They treat the guidelines and directives of relevant government agencies, which have the statutory duties to superintendent over their operations, with annoying disdain and disrespect.
Their act of impunity and utter disregard for the constituted authorities is causing pains, hardship and agony to port users.
One of the guidelines which governs their operations but which they have consistently defiled with impunity is the issue of holding bays.
It is part of the criteria for their registration. But sadly, none is known to have complied with this critical criterion.
While some don’t have at all, the holding capacity of what others pass off as holding bays is far less than the numbers of empty containers they generate.
This impunity has therefore led to complications in the management of empties that have compounded the traffic gridlock on the port access roads.
It has also led to unnecessary payment of demurrage by importers who find it difficult to return the empties due to the gridlock.
The matter got to the head in 2018 when truckers had to resort to protest against the flagrant refusal of the shipping companies to establish holding bays to warehouse their empties that were fingered as the cause of the gridlock.
To restore sanity on the road, NPA directed all the shipping companies to establish their holding bays.
But the companies still shunned the directive which made the NPA slammed a 10-day sanction on four of them which included Maerskline, Cosco Shipping, APS and Lansal.
But few days to the commencement of the sanction, NPA, for undisclosed reasons, hastily lifted the order and watched as the shipping companies continued their impunity and rape of Nigerian importers.
Despite the hues and cries of port users over the agony caused by the littering empties which the shipping companies failed to warehouse in their holding bays, the NPA, which has the statutory powers to check these abuses and excesses, appeared helpless against the powerful foreigners.
This made us to ask who then can tame the monsters which the foreign shipping companies have become?
We shudder at the impunity and arrogance of these foreigners who have gleefully desecrated the guidelines and laws governing their operations in the country.
Not only do they treat the NPA with arrogant levity, they equally look the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, the economic regulator which has the statutory powers to rein them in over their arbitrary charges, in the face with scorn and disdain.
Surprisingly most of the time they, get away with their impunity.
Backed by powerful Nigerians whom they co-opted into their management as either Chairmen or Directors, these foreigners have suspiciously become audacious to continue to play gods while their Nigerian surrogates provide them with the necessary cover.
But in October 10th, 2020, port operators took their destiny in their own hands when the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) gave the recalcitrant shipping companies a 21-day ultimatum to get holding bays that will suck in the littering empties from the roads or the industry risks their wrath of industrial action.
Ever since this declaration, more groups in the industry have declared their support and readiness to join the fray should the shipping companies fail to comply.
The pronouncement of the maritime workers was not only an indictment on the relevant government agencies for their lack of capacity to tame the monsters but unmistakable show of loss of confidence in their ability to protect their interests.
We are perplexed at the growing menace these foreigners have become in their operations in the country.
It is unfortunate that they are being encouraged and goaded by the unpatriotic attitude of their Nigerian godfathers whose odious influence has emboldened this misconduct.
We are saddened by the seeming arrogance of the shipping companies and their flagrant disregard for the rules of engagement.
Against international best practices, the shipping companies have turned the country into a dumping ground for empty, sometimes, expired containers.
We are more shocked by the revelation of the maritime workers Union that the foreign shipping companies have turned the roads to their holding bays as they converted the trucks to the bays which are parked along the roads.
It is more disgusting to note that the NPA is aware of this unorthodox practice which is totally alien to international best practices.
According to all the known norms, shipping companies, which own these containers, are supposed to take them back to the ports of origin after they are unstuffed at their countries of destinations.
But in Nigeria, not only did the shipping companies refuse to take possession of these containers in the holding bays they have consistently refused to build, they have decided to abandon majority of these containers in the country.
We note that they have dubiously devised means of recovering the cost of the boxes through various indiscriminate charges, including containers deposits, which is supposed to be refundable after they are returned.
But they frustrate all attempts of importers to return the containers who invariably forfeit such deposits.
With this snobbish attitude of shipping companies and lack of will power of relevant government agencies to enforce the guidelines on handling empty containers, the country has become a dumping site.
We want to implore the NPA to muster enough political will power to take on these shipping companies and compel them to play the game by the rules.
Firstly, NPA should not back down on the need for these service providers to get holding bays where they could warehouse the containers.
Secondly, the agency should not compromise on its position that no empty container that does not originate from the holding bay will be allowed access into the port.
We are convinced that if these directives are strictly enforced, the menace of the empty containers on the port access roads will be curtailed.
Another measure to tackle the menace is to co-opt bonded terminals operators into the management of empty containers .
Most bonded terminals are presently unviable .
While some had packed up, those that are yet to go under are living on the throes of death.
Except for very few ones that are struggling to survive, majority are barely existing.
Their services became dispensable following the port concession programme of 2006 which took away their business and relevance.
Prior to that time, they became a child of necessity nurtured and sustained by the inefficiency of the NPA.
