By Eromosele Abiodun
The Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Hassan Bello, has warned those who have no immediate need to be at the seaports to stay at home to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
He also debunked claims by some agents that the ports were closed, adding that only essential goods are to be cleared in the port at this time The NSC boss made this known while speaking at a port stakeholders’ forum it organised with Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), to sensitise critical stakeholders in the maritime industry.
He stressed that only essential cargoes would be cleared at the ports for now, due to the lockdown directive by the federal government to contain spread of Coronavirus.
Bello, observed that even in countries hard hit by the virus, port operations have continued without hindrance. He added that essential commodities such as drugs, medical equipment and consumables critical for the Nigerian people needed to be cleared.
According to him, “If as a freight forwarder you do not have business to do at the port, please don’t come out, stay in your house. Today when I came to Apapa, I was surprised at the number of vehicles I saw, it seems there has been no lockdown, this is very wrong, people must stay at home, except it is essential, please don’t come out.”
He disclosed that he has been interfacing with the Lagos State Commissioner of Police over some freight forwarders that were arrested on their way to the port adding that the freight forwarders have now been released.
Bello, said the outbreak of the coronavirus further showed the need for electronic transactions at Nigerian ports.
He said the ports needed to have a national single window where agencies would be talking to each other.
Also, Bello said truck drivers going to the port to pick essential cargoes must also practice necessary health guidelines.
He informed that the NSC would take stricter observation of people who come to the ports by the buses provided by the council.
On his part, the Registrar of CRFFN, Samuel Nwakohu, noted that only freight forwarders who have essential goods to clear at the port would be allowed in, while those with luxury goods would have to wait until the lockdown is over.
Nwakohu, added that there are presently six banks in operations for freight forwarders who needs to clear their essential goods.
Specifically, he said, “The primary aim of the government as it stands today is to look after our health, and that is why they have taking all the steps they have taken.
“It’s not business as usual, I said to my freight forwarders, after today, the executive secretary and I will approach the customs, the goods that will be cleared will be only those who have essential goods, if you have luxury goods you will have to wait until the shutdown is over.
“Let me also state that you cannot clear goods whether it is luxury items or essential items if the banks are not there to provide services.
“As at today we have six of them Zenith Bank Plc, UBA Plc, First Bank Nigeria Plc, FCMB Plc, GT Bank Plc with the names of their staff so that you can call them.”
Stakeholders present at the meeting included President of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Tony Iju Nwabunike, Founder of NAGAFF, Dr Boniface Aniebonam, President of Shippers Association Lagos State, Jonathan Nicol, Vice President of ANLCA, Dr. Kayode Farinto, NAGAFF President, Increase Uche, AMARTO Chairman, Remi Ogungbemi.
Others were: President of NAFAC, Mr. Yinka Bakare, Chief Austen Kelly and former commissioner of transport Lagos State, Comrade Kayode Opeifa.