Except the government intervenes, there are feelers of possible unrest at the ports as some operators feel aggrieved at the recent increase in cargo handling and shipping charges by terminal operators and shipping companies at the ports. Some of them who spoke to The Niche said the new charges, which they were mandated to adjust to beginning from the 1st of June 2016 is unwarranted.
Most importers believe the concessionaires, mainly foreigners introduced these charges not only without consultation as required by law but to depress the economy further, create capital flight and emasculate the masses that end up bearing the brunt of these excesses. They wondered why inspite of outcries from affected persons each time an arbitrary step is taken by terminal and shipping companies the authorities hardly do anything which suggests that some highly placed persons in the country are benefitting from these multitudes of charges.
Chukwumalu Emeka, Public Relations Officer, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, Apapa chapter, said the terminal operators and shipping companies has a history of introducing unsubstantiated charges at the ports which are forced down the throat of importers and freight forwarders.
“Just take a debit note at the ports and you see the difference between the old charges and the new one. It just too much. Nobody is telling anybody anything. These guys have the latitude to increase charges anytime they want and this time it is uncalled for. Why are they increasing charges at this time in the nation’s economy?
“Is it not to create hardship in the country? Are they saying that imports are much and they want to discourage it or what? Everybody knows that few people are importing now so do they want to kill the economy finally.
“I believe there is a con game going on that we don’t know. There are people that are eating from these things and this is why the regulators are not talking. This time they have taken it too high and something need to be done,” he declared.
“One thing is clear; a lot of people moving around at the ports are self-employed people who manage to renew their licenses yearly. Now there are scarcely imports and you introducing more charges. The truth is that most of these people may be forced out of the ports into crime and the country will be the worse for it. This why I believe that there should be caution in issues like this”, he warned.
David Pius, Managing Director, Uburu Maritime Ltd said that most foreigners who are conversant with the lose nature of the system take advantage of it to exploit people. He noted that most increment and sharp practices at the ports are unwarranted but are hardly cautioned.
Recently he said that the terminal operators took the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) to court when they stepped in to reverse a similar increase and that the court gave judgement in favour of the NSC as the economic regulator. He wondered why the NSC has become a toothless bulldog by refusing to enforce the court injunction.
Efforts to reach the NSC for comment were not successful at press time.
Meanwhile Exporters under the umbrella of Association of Exports Commodity and Manufacturing Freight Forwarders of Nigeria has threatened to shut down or boycott the ports if these charges were not reversed. The President Mr. Olubunmi Olumekun said in Lagos last weekend that exporters would not pay the newly introduced fees of N40, 000 and N60, 000 on 20 ft. and 40 ft. containers respectively.
Reports show that the terminal operators had sent notices of increase of fees from N4, 200 per 20 ft. container and N6, 200 per 40ft containers to N40, 000 and N60, 000 on 20 ft. and 40 ft. containers to the exporters alerting them that the new rate would take effect from June 1.
But, Olumekun noted that before port concession, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) was charging N516 wharfage on 20ft containers, which was later increased to N2, 100.
According to him, the new charges were additional charges to storage fees and renomination fees, being charged should a container fail to be shipped.
“When port concession came, we paid the terminal operators N4, 200 per 20ft. container and N6, 200 per 40ft containers. Now, we are expected to pay N40, 000 per 20ft container and N60, 000 per 40ft container, he said, adding “Is this how we are going to survive and diversify the nation’s economy?”
He said the association is calling for a review of the container handling charges to promote rather kill commodity export business in the country.
“Unless the Federal Government intervenes quickly, we would be left with no option than to either shut down the ports or leave the export business”, he said, adding “40 per cent of exporters had closed shops; out of the 30 per cent remaining, 60 per cent are smuggling the commodities through Cotonou and Niger Republic. Our cashew nuts are smuggled though Cotonou, while sesame seeds are smuggled through Niger Republic because of the high cost of exportation”.
But The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has warned aggrieved persons or groups against any attempt to shut down port operation in the country. General Manager of NPA Western Ports, Chief Michael Ajayi, during a recent interview said, “Shutting down the port is a criminal offence in the first instance.”
Ajayi said that aggrieved persons should utilize available channels to explain their grievances as NPA would no longer tolerate any act that could lead to a closure of critical national asset such as the seaport; warning that such an act of sabotage and even treasonable.