert attention from his real age while he sought the job of Registrar, as he was already past the statutory retirement age at the time the job was advertised. As the committee found in its report, Mr. Nwakohu did not present a birth certificate to the CRFFN at the time his employment into the agency was processed. In place of his birth certificate, he presented two documents. The first was a police extract from the FCT Police Command Headquarters, issued on the 21st of February 2019 in respect of a “missing” age declaration affidavit, issued by the Port Harcourt high court. According to the extract, Nwakohu claimed that he “discovered” the loss of this affidavit on the 15th of September 1995. The second document presented by Nwakohu in place of his birth certificate was an affidavit from the Abuja high court, in which he made a deposition in respect of the same age declaration affidavit obtained from a Port Harcourt high court. In this later document, Nwakohu claimed to have “discovered” the loss of the very same age declaration affidavit, not in 1995 as stated in the police extract, but now in January 2019.
The Management staff see these contradictory claims as evidence of desperation on the part of Nwakohu, to mislead the agency. As a senior staff of the agency who preferred anonymity said to our correspondent, “No normal person goes for an affidavit in respect of a missing affidavit. The Registrar could have simply obtained another age declaration affidavit, but he was running away from having to state his age under oath, to avoid the potential risk of being outed as having lied under oath.”
In Mr. Nwakohu’s “profile”, a 10-page document containing information on the various aspects of his life and work, his date of birth is given as, “September 15, 1955”. In the section titled “BIO-DATA” on page 8 of the document, a separate line, directly below that in which the date of birth is given, states Nwakohu’s age to be “59 YEARS.” A careful look at the whole document however would reveal a very tiny entry in the lower right-hand side of the front page that simply says “©2015”, indicating that the document was prepared in 2015, four whole years before Mr. Nwakohu presented himself to be interviewed for the job of the CRFFN Registrar. So, while the document correctly states Nwakohu’s 2015 age, it was carefully disguised to look like a document prepared in 2019, to make it appear as though Nwakohu was 59 years old in 2019.
Referencing the precedent set by Nwakohu’s predecessor, Mr. Mike Jukwe, who retired at the age of 60 in January 2019, the ad-hoc investigative committee observed that the Registrar’s job is a civil service appointment and not a political one. It is therefore covered by the Public Service Rule (PSR) – 0200810, section 1 (5) which clearly states the date of retirement from the civil service. The committee therefore came to the conclusion that Nwakohu’s manipulation of numbers in his profile to hide his real age as of 2019, taken together with his decision to swear an affidavit in respect of a missing affidavit to avoid drawing attention to his age as of 2019, was a “deliberate act of fraud”.
Contacted, Nwakohu denied all the charges against him, saying that the petitions flying about were the handiwork of “a tiny group” of Management staff opposed to his position that the CRFFN should be run and managed transparently, devoid of the “gross indiscipline, serious misconduct and insubordination” that had become the order of the day in the maritime agency.
Nwakohu told this our correspondent in Abuja on Wednesday he had no reason to falsify his age, stressing that all the information about his place and date of birth were all there in his passport. “I attended the interview (for the job) in December 2018 and my CV that I sent to the panel read 59 years old; my date of birth on the CV says 15th September 1955. The age that was there was 59. It’s either a mistake of it (CV) was not updated. During the interview, Honourable Hassan Junga asked me, ‘you’re 63 years old’ and I answered ‘yes, by the grace of God, I will be 63.”
On the charge that he was not qualified for the job on account of his age, Nwakohu argued that the Act establishing the CRFFN did not prescribe any age limit. “My predecessor was appointed at the age of 52. He voluntarily retired when he clocked 60 after serving two terms. If they were following the civil service rule, Jukwey would not have come in at 52. It’s sheer wickedness and malicious for anybody to say I falsified my age.”
The embattled CRFFN Registrar/CEO also debunked the story that he never applied for the job when it was advertised. “I applied for the job,” he insisted. “I sent in my application dated November 17, 2018 and it was received and acknowledge on December 13, 2018. Also, the bio-data I submitted showed age 59 but really, I was 63.”
Commenting on the petition sent to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) against him, Nwakohu said, “I was at the CCB on March 17, 2021 but they didn’t physically give me it (copy of the petition) to see. They were only reading the allegations to me from the petition. Let me say that the financial impropriety, as they called it, I am the CEO of CRFFN; the agency doesn’t have money for anybody to steal. We have only about N2.5milion per month to run the head office with liaison offices and out-posts in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano etc with a staff strength of 264, so where is the money for anybody to steal?”
He equally dismissed the allegation that he gave millions to a lady under the guide of a Beauty Pageant as CSR without relevance to the maritime industry. “In the maritime industry, we have people called ‘Maritime Ambassadors’ who project the activities of the industry. They are Queens. Each of the maritime companies has one Ambassador or the other, and I don’t think our Ambassador project took upto N1million.”
Although the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, could not be reached for his comments on the allegations that he the Registrar/CEO was his candidate, Nwakohu told our correspondent, “Amaechi is not my god father. I respect Amaechi (because) he is my Minister and he is a hard-working person.”
He equally laughed off the allegation that he collected and embezzled money for a purported house in the Asokoro district of Abuja meant for CRFFN liaison office. “The house on No. 33, Lugard Avenue, that’s where the CRFFN Liaison office is today. I was there today and I saw all of them there. They moved there when outpost on Airport Road Lugbe was attached by #EndSARS protesters.
On the alleged falsification of academic result, this Newspaper had contacted the University of West London (formerly known as “Ealing College of Higher Education”), seeking to confirm the claims of Barrister Samuel Nwakohu, a Nigerian government official, that he obtained a Law degree from the institution in July 1984. In an email sent to Communications@uwl.ac.uk it was explained that the newspaper was investigating some issues that had recently arisen over Nwakohu’s qualification for the job.
In response to the email, the UK university said on Wednesday, “We have passed your query on to the verification team who can get back to you with any detail necessary. They should contact you directly, but we will pass any reply on if it comes via us.”