Executive Secretary/CEO, Nigerian Shippers Council, Hassan Bello

Anxiety and wide condemnation have continued to trail last week’s decision of some multinational shipping companies operating in Nigeria to impose yet another illegal shipping charge on goods imported into the country.

Recall that CMA CGM Shipping Nigeria Limited, one of the major shipping agencies in the country had last week commenced the collection of the new charge called Port Additional Destination PAD, under which importers of 20-foot containers are made to pay N38,000 while those importing 40-foot containers are compelled to pay N76,000.

Managing Director of Port Passages Limited, a Customs brokerage firm, Mr. Michael Nwokeafor, who spoke in a telephone interview on the imposition of the new freight charge, said it amounted to economic sabotage on the part of the shipping companies, given the current economic situation in the country, which has negatively affected many segments of the economy, including the shipping industry.

According to him, the imposition of the new charge would further worsen the plight of the importers and their agents, many of who are already out of business due to the dwindling volume of imports into the country as well as many other challenges ranging from poor infrastructure to the high cost of accessing foreign exchange.

“It is quite unthinkable and condemnable for shipping lines and their agencies to impose the new PAD, which has no cost service function, as nothing in the current business environment in Nigeria other than the desire for huge profits to make such imposition at this material time”

“It also demonstrates the fact that these shipping companies do not have any confidence in Nigeria’s economy, given the spiral effect of such new charge, which will ultimately be passed down to the final consumers of the goods imported into the country”, he said.

Nwokeafor, who is a member of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents ANLCA, charged the Nigerian Shippers Council, economic regulator of the nation’s port industry to rise to the challenge by ensuring that this illegal fee was reversed.

Investigations however showed that the multinational shipping companies and their agent commenced the collection of the illegal charge since October 10, 2017.

It was further gathered that the agents and importers, most of who are not happy with the imposition of the additional illegal charge have however started complying for fear of delaying the processing their document, which might give rise to the payment of more demurrage and rent charges on their consignments.

It would be recalled that Association of Shipping Lines Agencies ASLA, and the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria STOAN, are currently in court with the Shippers Council over the decision of the council to reverse illegal fees and charges imposed of port service users.

The council had ordered the duo to reverse the arbitrary charges imposed on port services users, arguing that they violated part of the Concession agreement, which specifies that new charges must be discussed with the stakeholders before they come on stream.

In addition to ordering them to cancel the progressive charging system, it also directed them revert to the pre-May 2009 charges as well as to refund whatever they have collected from the stakeholders over this period, which prompted STOAN and ASLA to challenge the powers of the council to make such directive in a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos.

The presiding judge, Justice Ibrahim Buba, who upheld the powers of the council as the nation’s port economic regulator, also ordered ASLA and STOAN to refund the excess revenue made from 2009 to October 2014 when the matter was instituted to the Cargo Defense Fund, a section of the council.

The two associations had also approached the Appeal Court, which also upheld the ruling of the Federal High Court, a development that necessitated the desire to settle the matter out of court, which might be scuttled by the current imposition.