If there is any voice that has consistently dogged the part of the almost
three-year-old port concession, it is that of importers and licensed customs
agents who have not only accused the terminal operators of imposing arbitrary
charges on their consignments, but have also accused them of taking advantage
of the system.
The port system comprises primarily of Nigerian Ports Authourity (NPA) which
is now the landlord, the terminal operators, shipping companies and their
shipping agents, importers and their clearing agents as well as the Nigeria
Customs Service. Of course, there are other government agencies whose presence
are also germane to an efficient port system.
Of all the parties identified above, only the licensed customs agents
(probably acting on the instruction of importers) have been vociferous about
high port charges. A group of licensed customs agents; the National
Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) recently
secured the support of another group which goes by the name: Importers
Association of Nigeria and together they have succeeded in dragging nine
members of the port system to court.
Those dragged before as Apapa magistrate court include two terminal operators
and about seven bonded terminal owners. They are: APM Terminal as well as
Tincan Island Container Terminal. The terminal operators are: Mid Maritime
Services, Migfo, Denca Bonded Terminal, Tha Shipping, Mid Maritime Services,
Sapid Agencies and Lillypond Container Terminal.
The interest of this paper is not in whether the action is altruistic or not,
but we know that until the recent action by the importers’ association and
NAGAFF, all that had happened were murmurings on the part of stakeholders.
None knew what to do.
They all blamed the perceived excesses of both the terminal operators and the
bonded terminals on the laxity in the post-concession port system where there
is no mediating force among the various players.
Unconfirmed reports have it that between the terminal operators and the bonded
terminals, importers through their licensed customs agents make about 12
The charges are: positioning for customs examination, terminal handling
charge, transfer charges, release and documentation charge, terminal delivery
charge, labour, service charge, rent charge, sorting charge, royalty to NPA,
We recall that at the early days of the emergence of port concessionaires on
the scene, they kicked against the continued existence of bonded terminals,
saying that with efficient service delivery, there was no further need for
bonded terminals in the port system.
The difference between efficient service delivery and otherwise is in port
concession. Prior to the concession of Lagos ports, stakeholders have always
compared how things work seamlessly at Onne port, in Rivers state, which is
arguably the test case for port concession. The price for efficient service in
Onne port is higher port costs.
While we may not be able to do a comparison of charges in Lagos and Onne
ports, there is confirmation that what importers are being subjected to in
Lagos is higher in terms of amount and variety of charges.
If importers pay terminal operators for terminal handling services and the
same terminals transfer containers to off-dock facilities where questionable
charges are still imposed on the same container and for the same services,
then, it is condemnable.
It is worse that those containers are transferred to bonded terminals without
the consent of the consignees who are still made to pay additional charges for
the same services that they had previously paid for at the ports.
As much as we agree that improved services in the ports may attract extra
costs, we are at a loss as to why charges should be duplicated and cargoes
made to suffer double clearance procedures; all in an attempt to make more
money for the terminal operators and the bonded terminals.
For several months, importers and licensed customs agents have cried, to no
avail until they resorted to legal action, which we dare say, may not achieve
Without being prejudicial, we are of the opinion that the proposed National
Transport Commission (NTC) could best handle issues like this that border on
pure commercial disagreement.
Perhaps, the recent development will ginger both the National Assembly and the
transportation ministry to expedite action on the NTC bill.
But, while waiting for the NTC, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) should
intervene, especially since the terminal operators and operators of the
off-dock facilities are claiming that they have not done anything outside
their mandate in line with the port concession agreement.
We are also of a very strong opinion that the Nigerian Shippers Council cannot
continue to keep quiet in the face of agitation by shippers that they are been