$2 Million Demand Smears Agents’ No-Service Action

  • $2 Million Demand Smears Agents’ No-Service Action
    Nigerian Ports Authority Lagos

    Aniebonam Beats A Retreat

  • AREFF Jumps Fence
  • Maritime Workers’ Union Divided

Baring any last minute truce, the freight agents will begin withdrawal of services nationwide this week in protest against the rip-off at the terminals by terminal operators operating at the nation’s ports.

This is coming as the three weeks old no-service action by the agents has been smeared with allegations of demands for $2 million (N360 million) from the terminal operators.

Meanwhile, some port operators have recorded losses, so far, even as a group of agents has described the withdrawal of services by agents as selfish and un-called for.

In line with their collective resolve in their separate National Executive Council (NEC) meeting yesterday, the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) and the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), have resolved to begin withdrawal of service at the ports across the country in solidarity with the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) which was dragged to court by terminal operators and shipping companies for daring to direct them to reduce their terminal and shipping charges.

Recall that shippers’ council had ordered an increase in the storage period at the ports from three days to seven days, even as it directed all shipping companies to reduce their charges from N26, 500 to N23, 850 per 20 feet container and from N48, 000 to N40, 000 per 40 feet container.

But the terminal operators acting under the umbrella of Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) had secured an interim injunction restricting the Shippers’ Council from implementing the order.

In a counter move, however, on November 10, 2014 at the High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, STOAN case was thrown out on technical ground. However, STOAN re-filled the case against Shippers’ Council.

In like manner, the Shipping Association of Nigeria (SAN), the umbrella body of multi-national shipping companies in Nigeria, filed a suit against the Shippers’ Council for which hearing has been adjourned to Monday 17, 2014.

As the court battle rages and NAGAFF as well as ANLCA prepare to throw their hats into the ring, in solidarity, the Apapa chapters of NAGAFF and ANLCA have in the statement jointly signed by the Apapa chapter of the associations, called on the relevant government agencies at both federal and state levels, Nigerian Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress among others to come to their rescue from what they described as the colonial merchants by the APMT.

Also joined in the synergy are the national Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDCLA), the Association of Registered Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (AREFFN) and Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO) who have said that since the terminal operators had declined to accede to their demands they were handing over the fight against the terminal operators to the Joint National Executives.

The release in part read, “We call on relevant government agencies at federal and state levels, Nigerian Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress and others to rise and rescue Nigeria from the hands of these colonial merchants.”

“Therefore, we may suspend our actions at the moment for our national leaders to take over from thereof,” they said.

Speaking at the end of the meeting of the National Officers of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) at the National Secretariat on Wednesday, the National President of ANLCA, Prince Olayiwola Shittu told newsmen that the withdrawal of services by the members of the Apapa Chapter of the association from APMT would continue.

Prince Shittu stated that the terminal operators had walked out of their members, where the representatives of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), were seated to resolve the issues at several meetings which he termed as an insult on Nigerians.

According to him, “APM Terminal has grown to become like a sovereign within the sovereignty of Nigeria. They don’t care, they abuse people, they walk out of meetings, they boast, quote me, they boast that Obasanjo and Shonekan are behind them and no power can let them go beyond what they are doing now”.

“To even cap it all, they even go beyond the issue of why we are reacting, they said that when Nigerians are hungry, they will go back to work. That is insulting, it is unacceptable,” he added.

The ANLCA chieftain however disclosed that the action did not affect other terminals as according to him, “the problems the other terminals have had been well documented including APM Terminal themselves and we have forwarded them to the Presidency”.

Meanwhile, NAGAFF has directed that its members should disembark from the strike action if an amicable resolution was not met as at Friday, last week.

The planned withdrawal of NAGAFF from the strike was said to be unconnected with the alleged sum of N360 million demanded by a set of agents. It was said that the terminal operators gave the agents N200 million but declined to take it insisting that the requested amount must be complete.

NAGAFF was said to have seen the illegal demand as a ploy to extort the terminal operators and would not want to be caught in the web of such anomaly hence the need to call its members to order.

According to Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, the founder of NAGAFF, the move to pull out of the strike is to save the Nigerian economy from further hardship adding that the withdrawal of members from the strike was without prejudice to ongoing negotiations by all parties in the matter.

However, an estimated over N50 billion is said to have been lost to the two weeks’ old strike as N5 billion was said to go down the drain on daily basis due to the strike both to the Nigeria Customs Service, the terminal operators and the clearing agents.

In a similar vein, the National President of AREFF, Frank Ukor while dissociating the association from the strike action condemned the ongoing strike by NAGAFF and ANLCA describing it as a selfish move. According to him, “ANLCA and NAGAFF are selfish; they are only fighting for their pockets. They want to shut down the others so that it will only be two of them.

“The sea is so wide and will contain a lot of ships. In other countries, the freight forwarding associations are so many but in Nigeria, we are talking about only five and come to think of it, this action they embarked on, we all signed a memorandum of understanding with MAAG that before we take such action, we have to sit down and look at the pros and cons and if we want to withdraw, it will be total withdrawal,” he stated.

Taking stock of the loss accruable from the ongoing strike, the National President of NAGAFF, Chief Eugene Nweke said that the implication of the strike would go beyond the immediate sum of money being lost on daily basis saying that the action could lead to cargo diversion to other countries if the strike persisted.

According to him, “Talking about the colossal implication of the withdrawal of service, if it is not called off, I think I want to assure you that beyond the figure given this morning (Thursday, last week) that the country is losing N3.6 billion per day, as a professional freight forwarder, I know that the implication will go beyond that.”

Meanwhile, the case brought by STOAN against the Nigerian Shippers’ Council at the High Court, Ikoyi on the eligibility of the Council to tinker with their charges which was struck out on technical ground has been re-filed by STOAN ostensibly to make amends to the areas where the originating summon was faulted.

This automatically means that the injunction on stay of execution of terminal charges earlier gotten by STOAN been nullified by striking out of their case.

However, the case between the shipping companies and the Shippers’ Council has been adjourned till Monday this week, for hearing.

However, the Maritime Workers’ Union Nigerian Shippers’ Council district has distanced itself from a position taken by the Union where it was stated that the union kicked against the reduction of port charges by Shippers’ Council.

According to the press statement released by the Maritime workers union and copied the Executive Secretary of NSC, titled: Re: Maritime Workers union Dares Shippers’ Council Over Reduction of Port Charges, the Shippers’ Council District of the union has dissociated itself from the position of the union.

The statement read , “As you are aware, members of our district, being employees of the organisation you have dared in carrying out its statutory function, view this posture of the union with grave concerns.”

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