The Association of Bonded Terminal Operators of Nigeria (ABTON) has described the allegation by the 100% Compliance Team of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) that its members impose demurrage, storage and transfer charges among other illegal fees on importers and freight forwarders and that bonded terminals lack the capacity to deliver quality and efficient services timely as a baseless one.
Charges of bonded terminals, according to the association’s General Secretary, Alhaji Haruna Omolajomo, are in line with their agreements with shipping companies.
Alhaji Ibrahim Tanko, Coordinator of the Compliance Team alleged the operators while addressing the media in Lagos last week, saying that whenever it rains, bonded terminals suspend examination of cargoes, leading to an increase in demurrages charged against owners of the cargoes.
“If I want to examine my containers it takes me days to examine them; they don’t have a good floor to drop my containers during the rainy season. Now we cannot examine in the rain. The goods will be soaked in water and demurrage will accrue,” said Tanko who condemned the issuing of licenses by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to the operators who cannot meet international standards in contradiction of the Customs Excise and Management Act (CEMA). He urged Customs to revoke the licenses of bonded terminals that fail to meet the standards.
Reacting to the development, Alhaji Haruna Omolajomo said the allegation by the Compliant Team is not true as over 40 bonded terminals in Lagos alone operate in accordance with the standards contained in their operation licences issued to them by the Nigeria Customs Service.
Omolajomo said operators have invested trillions of naira into this business, adding that shutting down the business would keep many out of jobs. He admitted that there are a few bad eggs in the industry but suggested the erring operators should be punished rather than condemning all the operators.
“There is no sane society that expects everything to run 100 percent, there would still be black sheep that will default. You cannot push for all bonded terminals to be thrown out of business because of one or two operators that erred in their operations. This is not fair as many people would be out of jobs for a crime they did not commit.
“Those people defaulting are not members of the bonded terminals association which is recognized nationwide. How can we account for them since the Federal Government, through Customs, licensed them? If they violate the law, the Customs sanctions them and brings them to book, just as they have been doing to erring operators,” he said.
Omolajomo said bonded terminals do not bill customs agents and freight forwarders illegally, saying that 70 percent of the charges at the bonded terminals are infused by the shipping companies and terminal operators.
“The terminal operators and shipping companies reach an agreement with the bonded terminals for patronage, they give the bonded terminals conditions that if they must patronise them, they must help them to collect certain money and this money is infused into what the bonded terminals will collect from the shippers and freight forwarders. This is one of the challenges the bonded terminals are facing and this is very bad because it is painting us black,” he added.
Omolajomo said there are guidelines for operating a bonded terminal, adding that Customs does regular inspection before approval, while the operators renew their licenses every year.
He said bonded terminals with adequate equipment are not patronised by freight forwarders and importers, as they chose to take their containers to those with fewer facilities and end up complaining of not getting adequate service.