Customs agents in the country have cried out over the flagrant disobedience of the directive by the federal government that terminal operators and shipping companies suspend the collection of demurrage and rents as a result of the COVID- 19 lockdown.
This is coming more than 29 days after the federal government’s directive to waive demurrage and rents on imported cargoes.
The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), had directed that all terminal operators should suspend all applicable terminal storage fees (demurrage) on consignments for an initial period of 21 days effective March 23. It also extended the demurrage-free period by another 14 days from April 13.
In another memo issued on April 8, NPA had said it would, “grant credit notes commensurate to the rental reliefs granted by the terminal operators to importers within the 21-day free storage period.”
Also, the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) had directed all shipping companies to suspend demurrage charges on cargoes during the period of the COVID-19 lockdown effective March 30th.
However, in a petition to the federal government through the NPA, the agents claimed that the shipping companies and terminal operators have continued to collect the fees.
National President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), the umbrella body of customs agents in Nigeria, Lucky Amiwero, lamented that: “As at Monday 20th April 2020, the terminal and shipping company collect all rents and demurrage from licensed Customs agents(LCA) and refuse to grant the waiver even when NPA has issued the second letter dated 8th April 2020, which makes it exactly 27 days now from 23rd March 2020.”
But the agents said as directed by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID 19, NPA as the agency directed to bring about seamless coordination, should compel the shipping companies and the terminals to comply with the directive due to frustration of Port activities up till date.
The agents in the letter addressed to the Managing Director of the NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usman, added: “We commend the NPA for pushing for the waiver of 21 days and the extension to accommodate the period of the Lockdown, this will bring about stability in the operation of the Port, which is skeletally operated up till date
“Furthermore, majority of LCAs are still at home due to inability to access the port from their various home, as a result of non-availability of public transportation and most especially, area concerning port operation is not in full operation at the ports, which is still run skeletal till date.
On the health of licensed customs agents, they said: “The LCAs are clearly at risk with the daily exposure in the continuation of the clearance of goods from the port at this time of lockdown, without proper protection wares and care from various government agencies, who are to assist in the provision of protective wares, shuttle buses within the port environments and provide relief to take care of the hazard the LCAs go through daily.
“There is the need for coordinating activities for proper direction of social distance by all Port workers and the provision of water and sanitizer to save guide the life of the LCAs and other port users.”
While calling on the federal government to urgently address the matter due to its effect on port operation, they stated,
“As you are aware, as at April 20, 2020, the issue highlighted are yet to be addressed, which is of great concern to the life, health and economy of the LCAs who are at risk.
“We once more seek your cooperation as directed by the Presidency to address the issue raised, so as to save the life of the Licensed Customs Agents to be alive after the COVID-19 pandemic.”