By Foster Obi
There are great concerns that the Nigeria Shippers Council (NSC) may be losing grip and that achievements carried out by the past administration may be squandered under the altar of lame duck leadership with the way things are going at the Council.
Feelers by DFCNews shows that most stakeholders think that the present management led by Emmanuel Layambee Jime does not have the requisite fire to tame recalcitrant shipping companies that have taken the Nigeria ports as a conquered territory.
The shipping companies rip off Nigeria importers at will and would go to any length to muzzle opposition, a thing they would never imagine in their home countries.
Analysts believe that the excessive charges by the Shipping companies at the ports is one of the reasons why doing business in Nigeria is very costly, cost of living high and why investors are fast disappearing.
In an opinion sampling by DFCNews, the recently appointed JIme who is a politician and a former gubernatorial aspirant of APC in Benue State may not be willing to ruffle feathers at the ports because of the future of his political career.
Most stakeholders are of the opinion that an Agency like NSC does not require politicians as heads as they will run it aground.
They argue that five months into his tenure, the former lawmaker has only been speaking grammar and making appeals in an environment that requires action and instant hammer.
According to the great Albert Einstein, ”only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible.”
Shipping companies in Nigeria have been branded as hawks, very willing to compromise politicians to have their way to impose unnecessary charges and so requires a no-nonsense technocrat as the arrowhead of the regulator instead of a politician who may see the appointment as compensation and self help valve.
Presently there is an ongoing argument among stakeholders that that if Jime continues the way he is going, Nigeria may be in trouble and that this inaction may return the Nigeria port environment to 15years back of inactive regulation.
Although Jime is barely five months compared to his predecessor, Hassan Bello’s 8years in office, his opening salvo gives him away as somebody who may not make much impact at the agency. This writer will like to be proved wrong.
The era of Hassan Bello witnessed the tenure of a man with a mission to make great impact. There were recorded major clashes between the Nigerian shipping authority and global shipping firms over several plans by the later to increase shipping charges.
To put an end to the persistent wrangling between customs agents, importers and the negative impact excessive charges were having on the economy, the NSC under Bello made efforts to get the shipping companies to cut down charges.
One of attempts that yielded results was when the Council signed a landmark agreement with the shipping companies to reduce charges.
While the total reduction was 35 per cent, the Council came up with sustainable mechanism of settling disputes, thereby neutralising arbitrary or unilateral fixing of cost at the ports.
Besides the reduction of port charges, the Council abolished the container cleaning fee hitherto being collected by shipping companies, just as fifteen other port charges were removed from the list of charges.
In last quarter 2020, the shipping firms planned to fix 2020 peak period charges at $1000 per container, about 400 percent up from $200 they were charging.
In the heat of that period, Bello told the media he was aware and by mobilising Nigerian authorities as well as the private sector stakeholders, the move was resisted.
He said the increase was astronomical and discriminatory against Nigeria, the highest in the whole world as range of such charges in other climes was between $100 and $200.
He said the new charges, if implemented, would add to cost of imports, and Nigeria’s economy still import-dependent would be forced into another round of inflationary pressure.
Bello by all standards represented the stakeholders cry for a regulator and not a politician who may be more focused on feathering his political nest than caring a hoot about the problem of Shippers. This is considered a major challenge by shippers at the ports.
In the NSC website, the Council wrote, “the Nigerian Shippers’ Council serves as an agent for economic development through interventions in cost moderation and cargo transport issues resulting in positive impact on inflationary trends in the country.” Presently, this sounds like mere rhetoric when the current leadership is viewed.
Feelers in the media shows that the public relations department of NSC is very inactive as it is obviously not updating Jime with the dangerous bend it is taking and the low rating in the minds of the public.
Analysts believe that the recent faceoff between customs brokers and shipping companies and the lame duck role played by the NSC in the resolution of the conflict is scandalising.
By not seizing the initiative to play its role as the regulator but allowing the CRFFN to take is space, while tagging along, shows that Jime and his team is yet to understand the critical role the agency is assigned to play by the government, and this is a very big minus for the agency leadership.
Perhaps the NSC boss need to be briefed again on some of the infractions of the shipping companies that are fast crippling port activities. According to reports, foreign shipping companies are leaving larger numbers of containers behind in the country compared to the numbers of containers that they departed with, thereby turning Nigeria into a dumpsite for empty containers.
The foreign shipping companies find it easy to dump empty containers in Nigeria because it is cheaper for them to do so as there is no sanction to prevent them from leaving behind the containers with which they brought goods into the country.
Research shows that the cost of shipping goods into Nigerian ports is among the highest in the world and this is given muscle by the activities of shipping companies.
Recently Shippers and importers decried the excessive charges paid in foreign exchange for clearing groupage containers in Nigeria. They said there are no aspects of clearance of groupage containers that would attract excessive charges and additional cost paid in foreign currency, as all charges relating to the shipment of cargo have been paid upfront before shipment.
DFCNews discovered that the cost of shipping groupage, which is the cheapest method of delivering containers, can be as low as $70 per cubic metre up to $250 per cubic metre, depending on the country from which the container is being shipped. But now the cost has increased to $410 per cubic metre, which importers see as big rip off.
President, Shippers Association of Lagos, (SAL), Jonathan Nicol, recently said that more of the groupage issues faced by shippers and importers are mainly from the Chinese shipping agencies handling groupage containers in Nigeria.
Recently while giving ultimatum for Shipping companies to reverse their absurd cwhichs or risk shutting of the ports, Customs brokers accused the foreigners of using dubious means, which include the transfer of containers against freight forwarders’ wish, consent, or approval of consignee; depletion of container deposit refunds, to extort freight forwarders.
They said other means of ripping off the freight forwarders by the shipping companies are detention invoice; undue debiting of their clients; unnecessary extortion of importers of up to N150,000 before dropping empty containers; and causing disputes between freight forwarders and their transporters/clients.
According to them, shipping companies use their negligence or lack of capacity to foist on freight forwarders undue equipment detention charges, ranging from N200,000 per 1×40ft and N100,000 per 1×20ft multiplied by over 1, 000 containers per day. They demanded that shipping companies pay transporters’ compensation for using their trucks as holding bay for days and weeks.
They also noted that ,”Shipping companies are taking advantage of the failure of the Nigerian government to do the right thing to put Nigerians into a terrible mess.
Highlighting the many absurdities by shipping companies, the Coordinator of Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders Import and Export Coalition, Osita Chukwu asked, “Do you know how much we loose to the shipping companies every quarter on container deposit? Because as you see those empty containers lying there, it is money that are attached to it that made them queue up in the line for days otherwise nobody can carry empty containers for those number of days if money is not attached to it. At times, they will usurp the whole money and then you owe on top.”
This and many other infractions by foreign firms in Nigeria which leave Nigeria importers and the economy bleeding is one the reasons why the NSC is appointed to play the regulator but unfortunately this role is presenting in the parking mode which is a dangerous trend for the economy.
FOSTER OBI is Editor DFCNews
Picture: Emmanuel Jime, Executive Secretary, Nigeria Shippers Council