The Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) has advised members, all clearing agents, freight forwarders and haulage operators to bear their identity cards and port pass as necessary requirements as they continue port operations under essential services.
ANLCA National President, Prince Tony Iju Nwabunike, gave the advice yesterday following the Federal Government’s directive that the seaports should remain operational to enable them continue to handle essential cargo in spite of the 14-day lockdown of Lagos State.
Nwabunike, who spoke after the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) clarified the operational guidelines in view of the lockdown which begins at 11p.m today, said it was imperative that “only customs brokers, freight forwarders and haulage operators who have jobs on the ground should approach the ports during this period of restriction.”
He noted that before now, the Comptroller-General of Customs had directed full customs personnel presence, which implied that necessary formalities for processing and clearing of cargoes from the ports are unhindered.
He further urged everyone to strictly adhere to all health and safety guidelines against the spread of the deadly Covid-19 as given by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), including washing of hands, use of gloves, hand sanitisers and maintaining of social distancing.
Meanwhile, before the Sunday evening broadcast by President Muhammadu Buhari, which retained operations by the seaports, clearing agents had pushed for a total shutdown of the ports to stem the spread of the virus through the ports or waiver of the consequential penalties.
Founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, insisted that the present global dangers were enough to warrant the immediate shutdown of the sea and airports, which are gateways to the nation’s economy, till further notice.
According to Aniebonam, “there is nothing more than the lives of citizens. It is even constitutional that the primary responsibility of the government is to protect the lives and property of citizens.
“In this regard, and in line with the directive of the Federal Government with regards to vessels approaching Nigeria at the moment, such vessels can still be allowed to come in under strict conditions of the rules of engagement.
“In other to avoid port congestion, the outer terminals and/or any other dedicated area can be used to warehouse the containers and/or any other type of goods, therefore the need for the transportation and finance ministers to set up a special taskforce to undertake such responsibility.
“It is also important that Lagos State and other affected states at the moment should consider imposition of curfew. The government of Nigeria is being advised to take strict measures right now because we do not have facilities to cushion the consequences of the ongoing spread.”
Similarly, in an open letter to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, ANLCA noted that while fully supporting government’s stay-at-home order, it was also mindful that members were losing money and investments through demurrage and other charges from shipping companies and terminal operators at the ports.
Calling for force majeure, it contended that “before the Covid-19 pandemic subsides for normal businesses in the seaports, airports and border stations to take full swing, imported and exported items might have been trapped in the various gateways to the nation.
“As such, demurrage and rent payable to shipping companies, concessionaires/terminal operators will have reached an unbearable proportion due to the lockdown.
“As you already know, it is difficult, if not totally impossible, to process customs documentation and take delivery of cargoes in our ports during this period. Even when attempt is made, it is difficult because state governments have closed inter-state borders; markets are locked and movement of certain vehicles restricted.
“We now have irresistible circumstances that make the plea and activation of Force Majeure, in line with international best practices, inevitable. We hereby call for Force Majeure and total lockdown of our seaports to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus and protect the Nigerian workforce operating in our ports.”
ANLCA added: “We also appeal to the Federal Government to prevail on shipping companies, terminal operators and other agencies in the ports to be prepared to waive all charges, taxes and fees during this period of national compromise at all levels.
“Consequently, we seek for all demurrage, rents and penalties, among others emanating from the inability to clear cargoes from the ports as and when due at this period to be waived effective from the first week of March, 2020 when the first case was detected in Nigeria.”