· Agents lament as banks remain closed, harassment by Police
· Don’t be unruly to bank officials – Bello
By Kenneth Jukpor
In a bid to address the brewing cargo haulage crisis in Port Harcourt, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) and the Presidential Taskforce for the Control of Coronavirus have initiated talks with the Governor of Rivers State¸ Nyesome Wike to reopen the land borders in the State.
This is coming after numerous complaints by importers and freight forwarders whose consignments remain stuck in Port Harcourt following the lockdown directed by the governor as part of efforts to curb the spread of the virus in Rivers State.
The seaport in Port Harcourt remains open and operational with several manufacturers’ goods and other essential goods coming in, however, they are unable to get to the final destination outside the State as a result of the cessation of movement.
Speaking with MMS Plus on this challenge last week, the Executive Secretary of NSC, Mr. Hassan Bello assured that the complications would be fully resolved soonest.
He said: “The situation is getting better because Shippers’ Council and the Presidential taskforce on Covid-19 have started engaging the Rivers State government”
“This closed borders in Rivers State has been an issue for cargo movement to other locations but it is being addressed as some cargoes have been moved out of Port Harcourt recently. The situation is getting better because we are doing the necessary engagement.”
The Chairman, Bayelsa and Rivers Shippers Association, Mr. Ofon Udofia told our correspondent that shippers have been unable to get their goods out of Rivers State in the last two weeks.
Udofia admonished the Rivers State government to create a window that would allow shippers convey their goods to the various destinations after proper checks by the relevant health personnel.
The President of Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) Hon. Tony Iju Nwabunike in an account of freight forwarding activities in recent weeks told our correspondent that the border closure in Rivers State was a major challenge to freight agents and importers using Rivers ports.
“Rivers ports are operational but the problem is that Governor Nyesome Wike shut the borders as part of efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus in the State. Several goods have arrived through Port Harcourt seaport but they are unable to transit to the neighbouring states as a result of the border closure” Nwabunike said.
On Lagos ports, the ANLCA President lamented that the low compliance of banks remained a huge challenge to cargo clearance at the ports, adding that skeletal bank operations wouldn’t guarantee optimal port operations desired by President Mohammadu Buhari to have the ports effectively receive essential products during the lockdown.
He admonished the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Mr. Godwin Emefiele to direct all commercial banks to open for the purpose of cargo clearance, explaining that freight agents had the privilege to open their ‘Form M’ with various banks before the lockdown.
“Only three or four banks have responded to the directive and opened for operations at the Apapa port. None around the Tin Can axis has complied. How would a freight forwarder process cargo clearance if the bank with which the ‘Form M’ was opened isn’t part of the operational banks? This is a huge challenge.”
“We need the CBN Governor to direct all banks to open, at least, for the purpose of port operations. You can’t pay duties online and agents have cheques from their clients that require them getting into the banks.”
Nwabunike also called on the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Mohammed Adamu to instruct the Lagos Commissioner of Police, CP Hakeem Odumosu to stop harassing and arresting freight agents in Lagos whose services have been labeled essential in order to have the ports operational.
Noting that most banks were yet to comply to the federal government directive to open for port operations, the NSC boss assured that the Council is working assiduously to have all banks open for the purpose of cargo clearance.
While commercial banks are being admonished to open to aid port operations despite the lockdown, some freight agents have taken out their grievances on bank workers at Lagos ports.
Last week, our correspondent obtained reports of an incident which ensued in Access bank at Apapa port where freight agents accosted bank workers for perceived nonchalance and the bank management shutdown the bank.
Bello confirmed that he got similar reports of freight forwarders behaving unruly at Access bank, consequently, the bank decided to close its premises on account of harassment of their officials by freight agents.
“We have been able to get about four or five banks return to operations at the ports. We know that more banks would have to be operational but freight agents must also refrain from unruly behavior,” Bello said.
The Shippers’ Council boss, however, noted that the Easter weekend has been dedicated for cargo delivery at the ports with terminal operators and officers of Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) already directed to be available for cargo clearance.
He stressed that for freight agents to participate in this, they must have completed their filing and documentation processes.
In a related development, AP Moller Terminal revealed that as part of efforts to ensure that its terminal remains operational during the lockdown, it has made provision to house and cater for the upkeep of about 300 workers during the period.
A top managerial staff at the terminal revealed this to MMS Plus newspaper, lamenting that this additional cost is borne by the company.
The operator faulted NPA’s call for waivers on storage charges since it had already incurred additional cost to have workers available for unhindered cargo clearance via the terminal.
AP Moller Terminal executive admonished NPA to provide clarity on the reimbursement for the 21-days waivers on storage fees as directed by NPA.
To address this, NPA sent a letter to terminal operators last week signed by the General Manager, Monitoring and Regulatory Services, Ugo Madubuike for the Managing Director and obtained by MMS Plus newspaper, NPA highlighted the compensation terms.
According to the letter, NPA would grant credit notes commensurate to the rental reliefs granted by the terminal operators to consignees within the 21-day free storage period.
The letter dated April 8, 2020, with reference number HQ/GM/MRS/OP/L.1/Vol.II/371 titled; “Re: Relief Measures To Port Users Due To Outbreak of Covid-19” read;
“The compensation will only cover cargoes situated in your terminal within the period under reference. The terminal must produce evidence of delivery records indicating waiver of rent for the period in reference”
“The compensation shall only cover storable cargoes within respective terminals. The compensation shall only cover charges approved by the Authority and published by the terminal. Any charge outside these will not be accommodated”