Fourteen months after the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NCS) warned bonded terminals in the country to stop imposing illegal fees on shippers and freight forwarders and improve on service delivery and management of cargo, importers and customs agents are wailing over an estimated N3 million lost per container to the bonded terminals.
It was learnt that despite the circular issued by the NSC in July 2020 prohibiting terminals from leveling charges on storage or transfer of cargoes, bonded terminals have continued to extort importers and customs agents through illegal fees.
The National Co-coordinator of 100 per cent compliance team of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Tanko Ibrahim, said bonded terminals were inflicting pains on importers and freight forwarders as they lose N3 million per container.
He said bonded terminals impose demurrage, storage and transfer charges among other illegal fees on importers and freight forwarders, while inflating the charges, despite the poor capacity to deliver quality and efficient services.
Tanko said 60 per cent of bonded terminals in the country do not have the minimum requirements to operate, adding that they lack forklifts that can pick 20ft and 40ft containers as well as space for storing at least 20, 000 containers.
Tanko, who doubles as the Vice- President Western Zone of NAGAFF, said 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,” he said.
Tanko condemned the issuing of licenses by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to operators of the bonded terminals that cannot meet international standards in contradiction of the Customs Excise and Management Act (CEMA).
He urged the Committee set up by Customs to be transparent in their report as they visit and investigate the bonded terminals.
He said the NAGAFF 100 per cent compliance team would also revisit the terminals to get their reports and send them to the National Assembly, the ministers of Finance and Transport to avoid any form of corruption.
He said the committee should also investigate the licenses issued to the bonded terminals as well as question the Customs on the criteria for opening a bonded terminal.
Tanko called on Customs to revoke the licenses of bonded terminals that do not meet international standards as well as sanction the personnel that issued the licenses to the operators, noting that there have been corruption allegations in the process.
Tanko, while reacting to the 5, 000 abandoned containers littering the nation’s sea ports, said 80 per cent of the containers have prohibited items in them, which is why the owners have refused to claim them due to fear of being caught, while the remaining 20 per cent are due to demurrage charges.
He said many of these cargoes do not have genuine addresses, noting that the addresses given are churches, abandoned and uncompleted buildings.
Tanko stressed on a particular container that is being examined for a week at Apapa port that had prohibited hard drugs used by insurgents concealed in an imported cylinder.
The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and the Department of State Service (DSS) in an ongoing joint operation uncovered and seized 74.119kg of Captagon pills, hard drugs concealed inside a cylinder of an imported machine in Apapa Port of Lagos.
The NAGAFF compliance team boss alleged that the Customs officials and Government are aware of the importation of this prohibited substance capable of causing harm to the people.
Reacting to the NAGAFF allegations, the General Secretary, Association of Bonded Terminal Operators of Nigeria, Haruna Omolajomo, said the allegations are not completely true, as there are over 40 bonded terminals in Lagos that imbibe standard practices.
He agreed that there are few bad eggs in the industry but suggested the erring operators should be punished rather than condemning all the operators.
He said operators have invested trillions of naira into this business, adding that shutting down the business would keep many out of jobs.
“There is no sane society that expects everything to run 100 per cent, 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 that is recognised 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.
Speaking on the illegal charges, Omolajomo, said bonded terminals do not charge for storage and transfer of cargoes, noting that 70 per cent 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.
On bonded terminals being ill-equipped, 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.