Barely one month after he resumed operations as the Country Manager of APM Terminals Nigeria, Mr. Klaus Laursen appears to have stepped on the foot of Nigerian freight forwarders, even as the group has issued him a seven days ultimatum to tender an unreserved public apology to them or risk a report to the international communities and global regulatory bodies about the company.
First, it was the founder of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) Dr Boniface Aniebonam who kicked against a statement made recently by the APMT boss during a courtesy visit to the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council.
Laursen had allegedly attributed the congestion at the terminal in Apapa to failure of freight forwarders to come forward and clear their containers. He said this has contributed in no small way to the backup of ships on Nigeria’s territorial waters.
In an open letter forwarded to DAILY TREND NEWS at the weekend, Immediate Past National President of NAGAFF, Dr Eugene Nweke said the statement of the APMT boss has painted Nigerian freight forwarders badly on international level.
The letter reads; RE: FREIGHT FORWARDERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR PORT CONGESTION – AN OPEN REQUEST TO TENDER AN UNRESERVED APOLOGY TO
THE NIGERIA FREIGHT FORWARDERS:
“HE THAT LIVES IN A GLASS HOUSE DON’T THROW STONES”.
The Freight Forwarders in Nigeria hereby refer to a published news report, being a response to a remark centered on the subject of Port operational concerns accredited to you, on 2nd July, 2020 by ROAM REPORTERS ONLINE and the content thereof:
“Responding, Mr. Klaus Laursen said congestion at the terminal is due to Freight Forwarders not coming forward to clear their containers. This he said has contributed in no small way to the backup of ships on Nigeria’s territorial waters.” [Paragraph 5]
Never has the sense of professional conduct, integrity and patriotism of the Freight Forwarders been insulted and blackmailed in the last 40years like it’s been insulted and blackmailed presently by a perceived new Country Manager of the A. P. Moller Terminals (APMT). Perhaps indirectly speaking the minds of his cohorts to bedeviling the Freight Forwarders with concocted allegations, which in the real sense is a cheap way to transfer their managerial ineptitude and operational inadequacies and thus blaming the Forwarders, so as to divert the attention of the concerned authorities on the impending consequences of Port Congestion, mostly in the face of a threatening devastating economic recession occasioned by the COVID19 Pandemic.
The “Industry Blame games” has been a prevalent tradition and stock in trade of many stakeholders in the Maritime Industry, especially post-port concession, the game of “shifting blames for corporate failures and inaction” has been a synonymous administrative style and watch word of the APMT. Probably, the ailing Country Manager may belong to the class of neocolonialist who sees blacks as slaves irrespective of their professional inclination and exposure, even without the least recourse to the standing point of Freight Forwarding as a global phenomenon.
Mr. Country Manager, do you really know the damage you have caused globally by your careless but deliberately orchestrated self-defense press statement to us?
We shall for this reason make bold to state our strong professional impressions about your company in response to this allegation and as well offer professional advice to you as follows:
A. Freight Forwarders Strong Impression About APMT
1. Let’s begin by asking if you are aware that the Freight Forwarders has been tolerating your company’s operational inefficiency and managerial ineptitude as regards post-port concession (2006 till date); and worst of all contending with unilaterally imposed and exploitative charges, enduring all as a mark of sacrifice to show cause for our support to the Federal Government quest at encouraging and promoting sustainable Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) thriving environment, whereby making our country an investors destination friendly?
2. Mr. Country Manager, are you aware that we have evaluated reasons why the government objectives for port concession was defeated within 10years down the port concession model; that your company actions and inactions contributes 40% as to why the government aims and objectives for port concession model nosedived because your company is operating the most strategic, reasonable Bert draught, largest container port capacity and cargo traffic volume in Nigeria? Unfortunately, you may not be aware that pre-concession exercise of the government representatives saddled with the concession mandate has never taken ample time to investigate the negative activities of a first generation port operator like your company nor weigh other options for the good of a growing industry like ours; yet the Freight Forwarders gave the maximum support for a new regime of port operations under a private operator, trusting that with commitment and corporation on the part of all, aims will be achieved. Disappointedly, till this present time, your company continues to exhibit the antecedents and antics of the ‘first generation port operators’, which is to curing political patronage in exchange to stifle the system with operational high-handedness, unilateral imposition of charges in the face of an epileptic and less provision of quality cargo handling services.
