By Elizabeth Chukwuma
Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Federal government appears to have stepped in to encourage importers with their agents to take advantage of the soft -landing granted them by President Muhammadu Buhari to take delivery of their cargoes at the Lagos seaports to avoid Congestion.
The Katsina state born Nigerian President had on Sunday, March 29, 2020, ordered a complete lockdown of the economy of Lagos, the nation’s Commercial hub, Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT. The Presidential order also affected ministries, agencies and Parastatals.
The Presidential order was also extended to Ogun state. The President may have been given the ammunition to extend to Lock down to the south west state of Ogun, because of its proximity to Lagos in order to control the heavy traffic between the states.
In spite of the soft-landing granted to the importers with their agents to take advantage of the two weeks, COVID 19 Lock down of Lagos, Abuja and Ogun state, to decongest the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tin-can Island, Port Multi-services Terminal limite, PTML, KiriKiri Lighter Terminal, KLT, Phases I and 11, the Customs Brokers, Freight Forwarders and Haulage Operators, appear reluctant to do so.
The situation is so bad as virtually all the terminal operators are no longer finding because of the build- up of Congestion at the ports. The Ocean-going vessels which could not be stopped from coming into the ports to discharge their cargoes are still doing so on a daily basis.
At Apapa port, this is giving Olotu Bolanle Fumilayo, the port Manager Manger,a cause for concern as the workers including the Dockworkers are on ground to attend to facilitate the discharge of cargoes from the vessels.
The Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders, who may have attempted to delivery f their cargo at the ports may not have been happy at the treatment they got from the security agencies personnel at the port and its environs who were said very harsh, insisting they must observe the two weeks COVID19 lockdown.
The agents may have cried out to Tony Nwabunike, President , Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, to intervene to save the situation from degenerating and to avoid making nonsense of the Presidential directive. Nwabunike, in turn was said to have taken up the matter with Boss Mustapha, the Secretary to the Government and who incidentally was a former Managing Director, of Nigerian Inland Water Ways Authority, NIWA.
Mustapha may have known the implications of the Customs Brokers, Freight Forwarders and Haulage Operators not being allowed to take delivery of their cargoes at the port on the N2 trillion revenue target set for the Nigerian Customs ervice, NCS, on non- oil imports and exports.
He was said to have reached out Mohammed Adamu , the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Turkur Buratai, a Lt. General and Chief of Army Staff, CAS, and Heads of other security agencies, whose personnel are on the road to enforce the Presidential directive.A
A source informed The Value News that he he had told them that ”all Customs brokers, Freight Forwarders and Haulage Operators are exempted from the COVID 19, lock down because of their essential service in this trying and difficult times”. He had directed the Heads of the security agencies to instruct their officers operating within and outside the ports, particular, hakeem Odumosu, the Lagos state Commissioner of police, to ensure that his men would not arrest or prevent any Customs Brokers, Freight Forwarders and Haulage Operators doing his or her legitimate business.
Acting on the instruction of the Secretary to the government, the ANLCA President has a word of advice for members that the only way to avoid playing into the hands of the security agencies within this period of the COVID 19 lock down is to ensure they are armed with their port pass and Company Identity Cards in order to separate them from the street urchins who might want to take advantage of the two weeks forced holiday to penetrate the ports and broke into Containers to steal at night.
The good news was that giving the importance attached to the services of the Customs Brokers, Freight Forwarders and Haulage Operators in this trying and difficult time, the government was said to have ordered the deposit banks which branches had been under lock and key in compliance of the Presidential directive to open and attend to Customers.
This may have given ammunition to the Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders to process their import documents’ and make the appropriate duty payment as well as withdraw money to run their offices and hire the haulage trucks to facilitate the delivery of their cargo from the ports.
Appealing to the members who have cargo to take delivery at the ports, Nwabunike, who was full of appreciation to Mustapha, for his intervention urged members that they are free to approach their banks starting from the Wednesday, April 1, 2020, that the banks were asked to resume full operation or on Thursday, April 2, 2020. He had assured them that they have no cause to worry as they would conduct their financial transaction at the bank without hitches. He is right.
Given the intervention of Mustapha, the Secretary to the government to restore full activities at the ports, the ANLCA helmsman was said to have also expressed his appreciation to Hassan Bello, a Lawyer and Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC, for his Professional and prompt handling of the situation.
Already the officials of Council of Freight Forwarders of Nigeria, CRFFN, were said to have embarked on a sensitisation Campaign visit to the Lagos ports in order to encourage the Customs Brokers, Freight Forwarders and Haulage Operators to go about their normal business without fear of molestation by security agencies personnel at the port.
The CRFFN, officials may have made the agents to understand that the NPA, Terminal Operators and the Customs officials are on ground to attend to them. Indeed, the CRFFN, officials, may have put smiles on the faces of the Agents and the Haulage Operators when they told those they had met at the ports that the security agencies found within and outside port environment are there to guarantee their security and protection of their cargo.