* Ports and Cargo complies with NPA directive on storage charges
* CRFFN writes Police IG on harassment of agents during lockdown
By Kenneth Jukpor
As part of the efforts to prevent the impending crisis at the nation’s port sector, Nigerian Ports Consultative Council(PCC) and several freight forwarding groups have proposed the formation of a port industry committee to manage the economic activities at the ports after the coronavirus pandemic.
Accumulated storage charges and demurrages by terminal operators and shipping companies are major issues that could lead to pandemonium at the ports after the Covid-19 pandemic is addressed.
The Chairman of PCC, Otunba Kunle Folarin made this call during an exclusive chat with MMS Plus on Friday last week, even as he observed that such steering committee should be in place beyond the Covid-19 issues to provide direction for the port sector at varying times.
Otunba said; “Apart from the timely intervention that the government has done to manage the ports at this crucial time, a committee should be set-up to chart the way forward after the Covid-19 pandemic. This committee should involve various port stakeholders”
He observed that international trade has been affected by the ongoing lockdown and expressed optimism that such committee would appraise the consequences of the lockdown on the nation’s maritime sector.
Although he opined that the full details of the committee in terms of membership and objectives could be developed later, he added that the core issues should be, “how the ports could return to optimal performance again after Covid-19 and creating a structure to cater for emergencies at the ports and not rely on impromptu decisions when problems arise.”
He expressed confidence that this committee could be developed within one week, while he commended Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) for their efforts to get terminal operators and shipping companies suspend their charges at such trying times.
The President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Hon. Tony Iju Nwabunike also concurred with the PCC boss, stressing that such committee would be required to prevent the impending fiscal crisis at the nation’s ports.
“The initiative to have a committee to plan for the aftermath of Covid-19 at the Nigerian ports is commendable and ANLCA supports this because there are several challenges that have to be addressed,” Nwabunike told our correspondent.
The ANLCA boss lamented that freight forwarding activities at Lagos ports was still at an abysmal state despite the efforts of Shippers’ Council and the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN).
“Freight Forwarding operations haven’t improved under this lockdown. The banks are still not operating and there is nothing we can do without the banks. I would say our activities are below 20 percent compared to what we should have achieved if there wasn’t a lockdown,” he told MMS Plus newspaper.
Similarly, the President of Africa Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics on Nigeria (APFFLON) Mr. Frank Ogunojemite supported the proposal to have the port committee, noting that it would avail the sector a veteran independent group to address the many ills in the industry.
However, he called on terminal operators and shipping companies to adhere to the federal government directives to suspend storage charges and demurrages for the period under the lockdown.
“There hasn’t been compliance with these directives to suspend charges by any of the terminal operators. I have receipts of storage charges at some terminals untill Thursday, April 16th, 2020. It is almost three weeks since NPA gave the directive but there has been no compliance,” Ogunojemite lamented.
Meanwhile, on Friday last week, the National Secretary of ANLCA, Mr. Babatunde Mukalia revealed that Ports and Cargo Handling Terminal set the record as the first terminal to comply with NPA directive to stop collection of storage charges.
Mukalia also told our correspondent that freight agents under the aegis of ANLCA had started compiling their receipts to push for reimbursement of storage fees paid since March 23rd 2020 when NPA gave the directive to suspend the charges.
His words: “We always knew that it wouldn’t be easy to get terminal operators comply with the directive to waive charges. However, the good news is that I can tell you authoritatively that Ports and Cargo Handling Terminal started complying from Thursday evening (April 16th, 2020). I believe that other terminals would join in complying especially at this time when one operator has complied”
“We have started getting response from ANLCA members in terms of evidence of payment for storage charges since March 23rd 2020. We are keeping the receipts and invoices, so we can push forward to apply for refund.”
In a related development, the Registrar of CRFFN, Barr. Samuel Nwakohu has written to the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Mohammed Adamu to instruct his officers in Lagos to refrain from harassing port workers, especially freight agents.
Nwakohu revealed this during an interview with MMS Plus even as he noted that he paid working visits to the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in charge of Area B Police Command Apapa on the issue.
“The police could do better to ensure freight forwarders and other port workers go about their activities without intimidation. There have been unpleasant cases with port operators and police in recent times but I don’t want to attribute it to the entirety of the Police because it could be just few bad eggs in the system.”
“We also want the IG to send signals for the officers in Lagos to allow legitimate freight forwarders go to the port to perform their duties, especially on essential goods,” Nwakohu said.
Noting that the activities of freight forwarders have been hampered by non-operation of most banks, the CRFFN Registrar appealed to freight agents to be patient with the banks, pointing out that they also had to prioritize the safety and well-being of their workers.
“The reality is that banks aren’t opening but we must understand that they also care about the welfare of the members of their staff. They are also trying to comply but most of them are offering skeletal services and we cant take that away from them. Some of the banks are operate from 9am to 3pm and I wouldn’t advocate for extension of the hours. What I would ask for is that they open from Mondays to Fridays and ensure that they render the services for that period,” he said.
He also noted that small banking halls at the ports may not be able to allow more than five or six people inside at anytime in the bid to adhere to social distancing; he stressed that this means people may have to queue up outside and be patient.
The ANLCA President, Nwabunike also confirmed to our correspondent that the harassment of freight agents by the Police had dropped and he commended the Executive Secretary, NSC, Mr. Hassan Bello and the CRFFN Registrar, Barr. Nwakohu for their intervention.
Nwabunike also decried poor turnout of shipping companies and banks, noting that the efforts to clear essential goods at the ports may not be realized if both organizations don’t open up for optimal port operations.