Lamentations at Ports over POFs, E-call Up System, Worsening Corruption

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*As face-off on POF payment, ETO system lead to demurrage, congestion


*Customs accused of leading in corruption with multiple checks, alerts for extortion
*Police, military, area boys also fingered in ports extortion
By Francis Ugwoke
The Congregation of Registered Freight Forwarding Practitioners of Nigeria , (CREFFPON) weekend lamented over worsening situation at the nation’s ports that has continued to affect trade facilitation and to a large extent the nation’s economy.
The freight forwarders said it was disheartening that a good number of the agencies and committees in the ports system were more driven by revenue interests and not on how to cushion the ongoing sufferings and what they described as classical extortions against importers who have goods to clear at the Lagos ports.
The freight forwarders accused the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) of of leading in corruption by introducing endless check points via multiple “units, squads and taskforces, with their operational highhandedness and frivolous demand notices and the un-streamlined, incessant alert issuance, etc”
The group equally pointed out the overlapping functions, revenue driven interests and inherent administrative extortions of the products regulatory agencies and the recruitment of camp boys at will as part of the ills in the ports.
The freight forwarders in a statement signed by the Fwdr Edwin Chukwudire, a practitioner based in Tin Can Island port, gave an indication that the increasing prices of goods in the market cannot be unassociated with corrupt practices in the ports.
The group expressed displeasure over the most recent introduction of payment of Ports Operating Fees (POFs) by the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), adding that importers who have resisted the payment have had to incur demurrage on their goods as terminal operators decided not to release them for the benefit of collecting more demurrage on the items.
The CRFFN management was accused of administrative inefficiency , saying the POF was coming after the Council woefully failed to institute professionalism in the freight forwarding subsector, adding that the absence of professional scale of charges in the sector was . promoting non competitiveness in the system.
The CREFFPON also identified the costs attached to the e-call up system for trucks in which the operators are required to pay N10,000 for using the platform and additional N43,000 for each transport company as worrisome, stating that the truckers have been forced to also raise their charges which importers must pay to have their goods delivered.
According to the freight forwarders, “ NPA truck transit park and the e-truck call up system is a modernized extortion tool via ICT application”.
The statement also pointed out what the freight forwarders described as “ unregulated exploits and extortive of the emerging barge operations in the cargo clearance system”.
The group identified the security agencies, including police, military and traffic agencies as part of the unholy alliance, even doing so in a commando styles..
Area boys and officials of the local government authority were said to be neck deep in the extortion arm-twisting at the ports.

The group added that in view of the crisis of in the ports as a result of the foregoing, it was calling on the federal government, including the National Assembly to pay attention to happenings in the ports Industry for the best interest of the economy.

It argued that by paying attention, this will stem all manner of extortions and sufferings in the port system which multiplier effects were being passed on to the consuming public.

“We urge the federal government to widening and focus its searchlight on the port Industry. Equally , it should consider the need to evolve a new shipping policy to cushion this thriving acts of extortions”, the group said.

The group threatened that it may be compelled to mobilize both the trading public and international trading partner if this unwholesome acts of extortions and exploitations continue.

“Obviously, we can no longer fold our arms and allow the continuous financial investment loses and calculated arm-twists against the trading public ( who are our clients) via this man made extortive mechanisms”, the statement said.

Part of the statement reads:

“ To the CREFFPON, the Apapa gridrock appears to be a designed extortive tool on itself, seemingly conceptualize over time by vested interest. Else how can it be said that a government which has an oversight functions over the concerned agency never queried nor sacked management team of the concerned agencies over its gross failures and lack of deploying prompt managerial capacity with regards to ports infrastructural forecast, planning and maintenance objectives. It can not be said a seasoned management team suddenly forgot that the Apapa port access road is prone to high import volume, increased vehicular, cargo movement activities and waterlog prone as well. Obviously administrative road capacity forecast and planning in the face of yearly increasing Cargo traffic failed.

“Wherefore, it is a common sense to know that, the so called Apapa gridrock can best be described as man made with a motive as unfolded.

“b. The immediate disbanded presidential task team on Apapa gridrock. The reconstitution of same as now Ministerial Committee saddle with same task, is a mere act of baptismal of name. The extortions continues. However, reasonable free flow of traffic within the Apapa Port environment was recorded this week. The Committee showed cause that it can actually push the trucks into the streets and access road within the neighborhood bandry, Surulere, Ojuelegba, Amuwo, Satellite town, etc, not minding the associated menace therein. The question on the lips of the port users is: “Can it be sustain?”.

“c. The Unregulated and uncoordinated trucking systems is a notorious extortion, an organized enterprises and gang up against the imported goods into the Nigeria ports.

“d. The divided and uncoordinated interests of the police and their incessant interferences in cargo Clearance and interception along cargo delivery routes. Too many unholy check points in the port system.

“e. The unregulated extortive, subjective and intimidative tendencies of the terminal operators and shipping lines. Theirs is a classical extortions redefined.

“f. The endless checks points as instituted by the Nigeria Customs Service via varies of units, squads and taskforces, with their operational highhandedness and frivolous demand notices and the un-streamlined, incessant alert issuance, etc,

“g. The overlapping functions, revenue driven interests and inherent administrative extortions of the products regulatory agencies and the recruitment of camp boys at will, is another extortions points.

“h. The administrative inefficiency on the part of the Council For The Regulation of Freight Forwarding Practice in Nigeria – CRFFN, hence, it woefully failed to institute professionalism in the freight forwarding subsector of the maritime economy hence, the absent of professional scale of charges in the freight forwarding Profession. Promoting non competitiveness in the system.