3. Mr. Country Manager, do you know how it feels if other than compensating the Forwarders and their clients as a way to exploring new horizons in corporate consciousness and new sense of corporate responsibility, you resort to a blame game?
Hence, “… congestion at the terminal is due to Freight Forwarders not coming forward to clear their containers”. A deliberate statement (blame game) for refusing to acknowledge your responsibility and pretending to the world that your company has no responsibility for its commissions and omissions.
Are you also aware that the Freight Forwarders have been watching and opines since 2014 till date, the Nigeria Shippers Council after series of failed correspondences and consultations, pursuance and in furtherance to its regulatory mandate, sought the intervention of Court of Competent Jurisdiction to compel you and other operators to adhere to industry pricing system and resolved to abolish charges that are above industry average, which are unilateral and imposing in nature; and also charges without core service/cost functions?
Wherefore, we observe that your company joined forces to extricate itself from the legal consequences of its actions to resist the Shippers Council. Again, we observe that when judgement was awarded in a swift and typical antics of a first generation port operator, your company exhibited its unwillingness to face up to the fact that, its extortive tendencies cumulatively inflicts poverty on Nigerians who are at the receiving end of your actions, hence, joined forces to appeal against the judgement; why? So that your company and its cohorts can sustain the collection of illogical charges endlessly, thereby appealing against the judgement awarded to the Nigeria Shippers till date, while the illogical charges goes on unabated..
4. Mr. Country Manager, do you think that the Freight Forwarders are ignorant of your company’s profit repatriations amidst non-corresponding financial investment into the port operational development/advancements or that the forwarders are not aware that by comparison of its spate of investment and profit profile in relation to the acquisition of cargo handling equipment and the provision of port structural facilities in our ports is in contrast to other ports managed by your company within the sub region, yet the Freight Forwarders never petitioned your company to authorities nor took to the streets?
5. Mr. Country Manager, our impression is therefore, that having positioned yourself as a first generation port operator, you seem to entertain fear of the inflicted punishment in the form of punitive damages or harms, which your wrongdoings would cause your company and your shareholders by way of depression of profits, other than the colossal negative impacts and consequences of your actions on Nigerians and the economy of the nation (depreciation of national foreign reserve and currency exchange value via inflations).
B. Freight Forwarders Absolute Trust in Our Economic Regulator and Justice
1. Mr. Country Manager, we believe that what your company cannot do in other climes are done here with impunity. With regards to your appeal against the delivered judgement, we wish to inform you that we have absolute trust in our economic regulator and judiciary, hence, it is equally important to remind you that the judicial officers in the temple of justice know too well, as thus:
“When the poor and downtrodden commit crimes, they too plead that they are crimes of survival and that they should be excused for illegal acts which helped them escape desperate economic straits. On a few occasions, when these excuses are made and remorseful defendants promise to mend their ways, the courts give heed to such pleas; but no court will heed the plea when the individual denies the wrongful nature of his deeds and gives no indication that he will mend his ways”.
From the layman’s point of view, the case law suggests that, the purpose of punitive damages is to make an award that will punish a defendant for his wrongdoing. Traditionally, punishment involves the principle of deterrence, rehabilitation, etc. Wherefore, your company and its co-travellers, in the face of overwhelming evidences, denies its guilt and continues its monstrous and mischievous wrongdoings via extortion in our port system. Our sincere advice is for your company and your cohorts is to exhibit willingness to desist from public impoverishment via high charges, show remorse to Nigerians as your remonstrance to court legislation are indeed hollow and cynical.
