The main idea behind privatization is to give significant privilege to a private operator to invest in government owned properties so as to maximize profits and to develop the nation but when the contrary is what obtains; the essence of such magnanimous intention is defeated.
One of such winds of privatization that swept across the country in 2006 was the concessioning of the ports to private individuals with the sole aim of boosting trade; facilitate trade and so many other factors which include reduction in the cost of doing business in the port.
Though cost of doing business in the port means different things to different people; while some believe that the cost must come down, others believe that ability to facilitate trade and reduce the time of doing business is what really matters and not the money cost involved.
A critical look at the ports in Nigeria to some people is a far cry from what these two factors actually stand for. They believe that Nigeria has not yet gotten it right in terms of trade facilitation and reduction in the cost of doing business in the port.
Many people have argued in many directions. Some stakeholders want the cost of clearing goods from the port to come down drastically to match what is happening in other climes while some others just believe that the cost does not really matter but the number of days it takes to bring out cargoes from the port.
All these arguments emanate as a result of the recent break down in the server at AP Moller Terminal (APMT) which led to agents and importers being stranded for days in the terminal. They also complained that the terminal operators refused to give them the necessary cushion being that the fault is not theirs.
According to Reverend Jonathan Nicol, the President of Shippers Association of Lagos State (SALS), if there is any such break down in the server, the most important thing such a terminal operator should do is to find a way of bringing the customers into the know so that the problems can be solved altogether and at once.
He believes that there is no need for hide and seek, they should cooperate with their customers and should not be distant from them.
In his words, “It is necessary for APMT not to run from their customers. When you shut the door against your customers, your customers won’t know your problems but if you let customers know your problem, half of your problems will be solved.”
To Nicol, trade facilitation has to do with being able to meet with the target time given to your customers, living up to expectation so that you will not lose your customers. To him, anything less is not acceptable because his customers are the hearts of his business.
To Stephen Ibe, the system in APMT is killing because they make the job difficult for agents and importers. He said sometimes, as a result of the delay caused by the terminal operators, shippers’ goods accrue demmurage for upwards of about N2 million for goods not worth the amount.
He prefers that the port system be reversed to the time the Nigerian Ports Authority was in charge of cargo handling.
According to him, it cost a mere N1, 750 to clear a container from the port unlike now that the same container will cost more than N12, 000 without any additional value added except that the agents are made to go through more rigours more than ever before.
Ibe who is a chieftain of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) lamented that even though the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) officials do not delay their parts of the job, APMT will fail to print their Debit Note (DN).
In his speech, he said that the management of APMT has failed to provide a soft landing for the agents as the there is no waiver for the demurrage and if there is any, too insignificant compared to the damage already done by the terminal.
He said, “If you book today, they will ask you to come in two days’ time, that is when they will drop the empty container and find out that it is not dropped. They will just collect the container number and ask you to go. They will only do it whenever they like and the demurrage is accruing.
“When NPA was there, it was N1, 750 but when they came, they jerked it up to N12, 000. Twenty feet was about N750 then.”
He lamented that during the three weeks that the malaise lasted, he fell victim when his container was trapped for eleven days but was only given three days out of the eleven days that the demurrage had accrued. He fumed because he was made to suffer for what he did not cause.
Recently, the Chairman of the Apapa chapter of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Olumide Fakanlu said that he suspected that the server breakdown was a ploy by APMT to recoup the money they purportedly lost in the concluding part of last year.
He believes that nowhere in the world is business done the way it is being done in APMT; he said it was an impunity that cannot be compared.
He said that the association had decided to resolve to take the bull by the horn by taking the terminal operators to court if the problems persisted. They said their new resolve not to down tools is borne out of the fact that the old system would further deteriorate the already bad system.
The Coordinator of a pressure group in the port, Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders, Importers and Exporters Coalition (SNFFIEC), Chief Osita Chukwu said that the issue of impunity in APMT is going out of hands. He described the activities of APMT as a threat to national economy.
“They (APMT) are bigger than the government since they cannot allow the regulatory body that was assigned the job to do it. In spite of the fact the concession agreements have not been met, they have been robbing Nigeria of a lot of money.”
The APMT debacle has been said to have diverted many cargoes meant for the country to other neighbouring countries like Togo, Benin and the likes.
If this act continues, the country will not only suffer in terms of economic loss, the nation will lose many cargoes to the neighbouring countries where the cost of clearing cargoes are deemed cheaper and affordable.
Though the terminal management had said it will make up for the loss incurred by the operators and those concerned. The long time effect of this act on the nation may be too much for the nation to bear.
Though Fakanlu did not say exactly what led to the loss in the funds at the APMT towards the end of last year, tongues have been wagging that the terminals owners in Nigeria were made to cough out fortune for the campaign of the incumbent government towards the electioneering period.
Perhaps this is what Fakanlu was trying to say that the terminal was trying to regain all its expenditure towards the campaign of PDP in 2015 general elections. And having lost, the terminal is bent on getting back its money because it does not know what the incoming government has in stock for it.
This follows earlier reports that the APC government might revoke or review concessioning agreement as it stands now.