“ The CRFFN with effect from 1st March, 2021 commenced the collection of the controversial Practitioners Operating Fee – POF, the CREFFPON had stated its position on the matter.
But the CREFFPON monitored closely the Implementation amidst ill-feelings and displeasure expressed by the Practitioners.
Findings shows that:
“i. With the refusal of the Stoan members ( Terminal Operators), especially the TCIT, to issue the Terminal Delivery Order (TDO) to the Forwarders in the course of their professional quest and engagements to promptly facilitate Imports processing, clearance and delivery, that this act caused cargo processing delays resulting to additional demurrages and storages to the profits advantage of the Terminal Operators and Shipping Lines in their ongoing unholy alliance.

“ii. That officially the POF attracts 20ft Container at #1000t and 40ft Container at #2000t. Most importantly it must be paid by the named declarant on the import documents. Also that, the CRFFN payment process is electronic and even driven to the extend that the Forwarder can conveniently pay its bill from its Android phone set.

“iii. Unfortunately, what’s obtainable on ground is a process where some staff of an accredited DTI centres with a licensed Customs operational agency ( as the declarant) now help to the Forwarders to mass generate the POF payment advise for a fee ranging from #1000t and a little above. Thereafter, the forwarder proceed to make payment in the bank, where it pays #2350t in the case of a 40ft container. The additional #350t paid is noted as bank commission.

“iv. This present process is not acceptable on the grounds the inherent noticeable procedural delays is a connivance for further extortions, between the CRFFN, STOAN MEMBERS ( T.O.) SHIPPING LINES AND LISTED DTI CENTRES. The procedure is in negation of the principles of ease of doing business in the port and the spirit of trade facilitation.
“v. That a dig into the STOAN members concession Agreement signed with the Government through its agency shows that, the Agreement does not at any contain nor provide nor confer such powers leading to the stoppage of cargo duly release by the Customs, Shipping Lines, relevant regulatory agencies as noted in the import examination order of the Government by regulatory agencies in the port clearance process.
“The function of the Terminal Operators as a temporary custodian of the imports On behalf of the Shipping Lines has not change from those services by which it earns charges and fees, obviously the POF conspiracy is not part of it.

“vi. The CREFFPON due with utmost Industry good fate urges the Terminal Operators not to stare the honest comb, rather concentrate efforts for us to achieve and maintain the existing peace and harmony in our port Industry.

“vii. If this is not urgently address the CREFFPON shall not only seek legal redress but will in consultation with the Associations mobilize the Forwarders to withdraw their Professional Services.

“i. The helplessness posture of the Nigeria Shippers Council in its economic regulatory efforts snowballs to a pathetic story as the council is overwhelmed and tagged a toothless bulldog by the port uses. It’s present roles in the industry requires urgent regulatory legislative empowerment so as to rejig and stabilizes the economic wellbeing of all industry strata and the nation economy. Else, a mere presidential pronouncement can not guarantee a regulatory sanctions on a defaulting stakeholders, like witnessed in its celebrated case with the Terminal Operators and Shipping Lines.

“Government, must exhibit purposeful governance by transmuting the NSC via legislative processes as the nation maritime economic regulator once and for all. This industry gambling with an industry economic regulator should be addressed once and for all.

“j. The NPA truck transit park and the e-truck call up system is a modernized extortion tool via ICT application.
The payment of ten thousand per truck that uses the platform, ( also note that, from our findings, each transport company are made to pay additional #43,000;00 at commencement or registration point for the opening of a e-wallets for the trucking company) surely this is an indication of a business driven Platform not majorly a value adding Platform as it proposes to be.

“ It is a clear pointer to the high level and mindless extortive, carefree attitudes of the initiator. The CREFFPON perceives this arrangement as a calculated stand point that further suggests reasons why the Eastern Ports will not be administratively made to operationally and sustainably thrive for even developmental spread, thereby creating even competition and promoting the concept of competitive edge in the port Industry.

“If ten thousand is paid by trucks compelled to use the platform, you can imagine the payment of #10,000 × trucks round trip to evacuate, using a minimum pick up process containerized imports tone at 800,000 TEU in a year ( from available statistics, the estimated annual cargo traffic at Apapa Port is recorded at 1.2m TEU’s). Indeed extortions enterprises.

“k. The unregulated exploits and extortive of the emerging barge operations in the cargo clearance system, etc.

“l. The military and traffic agencies are not left out of this unholy alliance, even doing so in a commando styles.

“m. The Area boys ( street uchis) and officials of the local government authority are also neckdive in this extortive arm-twists.

“ Without narrowing into the nitty gritty of the extortive acts, we make bold to also state that, the recent closure and reopening of borders, has its contributory factors of extortions. The CREFFPON is still collating facts and data’s in relation to the business implications of the border closure on our Profession in particular and the Country at large, and shall in due course release the result of our findings.

“It is in the light of the forgoing that the CREFFPON calls on the Federal Government ( Executive, Legislature and Judiciary) to take a coursory looks of the happenings in the maritime ( port) Industry as enumerated above, to stem all manner of extortions and sufferings in the port system which multiplier effects is passed on to the consuming public.

“We urge the federal government to widening and focus its searchlight on the port Industry. Equally , it should consider the need to evolve a new shipping policy to cushion this thriving acts of extortions.

“The CREFFPON may be compelled to mobilize both the trading public and international trading partner if this unwholesome acts of extortions and exploitations continue. Obviously, we can no longer fold our arms and allow the continuous financial investment loses and calculated arm-twists against the trading public ( who are our clients) via this man made extortive mechanisms”.



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