By Ray Ugochukwu
The National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders
(NAGAFF) has asked the Port and Terminal Multiservices Limited (PTML) to urgently return to its members, all the illegal port entry fees it has been collecting from them in the last ten years or incur its wrath.
Founder of the group, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, who addressed the media on the matter and other sundry issues, Friday, said the association was presently collating figures from its members to determine the quantum of fraud PTML had perpetrated so far by the act.
He pressed it on the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), as the Economic Regulator and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the port technical regulator and landlord, to compel the Grimaldi-owned port terminal to not only refund the extorted sums but to immediately halt the port access control it put in place since over eight years now.
Dr. Aniebonam wondered how the PTML management could be behaving as a “country within a country” when there were laws governing operations in the system.
For years now PTML has been alleged to be collecting various amounts of money as pre-condition for allowing freight forwarders and customs agents to gain access into its Roll-On Roll-Off (RoRo) terminal in Tin Can Island, Apapa, Lagos.
Not too long ago, the Managing Director of Grimaldi Agency Nigeria, the parent company of PTML, Mr. Ascannio Russo, had complained bitterly about the presence of multiplicity of customs agents doing business in the nation’s ports.
Russo had made it clear that it collects registration fees from agents wishing to enter the terminal and by that he admitted that the company had registered about 10,000 customs agents doing business with it.
Russo had expressed surprise about the number of customs agents coming to the ports to do business, claiming that many of them had no business in the terminal, even as he said that was against the policy of ease of doing business introduced by the Federal Government.
Aniebonam however, described the practice as clearly illegal and against the Federal Government’s policy on ease of doing business, saying that the terminal operator should be stopped by the relevant government authorities.
“How can PTML management impose fees on freight agents authorised by law to have access to terminals in the course of carrying out their legitimate businesses?” he queried.
NAGAFF founder also argued that the policy was against the directive of the Minister of Transportation, Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Ameachi, who had “signed into effect and directed that access into the ports terminals for the freight forwarders requires CRFFN identification supported by the Nigerian Ports Authority approval”.
Aniebionam, who doubles as the Chairman of the New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP), likened the Grimaldi act as asking lawyers to pay fees before entering the courts.
“It is to our knowledge that it is only NPA that can collect administrative charge for the issuance of port passes. It is therefore to the contrary that a terminal operator should impose an illegal charge with regard to access into the port. In reality what PTML management is doing is like asking lawyers to pay fees before they could enter court room.
“The concept of ease of doing business is targeted at removal of human element barriers against smooth clearance of cargo out of Customs control. It is also primarily made to create a high level of awareness on port orders and regulations. It is most unfortunate and regrettable that value is not being added to that effect as envisaged. In a situation wherein PTML may have become a Government of its own in our ports administration is most unfortunate and sad”, he lamented.
On the next line of action if all entreaties fail, the frontline freight forwarder said they would head to the law courts to challenge the illegal act as a way of preventing the breakdown of law and order, as according to him, freight agents were highly agitated over the act.
On the forthcoming elections into the Governing Board of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), he enjoined other sister associations to come forward for discussions that would guarantee equal representations in the body.
He however warned against any form of rigging as happened in the maiden election where he alleged that touts were assembled from in and around Abuja by desperate contestants to come and vote.
Aniebonam warned that this time around, NAGAFF would not tolerate such as it was ready to match any group with any antics it tried to bring in to thwart a smooth electoral process.
He expressed optimism that the exercise would be hitch-free if all involved could borrow a leaf from NAGAFF, which he said recently concluded its chapter elections without any crisis or rancor and had ever remained as one family.
Meanwhile, the Anambra-born businessman/politician has also pleaded with the government to reconsider its decision of keeping off from the ports, two critical agencies involved in products’ regulations – the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
While acknowledging the reasons by government to make them stay away from the ports, Dr. Aniebonam equally harped on the critical role they played in the system for the safety of lives and property in the country.
He specifically urged the authorities to look into the case of SON, which he noted, had a wider operational scope than any other agency in ensuring standards; hence it needed to be resident in the ports.
The NAGAFF founder criticized the new NAFDAC boss, Prof. Moji Adeyeye, whom he observed had remained in Abuja pontificating without reaching out to critical stakeholders for easy collaboration that would make her succeed.
He urged her to take a cue from the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd); Managaing Director, NPA, Ms Hadiza Bala-Usman; and Executive Secretary, NSC, Barr. Hassan Bello, who he said on their appointments, took time off to visit stakeholders in order to build bridges of cooperation.
Dr. Boniface Aniebonam (centre) speaking at the media briefing … recently
Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, Founder of NAGAFF
Dr. Boniface Aniebonam