Now that terminal operations have been conceded to private players, the operators of the moribund bonded terminals are looking for means of survival.
Our recommendation is that the recalcitrant shipping companies could out-source holding bay services to the bonded terminals operators who, to our mind, are looking for a life line to stay afloat.
Since the shipping companies are not attracted to owing holding bays despite the directive of NPA, obviously due to the running costs, this function could be given to bonded terminals operators whose facilities are under utilised under a mutually agreed business partnership.
This partnership could be facilitated by the NPA which could act as unbiased umpire to ensure its success.
If this is done, we believe it will also take away most of the stranded empty containers which are causing confusion on the port access roads.
Another measure, which may appear drastic but feasible is for the Nigerian Shippers’ Council to compel the shipping companies to scrap the dubious and controversial containers deposits.
We believe that it was this deposit that allows the shipping companies to abandon their containers with the importers, knowing fully well that it has cover the costs.
So they would not want to be bothered with the extra costs of owning and maintaining holding bays.
But we are sure that if this exploitative fee is abolished, which is by no means an easy task, shipping companies will be eager to take back their boxes.
We must however warn that the Shippers’ Council should expect a tough battle and resistance from the service providers, but it is worth trying.
Our passion is to see all the encumbrances in cargo delivery system are removed which to us, will not only engender quick clearance and evacuation of goods but enhance quick turn-around of vessels that will boost port efficiency.
It is only when these foreign shipping companies are tamed and made to play by the rules that normalcy will return to the port access roads, notwithstanding the efforts of government to fix these roads.
Editorial! Chairmanship of CRFFN: Mortgaging the Freight Forwarding industry
“Following Chibuike Amaechi’s imposition of one Alhaji Tsanni as chairman of the governing council, Amaechi’s action, contrary to the legal provisions of the CRFFN Act as regards the position of chairman and vice-chairman, has automatically placed the Council on the precipice.”
“It is absolute disregard of the rule of law. It’s not even healthy for the political future of Mr. President (Buhari).
The Gradual Decapitation of Shippers’ Council under Jime.
The Politics of CVFF disbursement.
The Cabotage Vessel Financing Funds (CVFF) has become a wild card in the hand of the government which it uses at will to dribble the hapless indigenous ship owners in a game of deceit.
For about 18 years when the Cabotage Act of 2003 was promulgated and 14 years when the CVFF guidelines 2007 were issued by the Ministry of Transportation and approved by the National Assembly, the disbursement of the interventionist fund has become a rat race between the government and indigenous ship owners.
All over the world, governments seek and strive for the development of their maritime Industry either through direct intervention as the CVF was designed to be or through the creation of conducive environment to attract private participation.
It was with this mindset that the promoters of the Cabotage Act promulgated the ACT in 2003.
The ACT, akin to the Jones Act of the United States, was meant to reserve the opportunities in the coastal trade for the exclusive rights of indigenous ship owners.
To enable them to participate effectively in coastal trade, the promoters of the Act mooted an interventionist fund to be given to the operators as soft loans under the Cabotage Vessel Financing Funds (CVFF).
The fund, which is a pool of the deductions of the two percent of the contracts executed under the Cabotage trade, will be given out to qualified shipowners in a low-interest loan.
But 14 years after the fund berthed, no single operator has benefited from the fund.
Successive governments have played a game of deceit on the disbursement of the fund, making fools of the hapless indigenous operators.
Over the years, the accrued amounts of the fund from the deductions which are still ongoing despite non-disbursement, have been a subject of controversy as various, unverified figures are being churned out by the government and its agency, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and safety agency (NIMASA), thus leaving operators to make wild guesses.
The last unverified figures given out by NIMASA during the press conference to mark the one year in office of the incumbent Director-General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, was $20m and N32 billion.
We call it unverified because the fund grows almost on daily basis from the two percent deductions from Cabotage contracts.
Unfortunately, the fund has been serially abused by successive governments which gleefully dip their hands into the hilt and use it for purposes other than what it was meant for.
The circus display of a game of deceit over the disbursement of the fund started during the last administration of President Good luck Jonathan when Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi was at the helms of affairs as NIMASA DG.
The closest the indigenous operators came to getting the loans was the shortlisting of six applicants from the 100 applications for the loans.
Nothing was thereafter heard until 2015 when the Jonathan administration gave way to the present government.
It was even rumoured that the fund was depleted by the previous government in the run on to the 2015 General elections.
The game of deceit continued under the present government which even elevated the circus show into an act of mind game.
Under the present dispensation, promises of disbursement were not in short supply as the Chief Executive officers of NIMASA, starting from the erstwhile DG, Dakuku Peterside, regaled indigenous operators with his power of rhetorics to hoodwink them when he made several unfulfilled promises of disbursement.
This act of deceit continued under the present leadership of NIMASA which has continued with the same old tradition of unfulfilled promises.
