*As ANLCA President, Nwabunike, urges members to stay at home, closes secretariat
Former President of the National President of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Eugene Nweke, has expressed concerns over care-free attitude and business as usual by customs officers and customs agents at the nation’s ports despite the outbreak of coronavirus with reported cases of Nigerians being infected.
The statement is coming as the National President, of Association of Nigeria Licenced Customs Agents (ANLCA) , Iju Tony Nwabunike, called on its members to stay at home to avoid contacting the deadly virus.
Nwabunike had also announced the closure of the secretariat of the association until further notice.
Nweke said a visit to the ports showed a usual port and cargo clearance operations, adding that customs officers and agents were not in any way observing social distancing.
Nweke in a statement said there appears to be no attention of the government at what happens at the ports, adding that all everyone was concerned is about revenue generation at the detriment of the lives of stakeholders.
Nweke argued that in an ideal industry environment, the Ministry Of Transport and other organizations in the industry, including the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) ought to give directives as a proactive response to the Covid -19 pandemic.
The statement reads: “A visit to the ports, shipping companies and bonded terminals yesterday shows a usual port and cargo clearance operations.
At some of the Ports entrance gates, the only measure put in place by the terminal operators is body temperature checker and hand sanitizers, while inside the terminal it is “to your tent O Israel” – a case of life goes on as usual having crossed the gate, mostly so , with the Clearing Agents, even some gather to discuss the COVID -19 , and jokes about it. You can easily point to one to four agents wearing masks, or having pocket size hand sanitizer.
At Some of the Customs operational offices (within the port terminals) visited, many senior officers are seen as taking the initial precautionary measure to protect themselves with mask and a hand sanitizer handy on their tables, as for the junior officers, many seems nonchalant about the Covid -19 spread.
The same applies to other regulatory and security agencies in the port.
Unfortunately, majority of Freight Forwarders ( operational staffs) seems unpethub about the Covid -19 ravaging. Usual hand shakes, cracking jokes, crowding Customs desk officers, or Offices, or around seating/resting areas, or over the counter ( regardless and incautious of body contact) are still the peculiar character and scenario’s.
The same is replicated at the offdock and bonded terminals.
At the shipping companies, Agents are seen crowding the entrance gates, inside the market halls Agents are seen queueing over the counter or made to seat in a limited steel bench, having applied hand sanitizer, few of them managed to put on masks.
Indeed the Freight Forwarders are under serious pressure to deliver their clients imports and willing to go the extra miles to effect so.
The pressure is compounded mostly so in a prevailing congested ports, traffic gridlocks and worst still, in a traditional, port prone to human contacts to cargo clearance /operational activities. As such , A Forwarder can hardly seat at home, as he can not transact effectively on line, how much more delivering his container online, because the system is skewed against e-commerce.
In view of this , a Forwarder will always be in the port irrespective of directives , not really that he desires of so, but because the system is not structured to soothe his operations, so, excerpt the ports , Customs offices and Shipping lines are close for business. He is under the pressure and mindful not to incurre additional or excessive storage and demurrage charges, especially where there is no official pronouncement of operational break or holidays.
The implications is that, a Forwarder is merely exposed and risks contacting Covid -19 , as they feels that no one seems to consider his plight.
Here again, in an ideal industry environment, the Ministry Of Transport through its relevant agencies is expected to give an industry directives as a proactive response to the Covid -19 pandemic.
The Relevance agencies are expected to have met, and thinker out a new operational approach/modalities to mitigate human contacts, where it becomes difficult to close the ports to external operational activities, while receiving cargo inflows.
At worst, relevant government agencies can reorder internal cargo traffic as a temporary stop measure. Without mincing words, the present situation calls for sense of not just administrative but national emergency in operations.
It most be stated that, where a Freight Forwarders contacts Covid- 19, it is as good as at a ratio of 1/10 and much more ( with consideration to his immediate family, social mobility).
Therefore, as directed by the government, one expected the concerned Agencies to enforce the sit at home ( Self Isolation) or social distancing as the present scenario suggests. As such the Agency should make further public pronouncement assuring the Shippers and Freight Forwarders of necessary waivers within the period of Covid 19 ‘health impasse’.
Closing the international frontiers, when the Virus has gain entrance into the Country, and opening the port for normal business operations, is indeed an industry administrative carelessness, it does not in anyway suggest complementary to the central directives of the government.
The Council For The Regulation Of Freight Forwarding Practice In Nigeria , as an agency of the government is expected to show leadership in this direction. The health and wellness interest of the Freight Forwarders must be paramount…
The National Association Of Government Approved Freight Forwarders – Nagaff , is commended for taking the bold initiative to direct its members to maintain social distancing by staying off work for 14 days.
The control of Covid- 19 is a must and collective response to stop its spread. The future of the Nation is in our hands, so also our professional survival is attach to our lives. The choice we make today, will speak volume of our tomorrow”.
However, Nwabunike in a message to members asking them to go home reads:
“Pls, stay at home with your families. Avoid gatherings of any sort.It is my prayers that the Almighty Father will spare us and the lives of our family members” Nwabunike said in the statement.
“We are in perilous times. Humanity is faced with its worst crisis since World War II. Covid-19 is not only ravaging our communities as we know it, but also destroying the world economy.
“We have to keep to Social Distancing; i.e., avoid large gatherings and close physical contact with people. We have to regularly wash our hands with soap and water as often as possible or use ethanol based hand sanitizers as well. Most importantly, submit yourself to NCDC if you notice any covid-19 symptoms in you or your loved ones. By so doing, we could potentially save countless lives.
“German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Germans that what is staring them in the face is similar to the second world war, in which Germany suffered humiliating defeat. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson after realizing that British citizens unlike the Italians are not taking heed to safety precautions decided to lock down United Kingdom completely. Our own government has closed down schools, borders and shut down Government Secretariats. It is apparent that activities at the Wharf will also be scaled down to an all time low
“The truth is that Covid-19 has stretched health facilities to a breaking point and challenged the very foundations of our way of living.
“Doctors, Nurses and Paramedics are getting infected and paying the ultimate price. Many more people will be infected and many will yet die. This is to make the point that we are at war with an invisible killer.
“We will fight this war and together, with God on our side, we will win this war. It begs the question, how do we win? We have to obey instructions from all relevant authority. We have to avoid non essential travel.
“It is not all bad news, the good news is that covid-19 is not temperature resistant and so drinking of very warm water is advisable as well as taking suana warm water bath twice daily. Warm water bath has been identified as a fighting tool to fight infection.
“The ancient method of taking care of malaria, fever and flu by inhaling steam from boiled water while ones head is covered with quilt or blanket for 15 minutes until one sweats has equally been identified as necessary therapy that may keep covid-19 away.
“Your National President and entire NECOM members do care about you and your entire family members. All our professional colleagues are very important and dear to us. Let’s show love to ourselves by staying safe and coming out victorious.
“Consequently, the National Secretariat will by 12 noon today the 24/03/2020 be shut down till further notice” .