Stories by Eromosele Abiodun
Licensed customs agents in the country have called on the federal government to order terminal operators to refund an estimated N500 million that the operators collected during the 35 days the government suspended the collection of demurrage and rents as a result of the lockdown in some states recently.
This is coming more than two months 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 continued to collect the fees and have refused to refund them.
National President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), the umbrella body of customs agents in Nigeria, Lucky Amiwero, said: “We hereby bring to the attention of your management in respect to the date of the suspension of demurrage by the federal government, which is clearly stated as 23rd of March 2020 as contained in the Presidential letter reference ECD/P/251/IV/T/14 OF 6TH April, 2020 , Paragraph 2, that suspends the demurrage.
“After series of letters attaching the invoice of the illegal collection by the terminal operators, to the NPA without response, we sent 10 batches of various terminals invoices and request that the amount should be refunded in line with the directive being an agency to coordinate the implementation as contained in paragraph 2 of the Presidential letter, without response.”
The agents decried the delayed the implementation of the directive by issuing the circular after allowing the total collection by terminals.
They alleged that one of the terminal operators, A P Moller Terminal informed the NPA of a software problem by 14th of May 2020, “and have illegally collected all importers / Licensed Customs Agents (LCA) approved money from 23 of March , which is supposed to end in May 4th and letter was issued by NPA on 14th May 2020 frustrating federal government directive.”
The federal government’s directive, he added, is of national emergency that draws it strength from the Presidential letter and a pandemic declared globally, “which falls under force majeure- Act of God and frustration of contract nationally and presidential, which has serious economic implication.”
Amiwero added: “Furthermore, the implementation is on all shipment on or before 23rd March 2020 and terminating at the ease of the Lockdown 4th of May 2020 , which is the date of national restriction, non-access to public transport, no Banks, no shipping company cumulating into national emergency, which has nothing to do with your date of grace but date of the economic lockdown and National Emergency, which is not shipping related but national.
“In line with the directive, the commencement date is 23rd March 2020 for thirty-five days, which accommodates any shipment on before 23rd of March 2020 for the approved lockdown days.”
The waiver, he argued, is for the importer/licensed Customs agent as contain in the letter to terminal operators, that the waiver is provided as an incentive to consignees to encourage clearance during the lockdown period in getting to the Port.