What is your take on the 21 days ultimatum and threats by clearing agents to shut down port operations?

Michael Ubogu (Chief Executive, MICURA Stevedore Services)I have always believed in dialogue and I think we can achieve more through dialogue than confrontation, if you look at what the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria have achieved for their members in the past 16 years and in terms of the relationship between them and terminal operators, you will agree with me that negotiations, consultations and discussion is the best approach. So if the clearing agents should shut down the ports and terminal because they are having some teething problems, it doesn’t solve anything, at the end of the day, everybody is still going to come back to the round table, and what is going to happen is conversation and discussion. So, I would advise them to explore the idea of conversation and discussion before shutting down the port, because at the end of the day, everybody would be a looser within that period. 

Bolaji Sunmola (President, Nigerian Stevedore Association)Would clearing agents closing down the port put a stop to the extortion at our ports? I don’t think so, what they should be asking for is a complete re-orientation of the workers and a complete look at the structure to determine people who are necessary and important to be at the port. They need a complete re-orientation, I don’t know which arm of the sector or those working at the port are being extorted, who is extorting who? Have the agents complained through the proper channels and they have been refused? One of the cardinal points of this administration is the fight against corruption. So, have the agents been able to fish out the officers responsible? Even among the clearing agents, we have dubious elements, there have been cases where importers pay huge amounts to clearing agents and they just disappear with the money and there would be no trace of such a person. So who is really extorting who? I think they too need to put their house in order, after this we can now come to the round table.

 

Michael Imonitie Ovien (Licensed Customs Agent, Tin Can Port)By law, and under the section of the law binding unions, especially when you want to go on strike, there is an ultimatum of 21 days that must be issued either to the government or to the authority concerned, in that line, my association ANLCA is following the right track, because giving the government 21 days to attend to issues being listed at least is being fair by the association, and I believe that NAGAFF joining the licensed customs agents is also making it a good fight, because without the freight forwarders, the license owners cannot complete their job, as a customs licensed agent, after you complete and release your cargo, you hand it over to the freight forwarder that has a truck and writes the TDO, from here the truck moves to the owner’s warehouse. The 21 days is counting already, and we are waiting and hoping that the government would call us and hear from us.

 

Ada Akpunonu (Former Vice Chair, ANLCA at Tin Can)We should know that the port is a very vital sector of this economy, and I know that strike has never worked and it would never work in this industry, this is not the first time we are going through this, at the end of the day we achieve nothing.  I don’t even know why we blame customs for corruption at the port, we should be blaming ourselves because we are the ones that corrupt the customs officers, there is no way you would have your honest declaration and any customs officer would stop your job, I think we have to be sincere and the first thing the associations should do is for us to clean up our house, most of our association leaders are not even sincere, let’s put our house in order, you cannot make all sorts of nonsense declarations and you feel the customs should not collect their duties. On the issuing of alerts, 95% of the cargoes affected have something to hide. So, on the average we have to give customs a pass mark. However, when you talk about shipping companies and terminal operators, I agree with you that these guys are exploiting us; they are the major people why people take cargoes outside our ports.

 

Omobode Jollyfavour (Agent)The planned protest will be good if they articulate their reasons for the protest. But I bet you, most of these people talking about protest, by the time they are settled you will never hear them talk about protest again. The noise will just die down.

 

Taiwo Akingbade (Artisan at Tin Can)The problem with Customs extorting agents here have been here for long. It has been with them and it happens every day. Once an agent clears a container, you must bribe them before you leave the ports and at times they are even making more money than what the government makes. Even if your document is complete, they will make sure they collect money from you for the container to come out. In a situation where you fail to bribe them, your container will be there for a very long time. Although some agents don’t want to make any attempt to pay duties for their vehicles, they prefer to meet top people and when they are stopped at the gate they will be asked to go back. The thing is becoming too much in the country, especially at the ports. 

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