11th November, 2014
The on-going strike by clearing agents at the APM terminals in Lagos is an indication that the countless demands over the years to reduce excessive port charges have not yielded any positive result. Due to these exorbitant charges and unfavorable mode of operations, importers and exporters are compelled to patronise other neighboring seaports and this must be put on check to salvage the Nigerian economy.
Since 3 November, 2014, clearing agents have been protesting over high charges and unsatisfactory services. According to Olayiwola Shittu, President, Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, the exorbitant charges are being forced on them by terminal operators, shipping agencies and government regulatory agencies like the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency, NESREA, Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service, NAQS and Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON.
The clearing agents accused NAFDAC of increasing its charges by 100 per cent. In some cases, charges have been raised from N400,000 to N2 million. They also frown at the SON’s decision on 1 November, 2014 to charge N20,000 per vehicle to carry out pre-shipment inspection of used vehicles, N3, 500 for every 20 feet container that comes into the country and N7, 000 for every imported 40 feet container.
The revelations made by the clearing agents are worrisome despite the directives of the Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC, last week announcing the reversal of storage charge that came into effect since May 1, 2009. NSC ordered an increase in the free storage period at the port from three days to seven days and also directed shipping companies to reduce their shipping line agency charges from N26, 500 to N23, 850 and from N48, 000 to N40, 000. It also directed shipping agencies to refund container deposits to importers and agents within 10 working days after the return of the empty containers.
Doing business at Nigerian seaports is widely perceived to be expensive and user-unfriendly. Due to this and the recent controversy, NSC is expected as the regulatory agency of the industry to ensure, within its statutory powers, that the directives are complied with by the shipping agencies and the terminal operators. Or are these affected shipping agencies and terminal operators above the law?
Though the clearing agents are threatening to go on a nationwide strike since their appeal to the affected agencies are being ignored, there is a need for all government agencies concerned to quickly intervene. This will prevent further economic haemorrhage at the nation’s ports.