By Eguono Odjegba
IMPORTERS, agents and haulage services providers have lamented huge financial losses arising from the three weeks sealing of Clarion Bonded Terminal situated within Kirikiri Lighter Terminal, KLT, Command, by the management of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS.
Although impeccable sources informed that at the end of investigations by the NCS headquarters, the status of the terminal remained unchanged and still operated by Apapa Customs Command.
The investigations, Vanguard Maritime Report learnt, afforded enforcement arms of the Customs such as Federal Operations Unit Zone ‘A’ and Lagos Zonal Strike Force, opportunity of a due diligence on questionable cargo releases at the terminal.
While importers complained of incurring loan default penalties, customs agents, freight forwarders and the haulage truckers also counted their losses in unquantifiable business turnover. The terminal which was under ‘lock and key’ for approximately three weeks, had articulated trucks numbering over ten already in the facility to pick up containers before the sealing was carried out.
This is even as the management of Clarion Shipping West African Ltd, the operator of Clarion Bonded Terminals, said the management of Customs has absolved it of all allegations that led to stalling of it operations as well as sealing of the terminal.
In addition, the company’s Chairman, Mrs. Bernadine Eloka, said management of Clarion Bonded Terminal has been directed to grant demurrage waivers to container owners already inside the terminal to pick up their consignments before the sealing, to ensure timely evacuation of the containers.
Eloka who paid a thank you courtesy visit to the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Mr. Hassan Bello, last week, for the Council’s intervention in resolving the issue stated that the Nigeria Customs Service has absolved the terminal of any wrong doing.
However, stakeholders expressed frustration at the protracted closure which they said was unwarranted and insensitive.
Chibundi Okeke, a customs clearing agent, commenting on the issue said the situation drove port traders and the business community into frantic measures because of accrued cost implications and faulted the leadership of the Nigeria Customs Service for causing what the he described as “avoidable embarrassment.”
He said: “It has been three weeks they sealed this place, containers that have been positioned to exit were trapped together with the trucks. And what we heard didn’t make sense to some of us because; especially when you consider that we are the victims of poor management decisions. Even a non commissioned Customs man should have known that setting up a terminal within a different command structure is inappropriate.
“Now importers and some of us agents will have to pay penalty for loan defaults, and pay associated demurrages. Number two, if they were telling themselves the truth in Abuja, this matter is one that should have been settled at the zonal command level, and somebody should quickly have alerted the customs comptroller general to either let the zonal headquarters act, or else take quick decision to clear up the matter.
“This matter which I think is an administrative mistake shouldn’t have taken three weeks to correct. Instead they were looking at each other’s faces, while we incurred loses here because some of us are working with loans, we don’t have all the time in the world.”
National President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Iju Tony Nwabunike said “I don’t see it as a big problem, government business sometimes runs into some conflicts. I think the actual problem here is the inability of customs leaders to critically look into the matter and come out with the best solution; they were wasting time and business cost is building up.
“Ordinary misleading address can create problem in a business setup. From what I heard, permit was granted to the terminal to be sited at Kirikiri, it appears Customs acted on incomplete information given to it, because at the end of the day, the actual address was not Kirikiri but a Customs command premises in Kirikiri. We believe that the Customs management can do better by working as a team and carrying out proper vetting of ommunications to avoid this unfortunate scenario in the future.”
Emmanuel Osonwa, Clarion Bonded Terminal legal adviser, said the terminal has introduced several trade facilitating tools such as 24-hours operations including Saturday and Sunday, 100 percent evacuation of cargo using barges as well as efficient cargo handling equipment, not only to ensure that shippers are well served, but to offer cost effective services to customers.
Osonwa said, “We sent all our approval papers to Customs headquarters through the ACG Zone ‘A’ because we were not able to go to Abuja to make our submission due to the Covid-19 lockdown. Believe me, with Covid-19 in place, issues became more difficult to handle and that was why it took these length of time to resolve.”
He also explained that sealing and misunderstanding was entirely Customs internal issue, further noting that the terminal did not breach Customs rules.
“We want our customers to know exactly what happened. It was not our fault in anyway. This was why we are giving demurrage waiver. We have notified our customers to come and take delivery. Those who have paid duties before the sealing would enjoy demurrage waivers,” he said.