By DAPO OLAWUNI
For failing to implement a directive by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) that collection of demurrage and storage on cargoes should be suspended at the port for 21 days, the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) has threatened to drag terminal operators and shipping companies to court.
Speaking with journalists in Apapa Lagos yesterday, National Executive Committee members of ANLCA led by the Vice President, Dr. Kayode Farinto directed members of the association who have been made to pay demurrage and storage forcefully, despite the NPA directive, to compile all their invoices so that they can get a refund.
In company of Dr. Farinto were the National Secretary of ANLCA, Alhaji Babatunde Mukhaila, Financial Secretary, Hajia Bola Muse, Chief of Staff to the National President, Eniola Ignaroola, Mr. Obicee Okonkwo and Mrs Esther Awujoola Oyeleke.
The group expressed concerns that terminal operators and shipping companies were still collecting huge demurrage and storage charges from freight forwarders, disregarding the federal government instructions, and feigning ignorance of not receiving any written document from the NPA.
Dr. Farinto said ANLCA had intimated the Managing Director of NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman on the disobedience of the concessionares and she subsequently provided acknowledged copies of the directive which the agency had transmitted to all terminal operators on 2nd of April, 2020.
A copy of the letter sighted by DAILY TREND NEWS which was signed by Mr. Ugo Madubuike, General Manager M&RS stated that the NPA was ready to give the terminal operators a discount in its operational charges to ameliorate the financial effect of the waivers on their business.
The letter reads in part “Following the scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in line with the global trend of providing reliefs to businesses for the benefit of the general populace, you are hereby directed to suspend rent charges on consignments with effect from Monday 23rd of March 2020 for an initial period of 21 days”
“The Authority recognizes the financial implication of the policy on your terminal and is considering a shift in our operational charges to ameliorate the situation”
“This is presented in line with the objectives of the Ease-Of-Doing-Business, as well as the sensitivity of the Authority to the current situation in sustenance of national economic activitis and for immediate compliance”
While speaking with the journalists, Dr. Farinto said ANLCA has transmitted copies of the letter to all her chapters and to all the terminal operators who might still be feigning ignorance.
The ANLCA Vice President said that there was need to take action on the terminal operators because some ANLCA members have started sending life threatening messages to the executives on WhatsApp platforms, accusing them of haven been compromised.
Explaining why demurrage and storage charges must be waived, Farinto said “The ports are not working optimally right now, we are only seeing skeletal services, the banks are there but you can only pay Customs duty, and for a long period of time, the confirmation does not get to the Customs, because the server was initially shut down by CBN”
“As at yesterday, no single bank was working at Tin Can Island Port, they were completely locked, the CBN shut down their system completely, this is the server that confirms all payment to any other parastals, especially the Nigerian Nigerian Customs.
“The only way you can transact business right now is online, and many of the terminal operators and shipping companies do not have online platforms”
Also speaking, ANLCA National Secretary, Alhaji Babatunde Mukhaila reiterated that if shipping companies and terminal operators refuse to abide by the NPA directive, ANLCA is a professional trade organisation and she is going to drag them to court.
“We are going to test the power of NPA to regulate or give directives to concessionares in the port, we are going to compile all the money our members have paid and we would fight for it, this would be the first time we are going this route, enough is enough with all collaborations that does not yield any fruit”
“We have collaborated with Customs, all our chapter excos are collaborating with terminal operators, always hand in gloves, there is nothing bad in collaboration, internationally, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) stated it clearly that every trade Organisation must collaborate with critical stakeholders in the port, but when collaboration seems like you dont know what you are doing, you have to retrace your step.”
“There is no way the terminal operators would tell us that they dont have the NPA letter.
We have a very vibrant legal department and we are going to follow this up if they refuse to adhere”
According to him, maritime operators usually make mistakes by taking marititme cases to conventional courts, he said there is an industrial court where such cases can be trashed speedily.