The Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) at the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos has petitioned the chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, Boss Mustapha, asking him to intervene in the current crisis between it and management of the handling companies at the airport over decision to charge demurrage on cargo during the lock down.
ANLCA is having issues with the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) and Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCO) and has asked Mustapha intervene. In a statement on signed by its secretary, Emmanuel Njoku, the Federal Government had given approval for clearance of essential materials and vaccines as regards to Covid-19 pandemic.
He said its members at the seaport didn’t not pay for demurrage during the period, and wondered why they would be compelled to pay such at the airport when the order for the lockdown was not from ANLCA.
The Nigerian Ports Authority had on March 28, 2020 directed all terminal operators at the seaport to suspend all applicable terminal storage fees on consignments (demurrage) for an initial period of twenty-one days effective March 23, 2020 in recognition of the pressure that the COVID-19 pandemic put on businesses.
ANLCA said the same measure should be extended to them as they also face the same situation but noted that when its members returned to work on May 4, 2020, NAHCO and SAHCO insisted that the agents must pay demurrage for shipments affected by the lockdown.
He said: “We operate an open market where the importers who use the seaport are still the same importers who use the airport cargo and these goods arrive at the same market as their final destination.
“The goods from the seaport never paid demurrage, while NAHCO Aviance Plc and SAHCO Plc want the goods from the airport cargo to pay demurrage within the same lock down regime.”
However, the Managing Director, SAHCO, Mr. Basil Agboarumi, said in the maritime sector, the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) absorbed some waivers by giving credit notes to terminal operators but that is not the case in the aviation industry where either the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) or the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) refused to do the same for ground handlers.
Agboarumi explained that within the period, SAHCO’s revenues dropped by 90 per cent, adding that no fewer than 4,000 direct employments are given out by the two ground handling companies.
He said: “The Aviation industry is bearing the brunt of Covid-19. Throughout the period of the lock down, and as the airports and airspace is shutdown safe for approved flights, the ground handlers maintained operations throughout in the handling and delivery of essential cargo as released by Nigerian Customs Service in line with the laid down procedures of Government.
“We have done this irrespective of materially increased costs; including hazard allowances, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and others. We have also maintained all infrastructure, power generating and security required to keep all cargo in our custody safe and secure irrespective of the lock down and mounting expenses like rent and service recovery charge due to FAAN. All these costs, whether standard or ad-hoc have been borne by the handlers.
“Ground handlers employ over 4,000 Nigerians directly and impact hundreds of thousands directly and indirectly, we have lost over 90 per cent of our revenue and have material cash crunch, we are unable to meet our staff salaries going forward, neither are we able to meet other obligations.”
NAHCO on its part said that it cannot add the burden of a 100% waiver of demurrage demanded by customs agents based on grounds that a government agency has done so.
In a statement signed by Head, Corporate Communications, Samuel Akinrinmade titled, he urged the cargo agents to direct their grievances to the right quarters to get their desired result of equity in bonded warehouses.
The statement read: “Cargo agents are asking for 100% waiver on storage, their demand is based on the premise that NPA is taking on the financial burden of the 100 % waiver at the seaports and issuing credit notes to Port Terminal Operators. This is not the case in aviation, as Ground Handling Companies have not been informed by Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) or Federal Airports Authority (FAAN) that Government is giving any financial exchange for storage waiver in the aviation sector. We have shared this fact with the cargo agents and asked them to direct their protest appropriately.
“Today, our industry is faced with revenue loss and cash crunch. Ground handling companies are critical aviation service providers and greatly affected. Our cost of operations has risen materially in light of the new safety measures in our operations and all the safety equipment, systems, PPE etc that we have put in place for our staff, customers and stakeholders.
“We are private companies just like the Port Terminal Operators in the seaports, Cargo Agents many of whom work in Custom Bonded Warehouses in both the seaports and airports and or belong to associations that operate in same, understand this and the fact that both maritime and aviation industries are in the same economy.
“ They should therefore direct their grievances in the right direction away from the ground handling companies to the appropriate quarters to ensure their desire results of equity in all customs bonded warehouse whether in the seaport or airport.”