By Adegboyega Oni
The crisis triggered over alleged refusal of two ground handling companies – Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCO) PLC and Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) PLC – to grant 100 percent waiver on cargo that arrived at Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos during the COVID-19 nationwide lockdown is yet to abate despite 80 percent offered by the two bodies which customs agents have rejected.
Taking the matter further despite protests by customs agents at cargo sheds, the African Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria (APFFLON) has protested to the President of Nigerian Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, and the Minster of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika that the two cargo operators have flagrantly refused to comply with the directives of the Federal Government that waivers should be granted 100 percent to cargo that came into the country during the lockdown.
In a letter to the Senate President and the Minister of Aviation, Otunba Frank Ogunojemite, President of APFFLON, noted that the refusal of the companies to offer 100 percent waivers as directed by the Federal Government was an act of disobedience. He noted that the two bodies were known for disobeying constituted authorities.
Calling on the constituted authorities to call NAHCO and SAHCO to order, the association noted that the two companies have gone ahead to increase handling charges despite the increment being challenged in a court of law.
When PortNews contacted Mr. Samuel Akinrinmade, Head of Communications, NAHCO, on the matter, he denied any knowledge about the protest by the association, saying the two bodies – NAHCO and SAHCO – will have to meet and take a common position on the matter.
Contrary to alleged rejection of 80 percent waiver by APFFLON in the letter to the Senate and Aviation Ministry, Mrs. Vanessa Uasohia, Head of Corporate Communication, SAHCO, however said customs agents have been picking their cargo at 80 percent waiver and maintained that she was not aware of any protest.
”I am not aware of any protest because our clients have been picking up their cargo with the 80 percent demurrage waiver,” she said,
It would be recalled that NAHCO had earlier stated that it could not grant demurrage waivers on cargo storage to customs licensed agents as there was no directive, either from Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) or Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), mandating it and other aviation cargo handler to do so.
Customs licensed agents and freight forwarders held a protest at cargo sheds at Lagos airport demanding that NAHCO and Skyway Aviation Handling Company PLC (SAHCO) should grant them 100 percent waivers on cargo just it is applicable in the seaports.
NAHCO however advised that if the customs agents want waiver grant they should direct their demand appropriately to the government, not to cargo handlers.
NAHCO stated this while reacting to the protesting customs agents in a press statement issued by Samuel Akinrinmade, its Head of Corporate Communications, noting that its cost of operation has risen astronomically.
While admitting that COVID-19 pandemic has affected the nation’s economy negatively, NAHCO maintained that aviation cargo handlers were not spared as the industry is faced with revenue loss and cash crunch while still providing critical handling services in support of the fight against the pandemic at extra costs.
”Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc (NAHCO) and other Ground Handling Companies have had to provide critical handling services in support the management of and fight against COVID 19 at extra costs and in the challenging circumstances in the last 6 weeks of lockdown and closure of airports and airspace (except for approved essential and emergency flights). In addition, warehousing services especially ensuring shipments in the custody of the Ground Handling Companies are kept safe, and in good condition have also been at a huge cost.
”Cargo agents are asking for 100% waiver on storage, their demand is based on the premise that an agency of Government, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) is taking on the financial burden of the 100 % waiver at the seaports and issuing credit notes to Port Terminal Operators. This is not the case in aviation, as Ground Handling Companies have not been informed by Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) or Federal Airports Authority (FAAN) that Government is giving any financial exchange for storage waiver in the aviation sector. We have shared this fact with the cargo agents and asked them to direct their protest appropriately.
”We appreciate the work and efforts of the Honourable Minister of Aviation, NCAA and FAAN, even as the Aviation industry continues to face the effects of COVID 19, we are challenged and meeting our obligations to staff and paying all that is due to Federal Airport Authority of Nigerian (FAAN), charges such as 5% of our revenue as concession fee, Rent and Service Recovery Charge etc. Going forward is an insurmountable task.
”We are a responsible corporate organisation, employing over 2,200 Nigerian and affecting over 100,000 people in Nigeria directly and indirectly. COVID 19 has affected the aviation industry the most. Today, our industry is faced with revenue loss and cash crunch. Ground Handling Companies are critical aviation service providers and greatly affected. Our cost of operations has risen materially in light of the new safety measures in our operations and all the safety equipment, systems, PPE etc that we have put in place for our staff, customers and stakeholders.
Ground handling companies are private companies just like the port terminal operators in the seaports, cargo agents many of whom work in custom bonded warehouses in both the seaports and airports and or belong to associations that operate in same, understand this and the fact that both maritime and aviation industries are in the same economy. They should therefore direct their grievances in the right direction away from the ground handling companies to the appropriate quarters to ensure their desire results of equity in all customs bonded warehouse whether in the seaport or airport,” said NAHCO.