Osita Chukwu, national chairman, Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders Importers and Exporter Coalition (SNFFIEC) speaks about the economic losses and maladministration in the ports.
According to him, some elements have continued to sabotage the Federal Government’s ports reform processes.
He spoke to peter ugwu.
On Recent Developments in the Ports
After the visit of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iwuala, minister of Finance and the Presidential Ports Reforms Committee, we had some calm in the ports. However, it is sad to state now that the situations are slipping down again.
Most of the things we pointed out then are yet to be attended to.
We want to seize this opportunity to call again on the Minister to compel the Customs and other constitutionally approved agencies operating in the port to abide by the fundamentals of ports operations, because it sounds ridiculous that when the Federal Government puts down an order only for a ministry, parastatals or agencies under it go contrary to that. Some people even dabble into functions of the presidency when they have not been called upon to do so.
If such gambling persists, the Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders Importers and Exporters Coalition (SNFFIEC) will not hesitate to embark on nationwide strike.
Cashless Policy and Nigeria Ports system
Before that, I want to point out that last time we had a town-hall meeting, we were promised by the Federal Ministry of Finance that the presidency will no longer condone any interference of multiple examinations, multiple chase by Customs, illegal collections, bribery and corruption within and outside the ports.
Even with the cashless economic policy people still carry cash running over N10 million while entering Nigeria ports for clearing activities.
Cash flows in Nigerian Ports.
And it takes face to face chat for bribery, corruption and atrocities committed during these venture to be established. Are we really ready for economic development? And there is a kind of preferential treatment on way operators handle issue of cargo checks. The Controller General of Customs should move swiftly to curtail such economic sabotage and obnoxious actions met against agents in our ports.
Even with the concession and ports reform programme, the way things are one could fear that Customs is getting tired of pursuing its statutory duties; meanwhile, SNFFIEC thinks there is nothing wrong for us to imbibe ports management system in other countries where revenue generation is typically handled by the private entities.
For instance, it’s private companies that manage America’s revenue generation through ports systems. The main job of customs is supervision of documents.
So, when government wants to hide under the umbrella of Ports Concession, have they been able to alter Customs Law, which should place every duty collection under Custom’s purview.
Now, if you go to various terminals it is very glaring that things are yet to brazen up in the right direction, so we need immediate changes. There are still little foxes that spoil our economic vines.
Another area we disagree with the authority is that when you have notified them about a particular cargo coming into the country, due to one challenge or the other they direct the cargo to another port, now the problem is that they will expect me to pay for the extra movement. I don’t think I should be the one to do that, because you are even delaying to render a service I had paid for. It implies system failure.
While vessels are waiting at the mainstream importers and freight forwarders are being billed. Why? The last meeting we had with the Nigerian Institute of Shipping (NIS), and the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) it was agreed that any vessel that someone must have stuck an agreement with the operator, you must be ready to pay if you were not able to discharge such cargo as predetermined by the consignee.
The earlier we identify those who do not want the nation’s economy to grow, the better for us, because I don’t see the rational behind a demand for container deposit of N450, 000 like we witness in the ports now.
Regulating Ports Operations
Although, I am commending the economic team, including the presidential committee on ports reform, Federal Ministry of Transport who collaborated with the Lagos State Government by using taskforce to dislodge trucks that block the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, at the same time, I want to say that they still have much work left in their plates.
Because if you don’t create enough enabling environment to enable the stakeholders - shipping companies, clearing agents, terminal operators, etc to execute their functions, the system will remain stagnant.
The link road within and out-sketches of the ports are nothing to write home about. Containers brought in from oversea, and paid the necessary taxes, hoping to recoup his investment, only for it to crash at the ports gate leading to the market. We have resolved not to continue this way.
Let’s call a spade by its name.
We know that in the ports of Maryland, Jersey, Baltimore, UK, Cape Ports or Durban you can never see government agency not meant to be at the port loitering about around ports corridors unless invited.
Even the presidency has issued order to that effect, but who will ensure compliance; approach customs on that and they will paint pictures of perfect systems for you. Police presence ought to be for the maintenance of law and order and not to be part of examinations and at the end containers are being turned-back without genuine reasons.
Even with much hypes that our borders are porous, yet the Police, SSS are inside the ports chasing already cleared containers. Yet, government is claiming to have perfected the system.
What are the duties of the SSS and police in the ports that Customs and the Immigration can not do? Regrettably, the Federal Operations Unite (FoU) of the customs mandated by the government to leave Lagos metropolis to man the borders, are not complying with the directive.
People are being pushed to the wall. We know that the long consequence of frustrations people are being subjected to leads to revolutions and quasi-civil war going in different countries. In as much as we pray that does not happen in Nigeria, it is better that those in authority do the right thing.
Presently, the terminal operators have embarked on giving unnecessary (double) charges. Some things you hear of Terminal Handling Charges (THC) and other acronyms that mesmerize you.
The THC is it for the machine to bring down the container that one container costs as much as N75, 000? Seven percent surcharge (7%) is meant for port maintenance and development.
Federal Government has not told us how the fund is used that we have the ports in deplorable conditions.
Even with the concession programme, we are still the way we were. The ports seemed better managed in terms of charges in the day of NPA. We need total overhauling in the system.
Having auction base at different place in the country will help contain economic wastes perpetuated in our ports.
For instance, during physical examination; which we feel is better, when Customs impound a container containing excess goods than what was declared, they normally seize such containers.
Although we have advocated that Customs should charge penalties on the spill over instead of seizing everything.
However, during auctioning everybody is left in the dark.
Therefore, there should be an auction base with screens to display commodities before and during the process. We still have a long way to go in or ports reform, and until government starts asking the right people questions, we nation’s port will continue to groan.