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Clearing agents lament risk, difficulties over cargo clearance

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Entrance to Apapa Port Complex, Lagos PHOTO: SULAIMON SALAU

Clearing agents at Lagos ports have expressed displeasure about the difficulties faced in the process of clearing goods, as well as exposure to risk of contacting coronavirus as people failed to observe social distancing.

Besides, the agents bemoaned the Federal Government for not providing necessary safety kits to prevent them against the virus.

President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, in a petition to the presidency also expressed concerns that the banks in Apapa are only opened to skeletal services, which hinders smooth process of clearing cargoes.

The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) had earlier intervened to ensure that some banks resume operations in Apapa area of Lagos to facilitate the clearance of goods and other essential services.

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CRFFN had listed 12 bank branches in a memo (with their phone numbers) after promising to open for operations, but the banks are still shut to the public. All the phone numbers tried by The Guardian yesterday were not picked for reasons best known to them.

But, Amiwero said: ‘The banks are not opened for bank normal transaction, which is the core within  the clearing chain, as clearance of goods start, with the banks in the opening of form; processing of PAAR, collection shipping documentation and other monetary  transfers transaction.

Furthermore, the Banks facilitate payment of import duty, terminal charges, shipping company charges, terminal charges, transporters charges, NAFDAC, SON among others, which cannot be performed as the banks are not open for the normal transactions till date”

Besides, he said the shipping companies are not opened for release of goods.

“They are statutorily the agent to the carrier or the carrier themselves, who by the provision of the contract of carriage by sea or air are to release the goods after ascertaining of the payment for freight from the port of shipment to port of destination and other local shipping charges payments, that is paid through the banks

“Without the release of the goods from shipping company terminals cannot deliver the goods to the Licensed Customs Agents/Importer as the shipping company hold the cargo in trust until is release for delivery inline the contract of carriage,” he stated.

Speaking in the same vein, President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Increase Uche told The Guardian that the process of clearing goods at the moment is very rigorous.

Uche, who emphasised that the few of the banks are opened and they are only carrying out skeletal services, said this makes it very difficult for agents to make smooth transactions and further clear cargoes.

“The situation at the port is not a normal one. The banks are not into full operation. They are just carrying out skeletal services. Some of the banks that have three branches only opened one branch. Some of our members are trying to exploit the online platforms, but sometimes, you need to fill hard copy of the forms.

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“Besides, our members are facing difficulties in getting to the ports due to the lockdown. There are hiccups here and there. Our people are really finding it difficult,” he said.

Uche urged agents to be careful in their operations and be mindful of the fact that coronavirus is real.

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Shippers Councils (NCS) and the Council for Regulation of Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (CRFFN) also noted that agents are violating the social distancing rule, in their quest to board the shuttle buses provided by government.

The agencies, in a memo yesterday decried molestation of the drivers; non compliance with the social distancing directives; over loading/crowding of the buses beyond capacity by freight forwarders and refusal to be orderly when boarding the bus.

They noted that the above abuses are capable of compromising the preventive measures put in place to curtail further spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The approved sitting arrangement for the buses is three passengers on each row and a total of 17 passengers per bus including the policeman who escorts the bus.

The above safety regulations shall be the standard rule for the beneficiaries of this service.

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