- ‘We did not get waivers and so can give none,’SAHCO insists
ASSOCIATION of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos Chapter has called on Chairman Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 to wade into the current imbroglio between it and managements of the handling companies at the airport over decision to charge them demurrage on cargo during the lock down that has so far lasted four (4) weeks in Lagos so far.
ANLCA is currently at daggers drawn with the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) Plc and Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCO) Plc and has asked the Chairman of the PTF on COVID-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha to interpret the idea behind the total lock down of the airport cargo except for Covid-19 essential materials during the period.
According to a statement on Sunday signed by its Secretary, Mr. Emmanuel Njoku, Federal Government had given approval for clearance of essential materials and vaccines as regards to Covid-19 pandemic.
Besides, he explained that 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 as a gesture in recognition of the pressure that the COVID-19 pandemic imposes on businesses.
ANLCA reacting based on this insisted that the same be extended to them as they also face the situation occasioned by the lockdown but noted that when its members returned to work on May 4, 2020, following the lift on the lockdown, NAHCO and SAHCO managements insisted that the agents must pay demurrage for shipments affected by the lockdown.
Njoku emphasized that despite the ease on the lock down by the government, its members were yet to commence work due to the embarrassing situation caused by the ground handling companies in the sector and called FAAN to intervene in the crisis, just as NPA did in maritime.
He said: “While the airport cargo section work is not going on for a week now after the lockdown have been lifted because the two ground handling companies are requesting freight forwarders to pay demurrage for shipments that were affected by the lock down.
“Hence this question; we operate an open market where the same 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, Managing Director, SAHCO, Mr. Basil Agboarumi, said there was no going back on the payment of demurrage by the customs agents insisting that the ground handlers would not give waivers to the customs agents, because in the maritime sector the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) absorbed some waivers by giving credit notes to terminal operators.
According to him, that is not the case in 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 insisting that juts like the handlers, the customs agents must pay all charges 100 per cent.
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.”