Despite recent announcement by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) that it has suspended all fees following the outbreak of the COVID-19 and the consequent lockdown directed by the federal government, customs agents in the country have cried out to the government to compel the shipping companies to stop all charges.
In a petition to President Muhammadu Buhari, they appealed to the federal government to comply with the international convention by waiving rent and demurrage.
National President of the Association of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (AMDLCA), the umbrella body of freight forwarders in the country, Lucky Amiwero, in the petition, said contrary to reports banks are not open at the ports and some government agencies are not on ground to carry out their duties.
According to him, "We hereby bring to the notice of the federal government of the urgent need to waive the rents of terminals and shipping company demurrage charges on all shipping into Lagos port as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown that affect the banks, shipping companies and licensed Customs agents (LCA), other port users and other government agencies.
"The banks are not opened for bank normal transaction, which is the core within the core LCA clearing chain, as clearance of goods start, with the banks in the opening of form 'M', processing of PAAR, collection shipping documentation and other monetary transfers transaction.
"Furthermore, the banks facilitate payment of import duty, terminal charges, shipping company charges, terminal charges, transporters charges, NAFDAC, SON etc, which cannot be performed as the banks are not open for the normal transactions till date."
The clearing agents added that shipping companies were not opened for the release of goods adding that, "they are statutorily the agent to the carrier or the carrier themselves, who by the provision of the contract of carriage by sea or air are to release the goods after ascertaining of the payment for freight from the port of shipment to port of destination and other local shipping charges payments, that is paid through the banks
"As stated, without the release of the goods from shipping company terminals cannot deliver the goods to the LCA/importer as the shipping company hold the cargo in trust until is release for delivery inline the contract of carriage."
They stated that the LCAs are by the provision of the Customs Management Act Section 153-(2) the only body authorised to interface with the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), "as they are by the provision of Section 154 of the Customs and Excise Management Act c.45 of 2004, liable for the payment of import duty and responsible for defaulting on payment of import duty
"LCAs by provision of the Port related (offences) Act 61 of 1999 Section 1-(a) &1-(b) are those allow to be in the port to transact the profession of Customs agent on import, export, transit, Transshipment, interface with other government agencies and other port users
"However, LCAs are scatted over Lagos and part of Ogun state, cannot access the ports, terminals, shipping companies, banks, NAFDAC SON etc, and to arrange for transport to move out the goods from the port.
"We hereby request for the clarification of essential goods, if is only the goods that is allow to leave the port, and such clarification should be backed by the relevant agency authorised to issue guide line for such goods, which is the Federal Ministry of Finance under Section 36 of the Customs and Excise Management Act for clarity," they added.
"Such guideline should stipulate and identify the nature of essential goods and provide for the Licensed Customs Agents of the handling of such goods, the accessibility to the Port, Banks, terminals, Bonded warehouse, Terminal, Bonded warehouse shuttle buses to move from the Banks, Shipping Companies, NAFDAC, SON etc, as there is no public transport, coupled with the restriction of Licensed Customs Agents in accessing Port and bonded warehouse as a result of their homes that is scatted all over Lagos suburban and Ogun state," they said.