By DAPO OLAWUNI
Confusion has began to trail the nationwide broadcast of President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday 29th of March 2020 as the president ordered seaports in Lagos to remain operational despite the enforcement of total lockdown against spread of the Coronavirus.
Stakeholders in separate chats with DAILY TREND NEWS noted that the president’s directive contradicts itself and that it equally contradicts an earlier directive issued by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) that terminal operators and shipping companies should suspend all collection of demurrage and rent on cargoes for now.
Speaking with our correspondent, the Chairman of Tin Can Island Chapter of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) Prince Segun Oduntan said that stakeholders are not expecting terminal operators and shipping companies to continue operations or charge demurrage since nobody would be allowed to access the port.
According to him, agents are on standby to see what actions the terminal operators decide to take, and that they are ready to defend their members against any collection of charges.
“Our members must stay out of the port, by the time this is resolved, we would all come out, no terminal operators or shipping companies would charge a dime”
“If the terminal operators are trying to be inconsiderate with Nigerian lives, they should be ready for the consequences because they are not bigger than Nigeria”
“The port can be running, but people that are not in operations should stay away because of the social distancing, people cannot be coming forward to take delivery of cargoes at this time” he said
Oduntan who is chairman of Settle Systems Limited described the ports in Lagos as a high risk area for people to easily contract the COVID-19.
He said “There are 400 clearing agents clustered around TICT at every particular time, apart from the airport, the seaports is the next place where people can get infected easily, when a vessel arrives, the Quarantine, Immigration and Customs enforcement officers are the first people to go onboard, after this they come back to their office where they start having contacts with people”
“After the presidential address, I expect that the ports should be shut down, but let’s see what happens tomorrow”
“In terms of cushioning the losses at this time, we should not be focusing on financial losses because this is about life and death, if it were to be a war, would people not stay in their houses?
After the lockdown, terminal operators would still make their surplus”
Already, the ANLCA National Secretariat has announced that it is opening up a channel of discussions with the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) on the matter.
In a message sent to all ANLCA members by its national president, Hon Tony Iju Nwabunike, he said the association is expecting to receive further guidelines and explanation on the presidential broadcast because it has left operators more confused.
The message reads in part “In line with the latest directive of the President of the Federal of Nigeria, H.E. Mohammed Buhari, GCFR, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, directing the seaports to remain operational in order to continue to handle essential cargo, even during the 14-day lockdown order in Lagos, commencing at 11pm on Monday, March 30, 2020; we want to assure you that I am currently in consultation with Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) top management to receive the approved operational guidelines for this lockdown period. I expect to receive the full guidelines by tomorrow being Monday, 30th of March, 2020.
“As we wait for further clarification, I want to use this medium to inform our members that key executives of the association, including myself, will be available to handle any matters that may require the attention of the association”
In order to cushion the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on importers and clearing agents, the NPA had announced that it has directed all terminal operators to suspend all applicable terminal storage fees on consignments from an initial period of twenty-one days effective March 23, 2020.
In a press statement issued on Friday by the General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications of NPA, Eng Adams Jatto, the authority said that the gesture is in recognition of the pressure that the COVID-19 pandemic imposes on businesses.
“The Authority recognises the financial implications of these policies on the terminal operators and will consider a shift in our operational charges to ameliorate the situation of stakeholders” he said
In his speech on Sunday night, President Buhari said “All seaports in Lagos shall remain operational in accordance with the guidelines I issued earlier. Vehicles and drivers conveying essential cargoes from these Ports to other parts of the country will be screened thoroughly before departure by the Ports Health Authority”
“Furthermore, all vehicles conveying food and other essential humanitarian items into these locations from other parts of the country will also be screened thoroughly before they are allowed to enter these restricted areas”
Expressing concerns over this directive, another Licensed Customs agent, Mr. Emmanuel Onyeme argued that since movement of persons would be restricted at this time, dockworkers, truck drivers would not be allowed to move freely to the port.