You may recall that the Nigeria Shippers Council is primarily saddled with the responsibility of protecting the interest of the Nigeria Shippers, and that it has the total support of the Freight Forwarders. Notwithstanding that as truthful as the evidences are, your company and its cohorts are unwilling to show remorse, hence, resorting to legal fireworks practically aimed at buying for time.
2. Mr. Country Manager, please tell us, perhaps for the sake of profit maximization and unwillingness to repent of wrongdoings, has your company taken the bottom line as your guiding beacon and the low road as your route? If so, then it is indeed a corporate responsibility at its meanest.
3. Mr. Country Manager, please permit us to remind you that in corporate practice, when and where a company compromises and errs in discharging its statutory functions uprightly, then it is not just expected but expedient for it to size up its corporate integrity and responsibility, which entails admission of guilt where it is obvious, undertake certain acts of contrition, acknowledgement of wrongdoings and rendering a deserving apology to the people (Nigerians) with a resolution or a promissory statement to henceforth take a new course towards rendering much better services. Unfortunately, we observe that none of this is reflected in your company’s administrative focus and style; thus, bloated ego will rub you of the courage to take honest responsibility and rectify this continuous acts of poverty inflicting situation in our ports system. Wherefore, you feign ignorance of the impacts and carry on with your exploitative practices against the citizens through high charges above industry average against the Nigeria Shippers.
The Freight Forwarders have overtime noted the policy of delay tactics and obfuscation exhibited thus far, judging from the measure of responses and reactions on the several official operational complaints lodged before your company and most importantly the litigation fireworks with the Nigeria Shippers Council. Furthermore, we observe that the same management attitude of a first generation port operators of exploiting a growing economy and impoverishing its citizens is all we see, which is the usual buying for time, manipulating the system through tactically delaying, postponing the process and making it possible for their organizations to earn more profits via exploitative and illogical charges.
Invariably, the company in the real sense is paying nor coughing out nothing from its legitimate purse but doing so from the excessive profits earned via imposed and illogical charges against the Shippers. By this application and practice, your company has set a pace for other stakeholders in the industry who have learnt and now emulated from you, that it pays to delay justices and a deliberate refusal to accept wrongdoings in a given industry and resolve to sustain the tempo. It has become a norm to uphold the act of intimidation, harassment, sustain the infliction of poverty on Nigerians and blackmailing the professionals.
4. Mr. Country Manager, are there reasons why your company seeks to segment and fragment the litigation of cases, or could it be that it derives joy to clog court calendars and consume a vast amount of judicial time? Don’t you think this is a devised approach as your company seems to have guaranteed that no plaintiff (Shipper or Forwarder) has the capacity to mount a sustainable assault against your system of exploitation and extortion? The Freight Forwarders demands a response to this regard.
5. Mr. Country Manager, is it professional to exploit industry policies via indulgence with political class of a nation? The Freight Forwarders have noticed the frequent rush to political corridor over industry regulatory concerns, hence, this question. Or is it a deliberate way of furthering your business evasion interests? Wherefore, over the years, rather than prompt regulatory sanctions, authorities resort to moral persuasion and administrative appeals, while the industry standard practices suffers.
C. Freight Forwarders Professional Advice on Subject of Port Congestion
1. Mr. Country Manager, since it is reported that you are virtually new to our ports operational system, implying that you are reasonably a novice to the workings in our ports system, as such, you do not know the factors that causes port congestion in your terminal; while we freely wish to tutor you on the causes of congestion in your terminal, first we also wish to appeal to you in the name of impoverished Nigerians and suffocating Nigerian Shippers to lift your eyes above the bottom line.
