By Eromosele Abiodun
Following the coronavirus crisis that has made it virtually impossible for goods to be cleared on time at the nation’s seaports, custom agents in the country have called on the federal government to direct shipping companies and terminal operators to immediately halt demurrage charges and taxes to avoid friction at the ports.
The National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), the umbrella body of customs agents in the country, Mr Iju Tony Nwabunike, made the plea in an open letter addressed to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
According to the agents, “There is no gain saying that before the COVID-19 pandemic subsides for normal businesses in the seaports, airports and border stations to take it full swing, imported and exported items might have been trapped in the various gateways to the nation.
“As such demurrages and rent payable to Shipping Companies, Concessionaires/Terminal Operators will have attended an unbearable proportion due to the lock down.
“As you already know sir, it is difficult, if not totally impossible to process customs documentation and take delivery of cargoes in our ports during this period.
“Even when attempts are made, it becomes difficult because state governments have closed interstate borders, markets are locked and movement of certain vehicles restricted.”
The agents also called on the federal government to declare a Force Majeure at the port in line with international best practices.
“We hereby call for the enforcement of “Force Majeure” and total lockdown of our seaports as already done in the airports and border stations to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus and to protect the Nigerian workforce operating in our ports.
“We also appeal to the federal government to prevail on shipping companies, terminal operators and other agencies in the ports to be prepared to waive all charges, taxes and fees during this period of national compromise at all levels,” they said.
“Consequently, we seek for all demurrage, rents, penalties e.tc emanating from inability to clear cargoes as at when due from the ports at this period to be waived effective from the first week of March, 2020 when the first case of the deadly virus was detected in Nigeria through an Italian citizen.
“We are appealing that you use your good office to ensure that this is implemented immediately. Please note that we are dealing with concessionaires, shipping companies and others who are mainly foreigners, hence the need for government intervention and enforcement has become necessary,” the agents said.