Executive Secretary/CEO, Nigerian Shippers Council, Barrister Hassan Bello

Francis Ezem

The Nigerian Shippers Council, the country’s Economic Regulator for the port industry has said it is currently holding crucial talks with relevant industry stakeholders, especially multinational shipping companies and terminal operators over possible waivers on demurrage and other charges as well as incentives for shippers to cushion the effects of the national lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is in addition to donating a total of N10million comprising N5million worth of protective gears to be distributed among port and allied workers and another N5million cash to be deployed to the fight against the pandemic in the Federal Capital Territory FCT, Abuja and Lagos.

The council had also donated bus services for designated port workers and stakeholders with effect from April 1, 2020 to be stationed in some strategic locations in Lagos including Ikeja along, National Stadium, Surulere, Okokomiko by Alakija Under Bridge bus top, Apple Junction in Festac and Charity bus top at Oshodi.

According to the Head, Public Relations Unit of the council, Hajia Rikia Zuberu, these interventions are part of efforts to identity with the proactive measures put in place by the Federal Government to curtail the spread of the dreaded virus in the country as announced by President Muhammadu Buhari last week.

The President had during the nationwide broadcast announced a 14-day lockdown in Lagos and Ogun States as well as the FCT, Abuja. He has however directed that  the nation’s seaports should remain open and operational, as port workers, users and providers of services as well as government agencies are part of essential services and should have unfettered access to the ports. 

The President also directed that there should be movement of cargo as long as they have been subjected to necessary checks and that for cargo delivery and evacuation from seaports to be effective, interstate cargo movement by road and rail should not be restricted.

In the light of these, some agencies and organisations and services were exempted but to be closely monitored. They include: the Nigeria Customs Service, Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Nigerian Railway Corporation (Freight services), National Inland Waterways Authority and Port Health Services

Others are the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, Standards Organisation of Nigeria, National Environmental Standards and Regulation Enforcement Agency, All Seaport Terminal Operators, Shipping Lines/Agencies, Dock Workers, Stevedores, Freight Forwarding Services, Cargo De-consolidators, Barge Operators, Marine and Port Police, Cargo Truck Drivers, Banks and any other service user or provider at the ports.

“Nigeria Shippers’ Council, as Port Economic Regulator and an arbiter, is conscious of the fact that obligations, responsibilities, duties and rights may have been frustrated. Therefore, Nigerian Shippers’ Council is discussing with all parties so that a balanced solution can be achieved especially the issue of demurrage and incentives to facilitate the clearance of goods from the ports.

“In line with the directives of His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari in his nationwide address on 29th March 2020, Nigerian Shippers’ Council identifies with the proactive measures put in place by the Federal Government through the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, Federal Ministry of Health, National Centre for Disease Control NCDC, Port Health Services, Security Agencies, etc., to curb and curtail the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus in the country.

“As an intervention, Nigerian Shippers’ Council has donated protective gears for port users worth N5m to be distributed to relevant field and operational staff. The Council also donates the sum of N5, 000,000.00 (Five Million Naira) only to be used collectively in the fight against Covid-19 in Lagos and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory FCT.

“In addition, in order to ease movement of accredited freight forwarders who have business to conduct at the ports and other port users; Nigerian Shippers’ Council is providing buses to and from the ports.  The buses will leave the following locations at 8am during this period with effect from 1st April, 2020”, the council said.

The image maker also noted that the present situation has indeed caused unimaginable disruption of the logistics supply chain, as users and providers of services are seemingly unable to carry out their obligations for reasons beyond their control. 

These interventions by the council, it was further gathered are designed to cushion the devastating effect of the corona virus, which has made it mandatory for these restrictions which are believed to be crucial to the reduction of transmission of the disease so that health professionals can cope with the challenge.

The council however noted with regrets that its relevant units have been inundated with complaints that banks are not offering services with respect to port operations. 

“This, without doubt, hampers cargo clearance from the ports. The attention of the banks is, therefore, drawn to the Notice by the Federal Ministry of Finance and Central Bank of Nigeria, which allows operations in the financial system.  We note that port operations as indicated by the President are essential and critical services.

“The Nigerian Shippers’ Council calls for synergy amongst port users and government agencies to support the Federal Government in containing the scourge of the deadly virus while making it possible to sustain port operations during this period”, Zuberu also said.