Travellers and cargo agents operating at the nation’s airports have been groaning under severe pains of numerous illegal charges on imported cargo by some international cargo carriers who have perfected means of making abnormal profits to run their Nigerian offices. They were said to be amassing billions of naira daily from the arbitrary charges. Airport operators had taken the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to court over two arbitrary charges, one of which is port charges.
Investigations revealed that some of the foreign airlines involved in the collection of illegal charges are: Quatar Airways, Lufthanza Airline, British Airways, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airline and the Emirate Airline. They perpetrate this, through various documentations, asking for N10 per every kilo of cargo; illegal air carrier fees of N5 per kilo for FAAN; administrative fee of N500 per airwaybill. It was also gathered that they make cargo owners pay a compulsory N5,000 to the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) for amendment of manifests, which is their responsibility, rather freight agents are compelled to sort it out with customs at the airport.
Following these oddities, freight agents under the auspices of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) and Nigerian Association of Air Freight Forwarders and Consolidators (NAFFAC), staged a protest, calling on the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to invoke its powers of regulation and sanctions against the erring foreign airlines and FAAN over the illegal fees collection.
Normalcy, however, returned at the Muritala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), NAHCO as a result of a stakeholders’ meeting. Those in attendance were NCAA, State Security Service (SSS); Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc; ANLCA, NAFFAC and National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF).
Speaking with the press after the meeting, the National President of ANLCA, Prince Olayiwola Shittu stated that freight agents would no longer pay the arbitrary charges, warning that any attempt to further impose the charges on its members would attract reaction.
He noted that the illegal charges had been on for almost two decades, explaining that they vary from one airline to the other, but added that not all foreign carriers were involved in the collection. Shittu, however, regretted that these foreign airlines have been using Nigerians to commit scam by collecting illegal fees which runs into several billions of naira on daily basis under the guise of documentation.
President General of NAFFAC, Mr. Chukwuka Agubamah, said the arbitrary charges is against any known international rules, practices and conventions on carriage of goods by air. NAFFAC stated that these “charges are a carry-over of the historical practice of European all – cargo airlines in the 1970s and 1980s to render some customs –related services on import cargo and charge some fees they termed “documentation fee.” “It is thus untenable for some carriers to carry on with that documentation fee regime for no services rendered to cargo tally, storage and delivery in an extortionist and un-conventional manner,” NAFFAC noted.
They condemned the practice whereby the offending carriers withhold airways bills but wait for importers or their appointed customs agents to come to them and pay the so – called documentation or administrative charges and fees before handing over their airway bills, meanwhile they have delivered cargo and manifest only to their ground handling and cargo agents SAHCOL and NAHCO.
Calling on NCAA to sanction the erring airlines, NAFFAC called for a review of all agency agreements between carriers and Ground and Cargo Handling Agents (GCHAs) to ensure such tally with international conventions and best practices, adding “Enough is Enough of these institutionalized robberies against importers and the economy.”
Meanwhile, traffic gridlock in Apapa and the environ which has been unleashing great hardship on the people in a couple of weeks and dwindled economic activities in the port has been adduced to inefficient and obsolete working equipment at the AP Moller Terminal (APMT).
The truck drivers allege that the epileptic handling equipment and shortage of manpower available in carrying out their job has led to the long queue of trucks on the road saying that it takes the terminal operators up to eight hours to load a truck, a process which is not supposed to take more than 30 minutes. The aggrieved drivers also called on the Federal Government to monitor the essence of APMT because according to them the terminal operator lacks manpower efficiency.
Some of the placards displayed by the protesters last week include; “APMT have failed Nigerians”,” APMT must go before we work again”, “APMT equipment are all obsolete”,” We are tired of APMT activities”, “Compare to other terminals like TICT, Ports and Cargo, APMT is not functioning well ” “APMT must gooo”, etc., while others were chanting solidarity songs calling for the government to look into the plights of the drivers.
Stating the reason for their actions, the drivers lamented that the delay experienced at the port over time, came as a result of poor infrastructures on the part of the terminal operator to take care of containers that is due to exit the terminal. The aggrieved drivers also lampooned leaders of all the haulage associations for failing to carry the drivers along and failure to fight the cause of the members with the terminal operators. Apart from the bad roads connecting the port, the drivers told reporters that APMT poses a serious threat to the port operations.
However, the management of APM Terminals met with the aggrieved container truck drivers to address their grievances, while explaining that the traffic gridlock in Apapa is as a result of bad road condition The Chief Commercial Officer of APM Terminals Apapa Limited, Mr. Neil Fletcher, said trucking operations has resumed at the port after the meeting with the operators who had suspended work because of the challenges they face on the road. He said 35,124 import containers were delivered in May and June which represents the largest volume delivered in two months in the history of the terminal. He said the large delivery volume is as a result of huge investment in plants and modern container handling equipment.
“At present, we operate with 22 (RTGs) Rubber Tyre Gantry cranes, 17 reach stackers & empty container handlers and 75 terminal trucks. This is unmatched in any other terminal and is sufficient for our level of operation,” he stated. Fletcher said that truck turnaround times at the terminal have reduced from 1hour 53 minutes in February 2014 to 1hour 40 minutes in June 2014.
“Dwell times for laden imports have reduced by three days from May to June 2014. Our current civil project which has cost $135 million is within two months of completion and has resulted in a superior service to our land side customers.
“We have been and are working closely with the Nigerian Ports Authority and other stakeholders to ease the problem of the congestion in Apapa,” Fletcher stated.