Nigerian President urged to constitute fact-finding committee on seaports

President Muhammadu Buhari

Towards making the Nigerian seaports function optimally and contribute positively to the growth of the nation’s economy in 2021 and beyond, President Muhammadu Buhari has been urged to constitute a fact-finding committee to unravel and provide lasting solutions to various problems plaguing the port industry present.

Dr. Eugene Nweke, former President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) and Head of NAGAFF Research and Policy Group, charged President Muhammadu Buhari in a letter he addressed to him to reconsider the decision of his administration on non-issuance of foreign exchange to Nigerian food importers.

The Nweke letter reads thus: First is to begin by reminding Mr. President that, for many years, the businesses of the Nigeria shippers together with critical transport service providers such as the freight forwarders have been frustrated by certain business practices employed by container shipping lines and terminal operators. In some instances, petitions are filed to the economic regulator for rule making; often the regulator appears to be overwhelmed by some other factors limiting their prompt regulatory functions.

The Nigerian shippers and forwarders insist that except a properly defined industry guidelines are issued with the aim to revise and reform business practices in the industry, the shipping industry will never guarantee freight fluidity, rather it will remain a rip-off to the Nigeria shippers as it stands now.  We clamour for a new National Shipping Policy to match the prevailing realities in shipping businesses.

Mr. President, the Nigerian shippers and forwarders will appreciate it, if a fact finding team is constituted by your office to undertake an inquiry into various inherent focused fact scenarios in the shipping and terminal operations. Such fact finding team will be charged to bring to your attention the real time problematic business practices inherent in our maritime industry and difficulties thereof, especially as it relates to the shipping and terminal operations. The shippers and  forwarders strongly believe that,  based on the supplementary information to be unravel by the inquiry team,  that a further clarity to potential application of  the interpretative rules to several businesses within the shipping- port value chain is apt, as most of what presently represent Industry interpretative rules does not match the reality on ground. Most importantly such reviewed application will motivate parties to act reasonably and facilitate disputes resolution within industry saving time and cost. Here again, this is most cogent, as envisaged change in shipping  application will help keep the supply chain fairly and efficient, which in our thoughts is paramount to your government.

Mr. President, again your indulgence is craved for you to set up a fact finding team to investigate the impact of Covid19 on the supply chain and by extension relating it to the present port congestion quagmire. May we further inform that, presently, the economic regulator seems to be battling with the container shipping lines on the imposition of emergency congestion surcharges which are in the average of $550/TEU payable by the Nigerian shippers; the negative impact to the economy in general is overwhelming.

Mr. President,  in the context of government inspections,  there is need to confirm the level of compliance to the earlier circular issued through the Nigerian Ports Authority, directing the terminal operators and shipping lines to wave storage and demurrage charges on shipments that falls within a stipulated period. A directives the shippers and forwarders applauded and termed it as “positive response and reasonableness of detention and demurrage charges during the early Covid19 lock down”. However, this directive was subtly thwarted and politicized. The applied half hazards implementation of this directive led to the trapping of so many containers in the ports, aiding the present congestion in our port.

Mr. President, permit us to also inform here that, the economic developments in  our maritime shipping indicated a decrease trends in global manufacturing during the Covid19 lockdown thereby causing changes in local economies, which in response, impacted negatively on buying pattern of the consumer.

In addition, the container shipping industry is marshalling a response to signs of a building import backlog as some finished goods importers and manufacturers failed to pick up containers because warehouses are full or closed due to not being deemed essential and low patronages owing to scarcity of purchasing funds of the consuming public.

Also, note that, recent events needful points to the economic urgency of responsive port and terminal operations to the effectiveness of the Nigeria international freight delivery system .Pursuance to the goal of ensuring an efficient and economic transportation systems, it is deemed that the government has a duty to identify operational solutions to cargo delivery system challenges through its appropriate agencies.

Mr. President, we wish to passionately appeal and encourage you to approve or issue a policy statement to the Nigeria Shippers and Forwarders, especially so for putting our lives on line during the Covid19 lockdown. We make bold to state that in spite of the problematic industry, like any other Nigerian in other sectors, we are not just resourceful, enterprising and resilient men and women making our living on our gateways but also the architect of revenue generation to the government. We are key essential workforce keeping the movement of critical goods pre, during and after the global pandemic, as such we equally deserve same relief and protection granted to other industries/sectors.

Presently, the Nigerian shippers and forwarders need a helping hand from the government. They also look forward towards the regulators to be nimble, adaptive  and willing to provide relief where it can make a difference. The Covid19 has generally created disparity in our trade volume. In other climes, a protection program was initiated, whereby even the Congress waved the small business affiliation rules for businesses, providing a mix grants and loans to cover employee wages, salary and benefits,  especially those  the food service industry so as  to increase the availability of payback protection program. We shall sooner make case for the National Assembly to enact an Act for the establishment of the Maritime Support Program Funding – MSPF.

Going forward, we do request Mr. President to kindly direct the economic regulator to establish within its purview a Bureau of Trade Analysis (BTA) – the Bureau if empowered will traditionally relied on a combination of vessel operators to confidently provide data and information from commercially available industry data to monitor and analyze container carrier freight rates and service market trends.

Finally, Mr. President, most countries are factoring economic policies towards guaranteeing food security, as this year witnessed many manmade draughts, courtesy of communal clashes, in which so many farmers lost their farm produce across states of the Federation, impacting on the nation’s agricultural products outputs. More farmers are presently rendered homeless thereby increasing the feeding provisions on the part of the government. In addition, the rainfall this year has its own implications with regards to lesser harvest as opposed to bumper.

We, therefore, appeal to your Excellency,  rather than deny food Importers forex , it will be most ideal if a more tolerant trade policy in the form of food imports quota be considered. This is because, the year ahead does not point to an overall economic well being in the face of recession.

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