In this direction, Mr. Country Manager, please give consideration to the following factors promoting port congestion in your terminal operation:
a) Invest massively and dedicate enough cargo handling equipment in correspondence with your cargo volume, so as to increase your present berth production capacity from 14moves per crane to mafi-truck per hour from ship to stack. This will boost vessel dwell and turnaround time at berth. All over the world the application of scanty acquisition of cargo gantry cranes and other handling equipment within the interval of 7years is rather a disservice to the Shippers.
b) Embrace the operational culture of prompt freeing of the export empty containers space at the quay apron. Improve and ensure sound planning of empty containers return and evacuation to origin ports. Always embrace the principle of daily space creation and maximization.
c) Deploy Information Technology driven inventory control model in the stacking areas of your terminal, evolve a port administrative process where online tracking and traceability of containers in your terminal is practicable; this will engender transparency and facilitate speedy clearance process and reduce the incessant crowding at the market hall premises.
d) Deploy online operational solutions in handling minor disputes, complaints and challenges.
e) Boost and sustain a robust e-commerce transactions for payment of bills, stop the monopoly of a one bank system for bill payment.
f) Stop imposition (exploitative) and illogical charges – a subtle arm twisting of the Shippers via progressive storage charges. It may interest you to know that thousands of containers in your terminal are trapped for reasons related to cumulative progressive storage and imposed charges presently accumulated on the containers are far higher than the import content value when added to the payable Custom Duty; hence, the Shipper finds it difficult to process delivery. Again, most Shippers are presently grappling with economic recession and banks cannot salvage the situation. Wherefore, it behooves on you to consider rebates and concessions to ease over-dwelled containers.
g) The Freight Forwarders can only act based on the mandate of their principal (Shippers), as such, when you have imposed illogical charges on them, thereby making them suffer financial loses above their trading capital and even in most instances indebted to banks. Obviously, there is a limitation to the financial resources available to the Freight Forwarders to utilize in settling such huge charges for all its principals that is the reason why the government made provision for a warehouse where overtime cargos can be warehoused, but you chose to store all overtime cargos in your terminal.
h) Always wear a human face (flexible) in every business dealing, grant waivers to cargo owners (Shippers) who merit an official waiver consideration as in ‘f’ above, downplay high-handedness, stop unholy alliances with shipping lines and be trade facilitation driven.
i) Stop undue operational antics and arm-twisting practices aimed at currying or wetting the ground for additional storage period to your benefit. Also, stop scattering Shippers imports from its original NAMED PORT OF DESTINATION (as covered in contract of afreightment) without their consent and transferring them to equipment lacking and operationally unfit Off-dock terminals in the name of vessel stemming/allocation to maximize space.
j) Be a solution agent to the dilapidated port access road challenges, deploy your corporate social responsibility wisely in this regards, because your terminal receives a higher percentage of cargo/truck traffic. We encourage you to emulate from Dangote Group.
k) Redefine your performance indicators and turn a new leave towards boosting a friendly customer relationship. Promptly generate uncleared cargo lists (UCL) for the Customs, so as to facilitate periodic evacuation of overtime cargo to the government warehouses. We advise you to stop hoarding/withholding overtime containers in your terminal.
1. Mr. Country Manager, though by your actions, you have succeeded to publicly inform the international shipping community that the Nigeria largest container port is congested without recourse to its attendant consequences by way of imposition of congestion levy to the Nigeria bond shipments. The most worrisome aspect of your action is the deliberate and official reporting and branding of Freight Forwarders before our global regulator and foreign professional colleagues, that we are a clog on the wheel of trade facilitation, which is false, because it is our primary professional calling to facilitate and coordinate internationally traded shipments; whereby, casting professional integrity questions on majority who had in the past four decades paid their dues. Indeed this is a most regrettable action.
2. Finally, Mr. Country Manager, the Freight Forwarders hereby give you 7days to tender an unreserved professional apology to the Nigeria Freight Forwarders, or you compel us to reconsider our long standing cordial business relationship and tolerance with your company. Equally, the Nigeria Freight Forwarders may not hesitate to officially report your company activities monthly to the International Community especially the global regulatory bodies.
Once more we advise you to make more friends and not enemies, embrace and explore the principle of responsible partnership.
Fwdr Dr. Eugene Nweke,
Head of NAGAFF Research and Policy Group
Former National President of NAGAFF
For: The Nigeria Freight Forwarders