By Kenneth Jukpor & Okuneye Moyosola
Despite the Federal Government’s Ease of Doing Business plans to facilitate the process of clearing goods at the airports, there are allegations that Ground Handling companies have continued to prioritize their selfish gains over efficiency and customers’ satisfaction.
Some officers of Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc. (NAHCO) and Skyway Aviation Handling Company Limited (SAHCOL) have been alleged to not work for more than four hours daily, frustrating the efforts of business persons who intend to expeditiously to clear their goods at the ports.
The Coordinator, Transport and Logistics Group, Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) Dr. Ikenna Nwosu while speaking at the 2019 Nigerian Maritime Ports and Terminals (NIMPORT) conference and exhibition stated this, even as he urged the authorities of both companies to look into these sharp practices.
Nwosu who was moderating one of the sessions at the event said, “While there are numerous charges with cargo clearance at seaports, the problems also persist at airports. At NAHCO and SAHCOL, the workers work barely four or five hours daily. They always say they are on break. This action frustrates ease of doing business at the ports”.
Nwosu also disclosed that the ground handling companies collects money for the services not offered, “Why charge someone for storage of containers at the weekends when the client doesn’t have the privilege of clearing his consignments. Ports should work for 24 hours and these unprofessional conducts for delaying the process for gratification must stop” he said.
Investigations by MMS Plus also reveal that some officers of NAHCO and SAHCOL do not work for more than four hours daily, frustrating the efforts of business persons who intend to expeditiously to clear their goods at the ports.
Although these ground handling companies work claim to work from 8am to 5pm, during an investigation by MMS Plus, our reporter observed that most workers jettison their offices for long hours, they only have a break of one hour which is between 12pm-1pm.
It is quite unfortunate that during this break time, all business activities are paused until the break is over; whereas these companies claim to have shifts.
“Why do all workers have to go on break at the same time depriving port users an opportunity to transact businesses during that time?” a port operator queried.
Recall that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) issued a directive two weeks ago that all activities at the ground handling companied should start by 7am and end by 7pm. Despite this, the normal work hours for the ground handling companies is from 9am to 5pm, the 7am-7pm directive from FAAN is to ensure that those who couldn’t finish the clearance of their goods on time could further complete it before 7pm, is being jettisoned.
When contacted on this, General Manager, Corporate Communications of the FAAN, Henrietta Yakubu noted that the ground handling companies have not been able to work for 24 hours as a result of the bad state of the airfield lighting facilities at the airport at night.
“Some airport works for 24 hours. So, where airports work for 24 hours, it is expected that the ground handling companies will also work for 24 hours. The airports are shut down by 5pm because of poor lightening facilities. Most of our airports work 24 hours, it is just the local one that close by that time and I’m sure that’s the reason they did that. It has nothing to do with FAAN and you know they are an independent body, they don’t report to FAAN” she opined.
It should be noted that after 6:30pm aircrafts are unable to land at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA). However, the delay tactics at the Ground Handling companies are seen as an intentional avenue for officials to collect bribes from freight agents.
In a swift reaction to this allegation, the Manager Corporate Communications at SAHCOL, Vanessa Adetola Uansohia, maintained that all operations department at the company operate 24 hours on the basis of shifts.
“We run a 24 hour shift for operation staff in SAHCOL. There are different types, there is the cargo and there is the passenger handling aspect of it. The passenger handling aspect runs for 24 hours. Even in the cargo handling aspect, they are there by 8am and do not close until 5pm and sometimes we work during the weekend. For members of staff that work in the office, we resume by 8am and we don’t close until 5pm. There are times that we may even have to work late hours. It depends on the job. However, SAHCO as a company works every day of the week” she said.
Similarly, the spokesman of NAHCO, Mr. Tayo Ajakaye also dismissed claims that the ground handling companies operate for only four hours daily.
“We open for business by 8am in the morning and we close by 5pm at the operational; areas. If you are talking of export, we open by 9am and we close by 4pm. I’m sure the person that said this hasn’t been to the airport to export anything, they just sit down and start saying rubbish” Ajakaye lamented.
According to him, the ground handling companies do not operate during weekends because the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) are not available at that time.
“Compliants about weekends should be taken to the Customs. We operate the Customs Bonded warehouse, if Customs decides that they are not going to work on weekends, then there is nothing we can do about it. We couldn’t open that place without the Customs”.
On his part, MMIA Customs command Public Relations Officer, Haruna Ephraim, dismissed claims that the Customs do not work on weekends.
According to him, the Customs at the airport are available on Saturdays but do not work on Sundays.
“We don’t work on Sundays but we work on Saturdays. We have issues but these agents they don’t tell you the truth, we have Customs and we have terminal operators. The terminal operators are the NAHCO and SAHCOL. On a normal day, these ground handling companies don’t open by 8am. Customs resume by 8am because we are a government agency. They won’t start work until around 9am to open the terminal. If they don’t open the terminal, there is no how Customs will do their work. From 12pm -1pm they go for their break. When it comes to the issue of examination, they have to position the consignment for Customs to examine. On Saturdays by 8am, officers are already on ground for work” Ephraim said.
Another mindboggling issue from Ground Handling company’s inability to operate during weekends is their penchant to demand charges as storage and demurrage for Saturdays and Sundays. So, why do these companies collect demurrage and storage for weekends? Isn’t it an attempt to frustrate the efforts of the agents who want to collect their goods? Is this not an attempt tamper with government policies on the ease o doing business in the country?
Findings also revealed that if agents do not finish their clearance of Saturdays which is a half day of work (10am-2pm), they have to come back on Monday to complete the process.
A freight forwarding agent who spoke to MMS Plus recalled that several years ago, Ground Handling companies worked till 12 midnight.
He said; “Sometimes our clients may be held in traffic and may ask us to stay behind and wait for them. This has greatly affected us. Around that 7pm, business has just started. Let’s say your work comes in by 6:30pm, it is certain you won’t finish by 8:30 pm. You can’t do anything because you will be pursued from the premises by 7pm. The warehouse is shut down by 5pm, so every other thing you want to do, you have 2 more hours to complete and leave the premises. The only people that are allowed to stay are those on night shift. These are the people in tarmac and at the international airport. There is no night shift at the ground handling companies”
Nigeria is ranked 146 among 190 economies in the ease of doing business, according to the latest World Bank annual ratings. The rank of Nigeria deteriorated to 146 in 2018 from 145 in 2017. Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria averaged 145.09 from 2008 until 2018, reaching an all time high of 170 in 2014 and a record low of 120 in 2008.