Even though Dr Bashir Jamoh, the incumbent NIMASA DG, appears to be genuine in his passion to disburse the fund, but he was handicapped by the insincerity of his principals.
If the Jonathan Government was being diplomatic about its insincerity over the disbursement, the present government, who incidentally criticized its predecessor over the non-disbursement, left no one in doubt about its intention, to play to the gallery.
It was under this government that the fund was taken over and deposited into the TSA account at the Central Bank of Nigeria.
As laudable as the move was to safe guide further pilfering of the fund, the Buhari Government, through his Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, said the fund belong to the Federal Government.
Despite several efforts and promises made by NIMASA and the Ministry of Transportation to disburse the fund, the Presidency inexplicably yielded to the antics of the Finance minister who curiously objected to the disbursement.
To confirm that this government never had any intention of disbursement, Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation, told the bewildered audience at a Lagos event last week, that the President has withdrawn his earlier approval granted for disbursement, thus shattering the forlorn hope of the expectant beneficiaries.
We are as confused and bewildered as the hapless indigenous operators over the turn of events.
Two months ago, Amaechi told his audience that the fund was on the verge of disbursement when the Minister of Finance, despite the approval of Mr President and the endorsement of the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, protested and stalled the process.
In another breath, the President was said to have withdrawn his approval over what Amaechi called the petition letters which he alleged the indigenous operators wrote against him to Mr President.
The whole thing doesn’t add up.
It was Amaechi who advised the operators to write a letter, protesting the meddlesomeness of Ahmed Zainab who allegedly stalled the process.
We find it curious that the same operators, who should be grateful to Amaechi for fighting their battle, would now turn against him and instead of protesting against Ahmed Zainab, their common enemy, will now turn their anger against Amaechi.
The whole scenario seems illogical to discerning minds.
To us, it was giving a dog a bad name before hanging it.
The government, as the risk of being controverted, had never intended to disburse the fund, if there is still any fund to disburse.
With the legendary propensity of this government for borrowing, we may not be entirely surprised if it later turns out that this government has “borrowed” the accrued amount into the fund while playing to the gallery to buy time until more money is accrued. After all, the two percent deductions and other fees accruable to the fund are done on an almost daily basis, if not on daily basis.
If this government could deplete the pension funds through borrowing, we would not bat an eyelid if the CVFF has suffered a similar fate.
We are sad to note that the noble objectives of CVFF have been distorted and bastardized on the altar of political expediency.
The fund, which has become an object of serial abuse, has been turned into a buffer to cash back political expenses while leaving the indigenous shipping to bleed and suffer stunted growth due to mindless neglect.
Going by the guidelines set by the Ministry of Transportation and approved by the National Assembly in 2007, the hijack of the fund by the Presidency and the interference of the Minister of Finance is illegal and negates the spirit and letters of the guidelines.
Schedule 4 of the guidelines spell out the parties to the fund which include the Ministry of Transportation as the supervising Ministry, NIMASA, the Primary Lending Institutions (PLIs) and the fund applicants.
Nowhere was the presidential approval nor the inputs of the ministry of finance indicated before the fund could be disbursed.
Using the fund for purposes other than what was stated in the guidelines was not only uncharitable but criminal.
Under the purpose and beneficiaries stated in the guidelines, schedule 3.1 (financial support), it states that:
” The fund shall be utilized by the agency (NIMASA) to offer financial assistance, create access to funding by financial institutions with the sole aim of increasing retail indigenous ship acquisition capacity.
“The disbursement of the fund shall be subject to the approval of the Minister of Transportation upon recommendations by NIMASA”.
For 14 years, these objectives were met in the breach
From the foregoing, the current circus show which the present government has engaged with the CVFF disbursement is against the spirit of the ACT.
For a government that prides itself as a defender of rule of law, it should have caused the National Assembly to amend the Act before the president took over the administration of the fund.
We find as distasteful the political game to which the present government has subjected the CVFF disbursement while neglecting its critical role of intervention to empower the indigenous operators to enable them to participate effectively in coastal trade.
We urge the National Assembly to step in and stop the serial abuse of the fund and cause a forensic audit to be carried out to ascertain the level of pillage that the fund has suffered since 2007.
Ending this rat rate and political circus show over the disbursement of the CVFF, to us, will halt the gradual but steady tipping of indigenous shipping from its present precipice of disaster.
Customs3 months ago
We have not suspended VIN policy—Customs
Customs3 months ago
VIN war: Customs buckles, may review controversial valuation policy.
Customs2 months ago
Freight Forwarders may drag Customs to WCO over VIN controversy
Customs3 months ago
Customs brokers groan under VIN policy
Customs1 week ago
Exclusive! Mass retirement hits Customs as 549 officers bow out of service in 2023
Customs3 months ago
Customs technical team in marathon meeting to unbundle VIN