Over the years, we have shouted ourselves hoarse over the precarious situation of the Apapa ports infrastructure and the attendant traffic chaos. Unless efforts being made to address them begin to yield results the effects will be felt in the economy.
The latest statistics on inflationary trend point to the chicken coming home to roost. Imported inflation is now on the uptick, no thanks to the situation at the ports.Cost of imports has gone up following about 480 per cent rise in cost of hauling containers out of the wharves and back to the terminals. While the importers are bemoaning their fates, they still find ways of passing down the cost to the consumers, thus pushing up the inflationary pressures.
What is most annoying and highly unbecoming in the scenario is the activities of law enforcement agents, principally, the Customs, the Police and other ports authorities bordering on extortion of the importers and transporters. Nothing can be more detrimental and sabotaging to the economy. It is a monumental economic crime worse than smuggling, under-declaration and under-invoicing which they claim to be fighting on the highways and streets and even importers’ shops and homes.
It is time the leadership of these security agencies and the Federal Ministry of Finance intervened to save the economy from avoidable haemorrhage foisted on it by undesirable elements among officials.
We also call on the ministries and authorities involved in levying import duties and charges to apply some temporary waivers. Alternatively, the Office of the Vice President should fine-tune the Ease of Doing Business, EODB, as it relates to the ports with an Executive Order to create some reprieves. This will influence a reduction in the cost of clearing goods which will ultimately stem the imported inflation up-tick. It will also save the country from a regress in the EODB global ranking.
Most importantly, shipping firms and terminal operators are reaping huge returns from the crises at the ports on account of demurrages arising from delays in container turn-around time. Importers are made to pay for the crises they did not cause while the shipping companies and terminal operators smile their way to the banks. This is very unjust.
The fact that about 80 per cent of the shipping and terminal service providers are foreign companies makes it imperative for the Nigerian government to intervene and safeguard our national interest.
The shipping firms and their terminals compounded the road infrastructure problem by refusing to abide fully with the directive of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, on the provision of holding bays. Now they are reaping hugely from the adverse fallout of their non-compliance.
The container demurrage charges should be looked into, at least, until the traffic gridlock is resolved.