Containers are piling up at the nation’s seaport terminals. Government agencies not directly involved in cargo clearing are now making doing business more difficult for importers by detaining containers already released by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
BusinessDay discovered that agencies such as the Maritime Police Division of the Nigeria Police Force, the Agricultural Quarantine Service, the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) interfere with containers released by Customs.
These containers are detained either within the port terminals or on their way to the importer’s warehouses, and as of the last count, over 1800 containers are stuck at Lagos ports having been detained by the police division.
In some cases, these agencies also block the containers before they are released by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), thereby forcing importers and their agents to pay millions of Naira as demurrage and storage charges to shipping companies and terminal operators for the delay in taking delivery of their consignments due to the time spent in resolving the issue with either the police, quarantine or others.
This development compelled some groups of freight forwarders under the umbrella of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) 100% Compliance Team to recently embark on a 2-hour protest at Apapa port over the ‘unfair practices’ from government agencies.
Tanko Ibrahim, national coordinator of the NAGAFF 100% Compliance Team said the police division arbitrarily intercepts cargo clearance.
According to him, the activities of Maritime Police are primarily geared towards extortion as freight agents and shippers are forced to part with a minimum of N1.5 million for each container detained by the police.
“At the moment, there are over 1800 containers trapped within the Western ports- Apapa and Tin-Can Island Ports that Maritime Police detain. For each container, Police collect as much as N1.5 million before releasing it and most times there is no reason for intercepting the containers in the first place. Some containers cost as must as N4.5 million to be released, but the cheapest the Police collect per container is N1.5 million,” Tanko said.
He said cleared containers are harassed on their way to the importer’s warehouses by the police division, seized and taken to the barrack leaving the freight forwarders and importers stranded.
Due to the detention, Tanko said, importers are now paying additional demurrage and storage charges on the consignments because of the delays.
He said that freight forwarders have written protest letters to the Inspector General of Police and other stakeholders at the ports.
On his part, Tony Anakebe, a Licensed Customs Agent, told BusinessDay on the phone that the activities of some agencies of government are stockpiling the number of uncleared containers at the port.
Anakebe said that in addition to Police detention of containers released by Customs at the port, agencies such as the Agricultural Quarantine Service also detain cleared containers.
Citing an example, he said his company recently cleared containers of industrial chemicals that the officers of the Quarantine intercepted for days and insisted that N40,000 must be paid per 20-foot container.
“Quarantine is detaining containers carrying NAFDAC-regulated chemicals for the manufacturing companies at the port terminals. They claimed that some of the chemical drums have wood and will tell you the amount to pay. Why should Quarantine block the evacuation of containers released by Customs and NAFDAC?” he queried.
According to him, Maritime Police block containers from leaving the port and the agent will be forced to go to their head office in Alagbon to pay money before the container is released.
“The actions of some government agencies like the Police are hindering trade by delaying cargo clearing and adding to the high cost of doing business for importers,” Emma Nwabunwanne said.
This was one of the reasons Adegboyega Oyetola, minister of Marine and Blue Economy, recently raised alarm that over 6,000 abandoned containers at Lagos Ports are occupying stacking spaces at the port terminals without any economic benefits to the economy.