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Operators silent on NPA query

Operators silent on NPA query
Service providers, regulators mull defective demurrage waiver order

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It is not the best of times for the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, and its Nigerian Shippers’ Council, NSC, counterpart, having come under serious pressure from port service providers following alleged refusal by terminal operators to waive demurrages on cargo for the period of the lockdown, as directed by both state agencies.
More worrisome is the failure of the terminal operators to respond to the query issued them last Friday by the authority, demanding to know why the terminal operators disregarded government directive, and or counter port users complaints that demurrages of cargo are still been collected, despite communication to terminal operators to grant waiver for the period of the emergency, and revert to government for compensation.
The latest query is coming on the heels of complaints by port users, importers, manufacturers and freight forwarders and clearing agents, lamenting continued imposition of demurrage charges. 
The letter of query signed by NPA General Manager, M&RS, Ugo Madubuike on behalf of the Managing Director and sighted by our reporter was titled “Re- failure to comply with the federal government’s directive on issuance of relief measures to port users in respect of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
The letter reads in part: “You will recall that following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Nigerian Ports Authority issued directives vide letters HQ/GM/MRS/Op/L.1/vol.11/339, HQ/GM/MRS/OP/L.1/vol.11/372 and HQ/GM/MRS/OP/L.1/vol.11/379 dated 2nd, 8th and 15th April, 2020 respectively for the suspension of rental charges on consignments from 23rd March, 2020 for an initial 21 days and from 13th April, 2020 for an additional 14 days.
“This was done in recognition of the challenges being experienced by consignees in clearing their goods due to the various levels of movement restrictions imposed by the Federal and State Governments.
“You will also recall that to relieve you of the associated loss of revenue from the implementation of these directives, the Authority undertook to refund you the waivers granted to consignees during this period, through the issuance of credit notes for the amount waived, in line with the approved and published rates.”
As at the time of filling this story, none of the terminal operators has allegedly responded to the query, signaling fresh worry for a possible showdown that might lead to industrial action.
Indications are rife that the international shipping community and foreign terminal operators in Nigeria may have conspired to disregard government position with regards to the suspension of demurrages. In view of this resistance, the NPA penultimate week, announced it has written to formally communicate the position of the federal government to terminal operators and shipping companies.
Despite government express directive, clearing agents and freight forwarders alleged that terminal operators and shipping companies have continued to charge demurrages on cargo, and have insisted upon their payments before cargo documents are treated for release.
Embarrassed by this development, NPA and NSC appeared to have adopted some defensive strategy to buy time to deal with issue. While the authority advised service providers who have been constrained to pay any demurrage for the period under deemed state of emergency, to assemble the evidence and submit, shippers’ council adopted the ostrich method of been oblivious to the open disregard of his series of interventions by thanking shipping companies for purportedly adhering to government’s plea to relax demurrage charges for the period of the partial lockdown.
Nigerian Shippers’ Council has commended the shipping companies for their cooperation in complying with the suspension of demurrage on cargoes that landed on terminals from March 30, 2020 up to May 3, 2020.
In a statement on Friday, Executive Secretary/CEO NSC, Mr. Hassan Bello said, “This is a testament to their goodwill towards Nigeria and its economy. However, it has come to the notice of the Management of the Council that some freight forwarders and shippers have difficulties with regard to the issue of refund of demurrage charges and are still billed despite the suspension.
The statement signed by Rakiya Zubairu, Head Public Relations, quoted Bello further as saying, “Such persons are encouraged to contact the Council through the Helplines and e-mail addresses published on the NSC website (www.shipperscouncil.gov.ng) and other social media handles.”
The development has created tension in the port industry as two leading service providers groups, have condemned the said disobedience by concessionaires and shipping companies,  while urging for urgent resolution of the matter, even as individual members of the groups are already exploring the option of  withdrawal of their services.
Reacting, Founder, National Association of Govt. Approved Freight Forwarders, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam charged the leadership of NPA and NSC to adopt proactive approach in getting its directives obeyed, noting that whoever is not willing to be subjected to the sovereign powers of Nigeria can close shop and leave.
The fiery port activist warned that unless the federal government gets acts together and take steps to be assertive, foreign interests may continue to disregard Nigeria and continue to operate as though they are above the law.
He said, “Nigeria is at a borderless war of the Covid-19 pandemic. The customs ports in this regard have been declared a state of emergency to stem the tide of Corona virus scourge. Under the circumstance the Managing Director of NPA and the Executive Secretary of the NSC are encouraged to be decisive on anybody, group or organization who fail to comply with the emergency rules.
“In this regard the executive powers of Mr. President under Section 5 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria may now be evoked and applied. In other words the Managing Director of NPA and the Executive Secretary of the NSC may now contact the Inspector General of Police with a view to arresting any body and or leadership of any private business company operating in our ports who failed to comply immediately with the lawful port orders and regulations.
“All defaulters should be visited with criminal contempt other than civil matters. It is unheard off that lawful order the Federal Government are allegedly in breach with impunity by most of the shipping companies and terminal operators on matters of demurrage waiver under the emergency situation of our ports operations.”
Also speaking on the matter, National President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Hon. Tony Nwabunike expressed disappointment that some critical stakeholders have elected to remain aloof at a time the Nigerian economy was under severe challenge due to global emergence.
He however said the leadership of the association is looking at the prospect of engaging the terminal operators with a view to getting them to key into government’s efforts to flatten the unfortunate cost curve occasioned by the global pandemic.
He said, “We are equally disappointed that critical stakeholders in the Nigerian port economy like terminal operators and shipping lines are not disposed to government approach to knock down the demurrage curve.
“We didn’t cause corona virus, they didn’t too, I believe that all of us are victims, and I think that all of us owe government the duty of forging a common front to avoid economic failure. To that extent, we in ANLCA are still talking, we may have to approach these terminal operators, engage them on the need to cut charges and waive demurrages during this lockdown; and also on the need to obey government directive.”

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