ByBy Stephen Ubanna
Those who think that the gates of the Lagos Apapa and Tin can island ports including Port Multi-services Terminal Limited , Kirikiri Lighter Terminal Phases 1 and II, would be thrown open for all manner of port users would be disappointed.
President Muhammadu Buhari had directed that the Lagos seaports would be opened for operation for the two weeks of the lockdown of the nation’s Commercial nerve center, Lagos, Abuja the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and Ogun state to enable importers with their agents take delivery of their cargoes as shipping is an International business . More,so, there is no country in the world, not even China, South Korea, Italy, Spain and the North American country of United States, US, that had had the highest number of confirmed cases of Coronavirus victims and reported deaths that the seaports were shut down. He was shut down.
Adams Jatto, an Engineer and General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications, Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, reportedly said that the Lagos ports may not have been shut to avoid shutting down the entire country’s economy. He noted that as the gateway to the nation’s economy for export and imports of goods to keep the economy going, it is to ensure that there is no drop in the supply of Petroleum Products in the country that might further dislocate the economy.
Indeed, the government could not have contemplated shutting down the entire ports in the country because the imported protective Medical materials to contain the virus could only come into the country could only come into the country through the seaports.
The Value News learnt that , Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman, the Managing Director, NPA, had directed the port Chief Security Officer , CSO, to ensure strict Compliance to the government policy.
True to the Presidential directive the Lagos ports were opened for business but the Administrative Headquarters at Marina, was been shut down in Compliance with the President’s order that Shops and Offices including schools should not be opened for business in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja, for two weeks period of the lock down.
Aware that some street urchins might want to pose as agents in order to gain access to the seaport at this trying and difficult times,, Tony Nwabunike, President, Association of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, who had promised to keep members informed with the extent to which the ports operations would go in the fight to contain the spread of the COVID 19 in the country had kept to his words.
He had made the members to understand that after due Consultation with the agency officials, they confirmed that Customs Brokers, Freight Forwarders and Haulage Operators, whose services are essential at the ports have no cause to worry as they are most needed for the movement of cargoes in and out of the ports.
Perhaps, to avoid abuse of the government decision to keep the Lagos ports open for business Transactions as obtained in other parts of the world, the ANLCA President had warned members who had no business or Consignment to take delivery at the port to avoid loitering around the premises because the security operatives are all over the port environment to enforce the Presidential directive of social distancing.The ANLCA President was emphatic, that only members who job at the port should be found at the port environment to avoid playing into the hands of security operatives.
Note that Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Customs Comptroller General has directed” full Customs personnel presence at the Terminals to attend to importers with their agents’’, meaning that that there would be no reason for any Customs officer not to be at his duty post to attend to them.The implication, he further said was that “ necessary formalities for processing and clearance of cargoes from the Lagos seaports would go not unhindered”.
Bonniface Anniebonam, Founder, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, who had initially planned to mobilise his members to lock down the Western and Eastern seaports because of the increasing number of Coronavirus victims in the country may have bowed to the superior presidential order allowing importers with their agents to take delivery d of their cargoe at the Lagos ports within the period of the restriction to shelve the plan.
Appealing to members who have no business at the port within the period of the restriction of movement order to “stay off “ the ports environment”, the NAGAFF, Founder had said this has become necessary for Practioners safety and protection .
He has a word of advice for the Freight Forwarders.”Should you notice absence of Customs officers, Standard Organisation of Nigeria, SON, National Agency For Food and Drug Administration, NAFDAC, Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, including the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, and the Department of State Security, DSS personnel,, who were supposed to participate in an examination of cargo but are nowhere to be found, do not hesitate to report to the Association Executive who are regular at the Secretaarita to take up the matter with the appropriate Authorities.
He may have gladdened the heart of members when he disclosed that the Management are in touch with Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, and other members of the Management Team including the Area Controllers to ensure that importers’ cargoes were not unnecessarily delayed at the port.
Given the soft landing granted the importers with their agents to take delivery of their cargoes at the Lagos seaports, Anniebonam would want officials of , NPA, and the Council for Registration of Freight Forwarders in Nigeria, CRFFN, to equally add value to the Presidential directive to” enhance Transportation-related matters” which , he believes would make the” operation seamless while observing the social distancing instructions”.
Many believe that without the step taken by Nwabunike, the ANLCA, President andAnniebonam, the NAGAFF , founder, to reach out to their members to furnish them repeatedly on the developments at the seaports within this two weeks of cessation of movements in Lagos, Ogun and the FCT, many Freight Forwarders would have fallen into the waiting hands of Muhammed Adamu, the Inspector General of Police, IGP, and Tukur Buratai, a Lt.General and Chief of Army Staff, CASA, men deployed to enforce the government policy on the road.
In spite of the soft landing granted to the Freight Forwarders to take delivery of their cargoes at the Lagos, not many are still ready to do so as Congestion had started building up at APM Terminal, The Tin-can Island Port and Cargo and Port Cargo Terminals, TCT, Port and Cargo terminals and other Terminals within the Lagos axis , an indication that the Barge Operators and Haulage operators would have much job to do at the expiration of the two weeks cessation of movement in Lagos, Ogun and the FCT. This is because importers with their agents would be forced to rush to Customs Formations to process their import documents in order to gain access to the ports to take delivery of their cargoes.
They may claim that they do not have access to the Bank because of the social distancing order to make the relevant duty payments. This may be far from the truth. The banks may have known that such problems would arise and were said to have done everything within their powers to meet the financial needs of Customers in this rapidly changing situation .
Indeed, importers with their agents who bank with the United Bank For Africa, UBA plc, a Pan African Bank, have no cause to complain about the difficulty of transferring money to a particular Customs Araea Command Account to facilitate processing of their import documents to take delivery of their cargoes.
Although the deposit bank branches in Lagos and Ogun states including the FCT, may not have opened for business to facilitate the transfer of funds, within this period of restrictions of movement in these major Citities and Ogun state, but the Automotive Teller Machines, ATMs and the digital banking channels, according to banking sources are still available for Customers to carry out their financial transactions.
This should serve as a good news for the Importers with their agents to encourage them to hasten effort to take delivery of their cargoes at the Lagos ports instead of creating artificial Congestion by abandoning it and then blaming it on the shutdown of the banks which had made it difficult to process their import duty payments and security operatives harassment on the road.
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