The Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos Chapter has kicked against the mandatory payment of demurrage on cargo by the managements of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) Plc and the Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCO) Plc during the lockdown occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Association in a press statement on Sunday signed by its Secretary, Mr. Emmanuel Njoku, described the insistence of the two handling companies as a violation of the Federal Government’s directives on the lockdown of Lagos, Ogun and Abuja during the period.
Reacting to the matter, Managing Director,SAHCO Mr. Basil Agboarumi, insisted that the ground handlers would not give waivers to the customs agents, saying unlike the maritime sector where the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) absorbed some waivers by giving credit notes to terminal operators, the reverse was 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.
Njoku hinted 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 noted that the Federal Government had given approval for clearance of essential materials and vaccines as regards to Covis-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.
Njoku emphasised that despite the ease on the lockdown by the government, its members were yet to commence work due to the imbroglio caused by the two ground handling companies in the sector and called FAAN to intervene in the crisis, just as NPA did in maritime.
He, however, decried that so far, FAAN had not showed any interest in taking a cue from its counterpart in maritime despite its awareness of the crisis, alleging that rather, the agency was more concerned about the collection of its N7.20k per kilo for every shipment through the sector.
He added: “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 lockdown.
“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 lockdown regime.”
The ANLCA secretary tasked Mr. Boss Mustapha, the Chairman Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 to interpret the idea behind the total lockdown of the airport cargo except for Covid-19 essential materials during the period and wanted the government to prevail on the two managements.
However, SAHCO said there was no going back on the payment of demurrage by the customs agents.
But, Mr. Basil Agboarumi, the Managing Director, SAHCO, declared that unlike the maritime sector where the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) absorbed some waivers by giving credit notes to terminal operators, the reverse was the case in aviation where either the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) or the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) refused to do the same for ground handlers.
According to him, FAAN and NCAA did not give any waiver for the ground handlers during the period, 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 lockdown, 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 lockdown 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.”