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Why trade facilitation no longer exist in our ports

By Jonathan Nicol

Shippers developed thick skin to the myriads of negative issues affecting our trade. From the day the goods arrive to when it is cleared. Even after clearing, we lose money since empty containers cannot be received by the owners. So, the shipping trade- imports and exports, suffers.

Take a look at the port, it is dying slowly. It has never been like that. The Federal Government Agencies are sapping shippers dry. Official and unofficial compulsory payments are made on every consignment.

Trucking is another challenge. Take for instance, paying N1, 000,000 to Ibadan.

Local trips are between N350, 000 to N800, 000. It is unacceptable! But, what do you expect the shippers to do.? Manufacturers suffer huge clearing bills to get their consignments delivered to them.

Nigerian freight forwarders are frustrated compared with their foreign counterparts. Freight Forwarders are paid crumbs by the imperialist foreign freight forwarders in the guise of collapse of Import Adjustments policies of Government.

Regulators are overwhelmed with daily challenges. Trade facilitation no longer exists. Some agencies are making so much money from shippers instead of advice Government to control excesses.

We are sad to say that, in order to hide their shame, they brand the shippers as non-compliant. Even those who do not know the origin of the advent of cargo, are condemning shippers for non- compliance.

Without the cargo, there will be no existing port managers and other stakeholders. There will be no port. Shipping will be non- existent in Nigeria.

Shippers, Importers and Exporters should be respected and revered. They are nation builders, self-made individuals and progressive corporate entities. No shipper would want to abandon their cargo if cargo clearing expenses is within his budget. Clearing cargo in Nigerian ports is eight times more than the cost of the goods. Where will the shipper get extra funds for distribution to corrupt platforms existing in the ports, one of the reasons why goods are abandoned?

The regulators of our ports have a dual role to play: 1. Protect the interests of Shippers, Importers and Exporters etc; 2. Make sure goods brought into the country are cleared promptly by stopping harsh government import policies. In addition, remove domestic items from prohibition list.

Seizing importers’ goods is draconian. The Import restrictions should be restructured. And abolish actions that will forcibly take cargo from shippers and auctioned privately. Shippers should be encouraged.

This has evolved to the extent that the freight forwarders, one of our primary partners, induce deliberate action, as it is now, as users of port facilities, want to take their fate in their hands.

Government Agencies are failing

Importers, Exporters and Shippers do not have a seamless method in place by Government to exit their goods.

There are trucks everywhere within and around the vicinity along the corridor to the Ports. Go to FESTAC and Mile 2. The Marine Beach Bridge was not constructed as a holding bay. As long as trucks park on top of bridges, life span of our bridges will be threatened.

The alignment of major stakeholders to checkmate infractions, such as port corruption, violations of Rules of Engagement and Enforcement, shows that government agencies have nothing to offer anymore to the trading public.

It is a mark of failure. Perhaps this alignment will be a wake-up call to all and including Importers who declare something different from what is found in their boxes. The action of freight forwarders will be total and we suggest that Government should support them. It is the last hope of shipping trade in Nigeria.

Importers hardly make profits because of huge clearing expenses

There are rifts between fellow government agencies handling regulatory responsibilities. Recently, it was revealed that there had been a forced working relationship between three government agencies, who speak the same language, for over 1 year now. One year looking for peaceful resolutions affecting the lives of Nigerians on economic issues without results, is disheartening and a disservice to serve us.

The dark clouds are gathering, so much discontent in the clearing sector, tempers are rising. Delaying cargo in the port is not good for anyone, especially, volatile cargo used in the soft drink Industries. One reckless handling of such cargo can have a very devastating effect on our ports.

This is part of fallout of the collapse of the Concession Agreement of 2006, which took the Nigerian Shippers Council to court on entirely economic matter that is now at the Supreme Court. That action should have cleaned up the system gradually, since 2014 to date.

Shippers Association Lagos State is already discussing with our counterparts in the country. We will support any action that will bring economic sanity within the clearing and logistics chain. A dangerous tsunami is brewing in the Maritime Industry.

The Federal Government institutions built by the sweat and contributions of stakeholders are the property of Nigerians.  The Institutions should not be personalised. The Federal Government of today is the peoples’ government.

We demand equitable and down- to- earth solutions of the warring parties to embrace the part of peace for the sake of posterity. Vessels are now leaving to other African countries to discharge their cargo. Especially those on time charter contracts.

Reduce costs of doing business. Remove all the so-called Government Security Agencies in the Port, with the exception of the Nigeria Customs Service, which is already a para-military outfit. If that is done, hold Customs responsible for any failure in the Port.

Since the Port has been concessioned, the security of the ports should be left with the concessioners. With the Nigeria Police patrolling the Ports. But don’t forget, the port is a very high risk security area.

Rev. Jonathan Nicol is the President, Shippers Association of Lagos State

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