In this interview with LEADERSHIP, president of the Nigeria Association of Auctioneers (NAA), Alhaji Musa Kurra, said electronic auction (e-auction) launched by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) last year to end manual process, has failed because the NCS did not involve the professionals and that the country was not yet matured for it. He also spoke about plans for his association.
Your association was against e-auction launched by the current management of the Nigeria Customs Service. What is the position of things now?
With due respect to the comptroller-general of the Nigeria customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), he may have his reasons for introducing this process, but we told him that what he is doing is wrong. I have been a member of so many auctioneer associations in the world, not only in Nigeria and I can tell you that both the online and physical auctions hold simultaneously, that is the practice everywhere in the world. I think he is ignorant about the workings of auctioning. Since he took that irrational decision, it has backfired because it is not working. We are talking about Nigeria here. Since the commencement of the online auctions, ask them whether it has achieved its purpose. The whole thing is not working. Assuming he engaged us the auctioneers, I can assure you that in two weeks, we would have sold everything for him and take the money into government account. In another case, the NCS collected our own money for registration. N5000 for each auctioneer and they gave us receipts. We paid that money into their account in Wema Bank and we were given tellers. That was the more reason we took the NCS to court to stop them from going ahead with the e-auction. The N5000 they collected from us, what was it for? We have over five thousand members and we have been doing business with the NCS even before Ali joined the army. So what are they talking about?
As a professional, how do you think e-auction can work in Nigeria?
I think we are not matured for it. We have to be practical about it. The first problem we have is the system. How do you operate the system? We know our behaviours as Nigerians, people will always want to take advantage of the system and that is actually what has been happening. But if you are using us as professionals, whatever we do, you have representatives that will monitor us. I am telling you if the opportunity was given to us, we would have emptied all the ports within two weeks.
What are the major challenges confronting auctioning in Nigeria and the way forward?
When I was campaigning to become the national president of the Nigeria Association Of Auctioneers, one thing I told my members was that there are a lot of things wrong with auctioning in Nigeria and you need somebody that is exposed both locally and internationally for you to take its position back in Nigeria. I can tell you we have many challenges. The civil servants are our main challenge. They will make advertisements inviting licensed auctioneers to come and register with them. You come and register, they will give you an appointment letter to come and serve for them they will also give you the go ahead to go and advertise in two national dailies. You use your money to advertise in two dailies, you have all your documents intact and the day you are supposed to come and auction after you have already advertised in the national dailies, people will come and converge only for the government people to come and tell you that they have converted the whole thing to themselves which is fraud and illegal. I have promised my members that once I become president, I will stop all these irregularities.
What do you think is the role of government in this?
The role of the government is a general one. We all know what the problem of this country is. It is not peculiar to auctioning alone, it is a general problem and that is why I pity the current government because by the time you block this hole they open another one. Even though the government has very good intention, as Nigerians, instead of us to help the government to see that we give our country a better name we are not doing that. What we are doing is how to bring the government down so it is not a peculiar problem that has to do only with auctioneering but general one-corruption, insincerity, and impunity, people can do things without fear.
What are your plans for the association?
I have great plans for the association and some of them have already started manifesting. In the history of this association, from the time it was established, the association has never had an office. The moment I came in with my executives, we now have an office in Wuse 2, Abuja, which is the first time the association will be having such since inception.
This association has been in existence since the 80s but it has never had an office, it has been operating under the trees but the first week we entered, we got an office. Now we operate from our own office, we send mails to so many ministries and we are getting replies coming directly to our office. This is an achievement and that is the first step we have taken because nobody will take us serious as an association if we don’t have office.
The way and manner the former executives were running the association is better imagined. It was not the way to run an association. There are a lot of things we need to reposition in the association. We are professionals, we pay our taxes and all our dues to the government so I don’t think it is right for civil servants to reduce us to mere agents. These are some of the things we want to strengthen. We want to be purely professional and whoever does not have his documents will not have any position in our association.
Can you please tell us the background of the crisis in the Nigeria Association of Auctioneers before you emerged as the president and what is the position now?
There was an election in the association in 2015 , and the election was disputed. We wrote a petition to the trustee, telling them that even though they were present at the election, the way it was conducted did not conform to the local or international standard. In fact, we did not even wait for the election committee to announce the results, we did not believe in what was going on and we complained verbally before we wrote to the trustees.
When we forwarded the petition to the trustees, they looked at it and said both of us (the two factions in the association) should meet them in Lagos so that they will find a way to end the dispute. We (our group) travelled to Lagos and met the trustees but the other group refused to go. The secretary of the board of trustees called on the leader of the other group, Kiliya and asked him why his group did not honour the invitation, he (Kiliya) told him that the trustees do not have any power to invite them to come to Lagos and that they would not come, so whatever decision they want to take they should go ahead.
The trustees nullified the election and published it in the newspapers. They inaugurated a caretaker committee to steer the affairs of the association pending another election, which they did from 2015-2016. They gave them the mandate of six months within which to reconcile both parties and organise another election. After six months, when they could not reconcile both parties, they gave them another extension of six months to see how they would reconcile the two parties. When the situation became irreconcilable, the trustees formed an electoral committee and asked them to go and conduct the election. The election took place in November, 2017 in Kaduna and that was where I emerged as president of the association.
Since they are still parading themselves as executives of the association, does it mean we have two sets of executives for the association?
No, I don’t think that is the true position. The true position of things was that before the election, they were dissolved by the trustees. The records are there. You cannot do an election without dissolving the sitting executive, so before the election took place, they were dissolved. They cannot claim that they are still members of the executives, their mandate expired in 2015.
But they are still going about parading themselves as the authentic executives of the association and some people are patronising them in the name of the association?
Whoever patronises them does so at his own risk because they are not representing the association. At the election that took place in Kaduna, 26 state chapters were present, the records are there. Not only that, they tried to stop the election by every means but they couldn’t. They went to the extent of going to the commissioner of police to report to him that they have a court case against us and asked him to give them some policemen for them to stop the election. The commissioner of police told them that he had already directed his men to give us protection for the election because he has seen nothing to stop us. But he said if they have already taken the matter to court, they should go and continue with the court process. He said whatever we do, if it is illegal, the court can still set it aside. They took us to court and the matter is still pending. First, they took us to court to stop the inauguration of the electoral and the caretaker committees, they could not succeed. Now that the election has taken place and the new executives are in place, they have taken us to court again, the case is still pending in court. We are have been defeating them; whatever they are doing is none of our business.
What makes your association stand out from others ?
We are agents of whoever hires us not only government. We do auction for embassies and let me put it this way, our members are expected to pay their taxes every year, pay their social insurance and others. So by the time they finished paying these levies, we are talking about more than one million naira. That is what we pay every year; every member that participates in any business must have all documents intact. So we are recognised by the government constitutionally and we are paying our dues.
Our association is recognised as far as auction is concerned in Nigeria. The other ones don’t even know what auction is all about.
The only thing I have to advice is that Nigerians should be very careful in their choice of people they do business with.
For instance these people parading themselves as executives of this association, when in truth they are not. If they fall into their hands, they will be disappointed.
We are saying without fear of any contradiction that we are the legitimate body and executive elected by the 26 chapters of the association in Kaduna.
We have a new constitution and are protected by law. We will always follow due process.
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