From left: National President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents ANLCA, Hon. Iju Nwabunike, Executive Secretary/CEO, Nigerian Shippers Council, Barrister Hassan Bello and founder, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam during a media briefing in Lagos after a tour of the port terminals, Friday.

Strong indications emerged that First Bank, Union, StanbicIBTC and Access Bank among several other import duty -collecting banks have refused to open to importers and freight forwarders to enable them pay duty and other statutory fees and dues associated with clearing of cargo despite repeated appeals by the Nigerian Shippers Council NSC.

This is also contrary to the directive by the Federal Government, which ordered a lockdown of Lagos and Ogun States as well as the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja as part of efforts to contain the spread of the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic in the country. The government had however ordered that the nation’s seaports should be open and fully operational during the period of the lockdown to forestall cargo buildup.

President Muhammadu Buhari had in a national broadcast last week, listed some segments of the economy or agencies that are exempted from the lockdown, especially those on essential services including the banks, food suppliers, healthcare services providers, government agencies at the ports, especially the Nigerian Ports Authority NPA, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency NIMASA, Port Health and the NSC, among several others.

Executive Secretary/CEO of the council, Barrister Hassan Bello, who briefed newsmen in Lagos after a tour of various ports and terminals in Lagos Friday to assess the level of compliance with Federal Government’s directive on port operations, reported that only four banks have complied with the directive by opening their doors to importers and agents to enable them carry out their transactions.

These banks include Zenith Bank, UBA, GT Bank and FCMB, an indication that that the other import duty banks including First Bank, Union, StanbicIBTC and Access Bank and some others have yet to open to the stakeholders for the purposes of processing import documents despite the intervention by the council.

It was gathered that the intervention of the council followed complaints by the leaderships of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents ANLCA and the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders NAGAFF that some of the banks were not open to their members to transact port related businesses, a development they sails frustrated their efforts at clearing cargo during the period of the lockdown as directed the government.

Bello said: “The council visited some terminals in the course of the week and had very useful discussions with their operators. These discussions have led to the council intervening on behalf of freight forwarders with banks to extend their services to port operators in order to allow them pay fees to various agencies to facilitate clearance of cargoes from ports. We cannot afford to have our terminals clogged up with more un-cleared cargoes.

“We are happy to note that a number of banks have been cooperating as their branches in Apapa are open to ease transactions for freight forwarders. The banks include: Zenith, UBA, FCMB and GT Bank, the discussions continue”.

He however expressed great pleasure that all stakeholders have been very cooperative in a bid to ensure that activities in the maritime industry does not suffer much disruption, specifically commending NIMASA for its efforts.

“The Nigerian Shippers’ Council has been engaging the Port Health Services as well, as it works very hard to ensure that port users, and indeed the generality of Nigerians are protected from the virus as essential goods make their way into the country. We have also made some modest contributions in cash and protective materials towards the fight against COVID-19.

“However, its most important contribution is in ensuring that it does not drop the ball in terms of its responsibility as Port Economic Regulator in these very fluid and difficult times. This is why we continue to engage with stakeholders to ensure that the ports run as smoothly as possible under the circumstances”, he also said.

The NSC-boss also acknowledged the hard work, commitment and cooperation of the Vice President’s team on Post COVID-19 economy, the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 headed by Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustafa, the Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwolu and his COVID-19 team, the state’s Commissioner of Police, Kayode Odumosu, Port Health Services, NIMASA, NPA and the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding Practice in Nigeria CRFFN as well as medical workers, security forces, researchers working all hours to find a vaccine to cure the pandemic.