Importers Fret Over N2bn Air Cargo Storage Charge
The COVID-19 lockdown resulted in un-cleared goods stuck in airport warehouses. The goods have accumulated N2bn in demurrage with owners and cargo handlers arguing over waivers
There are billions of naira worth of overtime cargoes at the airports with accumulated storage fees amounting to over N2bn, investigation has shown.
Our correspondent gathered that the goods arrived at the airport before the initial two-week lockdown of Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory, which was declared by the Federal Government on March 31.
During the lockdown, which was extended again for another 17 days till May 4 when it was finally lifted, the airports were not opened and there was no access allowed for people to clear their goods.
So the goods were stored in the various warehouses belonging to the cargo handling companies.
It was gathered that some of the importers and clearing agents had goods ranging from 5,000 kilogrammes and above.
At a daily storage fee of about N12 per kilo, some of the cargoes had accumulated storage fees in excess of N4m during the five weeks they had been in storage.
Confirming this, the Managing Director, Skynet Worldwide, a major courier service provider, Tayo Ogundare, said, “Since the lockdown, our goods have been in the warehouses at the airport. The Customs were not working; the airport staff were not working.
“There are billions of naira worth of goods in the warehouses. Importers cannot access their goods now that the lockdown has been lifted because the handling companies are asking for demurrage.
“The Federal Government should intervene and waive the demurrage. There are people that have 20,000 kilogrammes, 3,800 kg and other cargo weights in the warehouses. Some of them will pay up to N3m; others, N4m or more in demurrage if it is not waived.”
The Logistics Manager, Smile Communications, a leading Internet service provider, Danjuma Okeme, said, “We shipped our network-related items before the lockdown.
“We were in the process of clearing them; we had to go to Apapa to pay the Customs duty since the banks at the airport were not open.
“The agency needed just one or two documentation to complete the clearing process before the lockdown.”
Okeme whose company has more than three tonnes of routers stuck in the warehouses insisted that the cargo was a special duty cargo that was not supposed to be affected by the lockdown.
He said, “Now the line is handicapped and we cannot service our customers.
“The situation is affecting our network. Customers are calling from everywhere because everything, including schools, is now online.
“It is a pity that at this critical time, Smile cannot stand for its customers. Some people have gone ahead and paid for the service, but we cannot work because our equipment is in the warehouse.”
According to him, if demurrage should be calculated on the cargo belonging to the firm, it will have to pay over N4m for the period.
He said, “I think the government should call a stakeholders’ meeting and let everybody know that during lockdown or war, people are not supposed to pay any kind of demurrage,” he said.
Another agent and a member of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, Kayode Agimati, pointed out that the lockdown was not the fault of the cargo owners, saying that the Federal Government had asked people to stay at home and away from the airports.
He said, “When the lockdown was lifted, we were expecting to be told to pay the handling charges. We did not expect them to ask us for demurrage on the cargo that we could not clear during the lockdown.
“During the lockdown, all the warehouses at the airport were locked and nobody could clear goods.”
He said some of his clients’ goods had accumulated N2.4m while others had accumulated N800,000 and more in demurrage. “
There have been series of meetings between cargo handlers over the weekend on the issue.
Our correspondent learned that cargo handlers had agreed to grant some form of waivers to the owners of the goods.
The General Secretary, ANLCA, Babatunde Mukaila, confirmed this.
He said the cargo handlers had decided to waive 50 per cent of the demurrage.
He then called on the government to step in to take care of the remaining part so that the owners of the goods would not need to pay demurrage.
On his part, the Managing Director of Skyway Aviation Handling Company, Mr Basil Agboarumi, told our correspondent that his firm had agreed to waive 65 per cent of the demurrage on the goods.
He argued that while demurrage was waived for goods stored at seaport terminals during the lockdown period, what happened there was that the government, through the Nigerian Ports Authority, gave credit notes to the terminal operators for every waiver granted.
He said, “As a socially responsible organisation, we have decided to give 65 per cent waiver on the storage fees.
“Please note that it costs us much more to handle and store cargo during this period, knowing full well also that the aviation industry is the worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
On what government could do to help, the SAHCOL boss said, “We need help as more than 90 per cent of our services across the country are not operating.”
He gave the assurances that demurrage charge on cargo did not affect essential items as they were being cleared without extra charges.