Barr Michael Imonitie Ovien is a licensed customs broker and Secretary of the Tin Can Island Port Chapter of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA).
In this interview with DAILY TREND NEWS, he spoke on the accessment of terminal operators performance, the port concession and disobedience of terminal operators to Federal Government rules on overtime cargoes.
What is your accessment of terminal operators performance, as Federal Government is trying to renew their concession agreement?
If not for government policies working against the concessionaires, it has been a smooth ride, the government should reduce the money being collected per day from the concessionaires, if this is done, the effectiveness and efficient delivery of cargoes would be there.
Bringing new people onboard would slow the pace of work, people would lose their jobs and there is going to be massive unemployment because the new people would come in with new ideas, so I would have advise government to just elongate the concession agreement and give these people time to continue
Government policy is what is killing businesses in Nigeria, we don’t have an exchange rate that is constant for at least five years. The increase in dollars have dealt hardship on everyone.
If I should single out the terminal operators, ENL Terminal and Josepdam are not really trying, the documents, the facilities they are using are still the old one, ENL doesn’t operate in the night, they only operate in the day time, when you go there, there is no lighting system, discharge of any vessel stops by 7.30pm because there is no proper lighting system.
Almost everywhere inside the terminal, they packed general cargoes litering the place.
Do you take deliveries from ENL Terminal?
Yes, and that is why I am giving you this information. When you look at EKO Support Terminal, it is very beautiful, everything is well arranged and they know where their cargoes are packed. But ENL is still enjoying the facilities of the old Apapa Port, all the sheds are still there, being used for some of the general cargoes, these sheds are supposed to be brought down and they can use the space for container stacking. The space that the terminal supposed to use as RoRo and Truck park for those trucks she is receiving from vessels, all these spaces are not maximised.
These are the issues that made the transportation minister to be looking as if concessionaires are not working.
Look at TICT Terminal, the staff are smiling, at Ports and Cargo Terminal, it is the same.
While we keep complaining about port congestion, it is about abandoning the CEMA, thinking that it does not operate anymore, but right now, it has been made clear that you have 28-days to take your container out of the port, otherwise it would be tagged as overtime or abandoned cargoes.
After the vessel breaks bulk to discharge its contents at the terminal, after three days that it has stayed in the terminal, they start counting 28-days, anything after 28-days belongs to the government.
What the law says is that after the cargoes are discharged inside the terminal, you count 28-days, at the expiration of that 28-days, the terminal operator take stuck of what is left and hand them over to the officer that is in charge, the officer in charge would do the gazette and make sure that the consignee or the declarant comes for dis-listing so that they can go and take them from the government warehouse.
Government warehouses are situated inside every terminal.
Before you are issued a licence by customs to operate as a terminal operator, customs have already drafted where overtime cargoes should be, but because most of us are already in the system, we have forgotten the norms of what makes us a compliant brokers, including the shipping and terminal operators, they all abandoned these policies and that is why the terminal operators kee extorting and charging for these cargoes that has stayed in their terminal for 28-days, the shipping companies also keeps charging demurrage on the cargoes, and by the time the demurrage is more than the cost of what was imported, the cargo gets abandoned at the terminal.
What they were supposed to do was take the overtime cargo to the government warehouse where government has stipulated that there a ground rent you have to pay, which is mapped out for 40feet by size, once this is done, and you pay 25% to the shipping company and terminal operator, you can take your cargo.
Does the government warehouses still exist inside our ports, and have they not been overan by abandoned cargoes?
Yes, the warehouses exist. These abandoned cargoes are caused by delays, some of them are caused by the agents, some are caused by the terminal operators, giving you fictitious bills, while some are caused by the shipping line, these are the causes of delays in taking delivery of cargoes.
For example, the storage of a container that stays for 90-days is over N6million in both terminal and shipping, so if the storage is N6million, what is the actual cost of the goods? If the government through CEMA says 28-days, then it must hold, every charges paid after that 28-days, we all know that it is government charges. The terminal operators are complaining of how much the government collects from them everyday and because of that, they don’t want to let go, they want to eat from those abandoned cargoes, and they want to make sure that this makes them busy so that they can feed the government.
It is high time that the government would seat up and allow policies that they have put it place since 1954 allowed to work, since the CEMA have not been amended, it has been there, they are just adding circulars to it.
Who is supposed to prevail on the terminal operators to comply with these laws?
It is the customs, the same license that the clearing agents has to operate is the same license that the terminal operators has, the only difference is that the terminal operator was issued another license from the Ministry of Transportation, especially from the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) because place they are occupying today belongs to NPA, they were the custodians of Nigerian ports managing it before, but it was due to their inability to give proper records that why the port was concessioned to private operators. The Act of NPA still stands, and that is what the terminal operators are still using, so if they are still using it, then they must abide by the rules of overtime cargoes and abandoned cargoes, the terminal operators know that all these laws are still in place.
But they are not abiding by it, and they simply say that it is because of the money that they are giving to the Federal Government and that is why they collect money on cargoes that is more than 28-days.
The customs are now rising up to say that, the situation has gotten to a peak, the Nigerian system has really grown, Nigeria is competing with international standards, we are members of WCO, WTO, we are affiliated with FIATA and every other bodies, and we want a seamless way of cargo clearance, you cannot continue to charge demurrage on a consignment that is whitin the domain, and time frame of 28-days as stipulated by the government. After the 28-days, the government takes over the cargo and look for modalities of giving it back to the owner in due time
Have the customs given any assurances that these provisions in CEMA Act would now be upheld?
Yes. The customs have now moved to the various zones, ensuring that they sensitize all the commands, so that they can know that the law has to be maintained.
We are not even talking about the concessionaires alone now, a lot of private bonded terminals have equally springed up, and they are being fed by the mother terminals at the port, the same rule applies to the bonded terminals, before the customs can give you a license to operate a bonded terminal, it must be in your map, the space where you are providing as government overtime space, every overtime cargoes in the country cannot go to Ikorodu because we have enough customs in the port that can equally do the job, it is we that must key into the CEMA.
Customs brokers should go and read the CEMA Sections; 31, 27, 97 and 98 and move in line with the policy that guides their job. We all know that once a consignment is seized, that’s a seizure, it would eventually be condemned by the court, but you cannot align seizure with overtime containers, its two different ball game.
If you are now saying that there is no space inside the terminals, how would the enforcement units of customs in any command have a space where they put seized containers?
A lot of bonded terminals are springing up around Lagos today, should we be worried? We also heard that some of them carryout untoward activities especially at night?
First of all, I am not a bonded terminal operator, and I don’t know what they do at night, because at night, I would be in my house sleeping. If those that issued the license for a bonded terminal are not checkmating you, then it means there is a lacuna.
I believe that every terminal has a closing time, and once the gate of any terminal is shut, it is given to the customs, it is the customs that opens and shuts the gate of the bonded terminals, so I don’t believe that customs would belittle themselves at this point to open a bonded terminal and allow operations to be carried out that are illegal.
There is no bonded terminal that can operate by law without an OC gate, the OC gate (Officer in Charge of the gate) is the customs, once he closes, the terminal is closed, once he resumes, the gate opens.
So, operations at bonded terminals are being operated by customs, unless you dont want to operate as a bonded terminal that receive loaded goods and cargoes into your terminal, and after due process of clearance, the delivery is taken to the owners warehouse.