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  • The Guardian

Importers ‘lose N15tr to pandemic’ in Lagos ports

Millions of cargoes are currently wasting away at Lagos seaports owing to poor road infrastructure, bureaucratic processes, and unfavourable government policies.

Investigations by The Guardian revealed that many of the cargoes are now incurring high demurrage after enjoying three rent-free days from the time of discharge.

The stockpile of containers is also causing serious congestion due to the closure of access roads for repairs, even as lack of cargo scanners has forced the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to resort to physical examination. These, combined, have led some importers to seek solace in neighbouring ports.

Besides, Jonathan Nichol, Chairman, Nigerian Shippers Association (Lagos chapter), told The Guardian that importers have lost over N15 trillion to the coronavirus pandemic, which has limited importation and forced a lot of factories to shut down.

“The figure is even higher because importers cannot pay demurrage for most of the goods now trapped in the ports. Factories have shut down for three months and they don’t have money to pay demurrage.

Then you say shippers refuse to come and take their cargoes. Government should introduce a blanket concession on demurrage from the period before COVID-19 to encourage importers,” said Nichol.

He lamented further: “You cannot get Form M to process import. The liquid value for the foreign exchange must be in your account, which you cannot withdraw. The money has remained there for three months. You cannot receive your goods. The bills are constant. Workers’ salary is constant.

Transportation is higher. Servicing is constant, and many more. All on one importer! And then you begin to think of how to pay demurrage. The whole thing is just terrible!”

A terminal operator, who preferred anonymity, said cargoes are currently lying in the terminals due to factors beyond the control of the concessionaires.

“The major problem with the evacuation of cargoes is the infrastructure deficit at the ports. The ports need intermodal system. We should be able to fix access roads and make good use of water and rail transport. Apapa port was built about 107 years ago with rail lines, which were recently rehabilitated by APM Terminals. But it is so unfortunate that Tin Can Island port built 23 years ago does not have any rail link. This is a result of poor planning.

“The new deep seaport currently under construction in Lekki does not have a plan for rail link. It is a shame on us, if we cannot plan a perfect infrastructure. The Apapa port built by the whites has rail link but our modern facilities don’t. It is sad,” the source said.

President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, noted: “The problem we have is that there is no rail. Our coastal lines are not utilised and the roads are not good.

The implication is grave. The impact on the economy is in trillions of naira. We have not done the full estimate. But we are in a terrible mess because the importers will move their cargoes through other countries.

“Our cost of doing business is one of the highest. We still do physical examination of cargoes. All these challenges make our ports unfriendly. That means we cannot be a trans-shipment port. We are talking of a country that has about 70 per cent of the cargoes in Africa and other countries that have less are sharing of these cargoes.

That is too bad.”

Amiwero also regretted that clearing agents are yet to get the demurrage waiver granted due to the pandemic. He said: “As I am talking to you, we are yet to get the refund. NPA has directed them to refund but the shipping companies are yet to comply. They should be severely sanctioned for violating Federal Government’s directive.

The importers are made to pay unnecessary demurrage and rents as a result of manipulation and unwholesome practices, infrastructure deficiency and interplay among the government agencies.”

MEANWHILE, APM Terminals Apapa and the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) have resumed the evacuation of containers by rail from the Lagos Port Complex Apapa with a view to decongesting the roads. APM Terminals originally restored rail service in 2013, running thrice a week to Kano and Kaduna.

General Manager, External Affairs of APM Terminals Apapa, Daniel Odibe, said the Terminal and NRC have developed a new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), which would bridge communication gap and ultimately lead to more efficient cargo evacuation by rail.

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