How FG will run freight forwarders out of business

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The importing public and indeed Nigerians were on Monday startled by the news of the ban on importation of vehicles both new and used from land borders across Nigeria by the Federal Government.

You may recall that the federal government on Monday announced the ban on importation of vehicles through the nation’s border with effect from January 1, 2017 urging those who had imported through the ports of the neighboring countries to clear their consignments on or before 31st December, 2016.

Mixed reactions followed the announcement with majority of the stakeholders at the Lagos ports especially the terminal operators who run RORO terminal hailing the decision while those of them operating at the borders were uncertain about what the future holds for them.

The Customs officers too were not left out in the whole scenario as they were certain that this directive from the Presidency means more sacrifices on their part as this directive is bound to expose them to the danger of losing their lives while engaging the smugglers whose business has been given a boost indirectly by the government’s directive.

To some, government was irrational in  placing such ban without recourse to the importers and the freight forwarders who were directly affected by this directive as according to them a lot of people will go hungry as majority of them working at the nation’s borders depended on clearing of vehicles to survive.

According to the Chairman,Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) Seme Border Chapter, Barr. Bisiriyu Lasis Fanu, the directive meant increase in crime which had stopped since government gave approval for vehicles to be imported through the borders owing to the congestion at the ports.

“I am sure the congestion has not cleared yet and still the federal government is trying to stop importation through the land borders again. You can see, probably, before March or April next year, you will see how congested it will be, that some ships coming to Lagos won’t be able to offload because of congestion and stay on water probably pay some demurrage and it will affect everybody  both government and everybody because the congestion will still be there, then we will go back to why they said that vehicles should start coming from the borders”, he said.

Fanu disclosed that the stakeholders were not carried along in considering the ban adding that there was never a plan in place before the ban was imposed even as he bemoan the grace period given by the federal government before the actual commencement of the ban.

“The Federal Government should have considered time, this is too impromptu. I am sure those that gave that advice did not gave proper advice. How can you announce a policy yesterday, 5th of December and say this policy will commence 1st January, less than one month whereas some of these cars that come from the West take a minimum of 35 days on the water. What of cars that sailed yesterday that will be in Cotonou in 35 days time? They are already cut off, how do you expect those cars to come into Nigeria? To smuggle them or you want the owners to do what with them?

“If they had thought about it properly, at least considering a ship that would sail day before yesterday. Nobody will hear of this policy today and still bring their cars through the ports of the neighboring countries but what of those that sailed yesterday that will be here January 5th, 15th and end of January in case they do trans shipment?”, he queried.

Fanu who is also the Managing Director of NYBO Limited argued that the ban on importation of vehicles through the land borders would not in any way amount to increase in revenues to be collected in Lagos ports as the importers would still find their way to bring in those vehicles through smuggling adding that before the customs men would apprehend them, ten thousand of such vehicles had come into the country.

When asked if government placed the ban as a result of increase in smuggling of vehicles, he said , “Let me tell you, you cannot have 100% through Seme here, I can boast that the level of flying cars have decreased to 1%. It could be more in other areas  like Shaki, Idiroko and the rest where we have a lot of routes, Seme border is one single route and I must tell you that we are going to face hard times, the customs officers are doing their best to make sure that cars that pass here are well captured and duty paid, even sometimes more expensive than what is paid in Lagos ports because the duty here for some cars , when you get to Lagos, you get it cheaper. So, what is the basis?

“Federal government is not making any plan for locally assembled cars, the plan is on fine, but they would have given some time for the plan to hatch for us to have locally made vehicles before this come up. Secondly, the government should know that this time around, yes, customs officers may want to put a zero tolerance to smuggling of cars but it will be very dangerous because the lives of customs officers will be involved, the lives of the smugglers too will be involved”.

Fanu who is als a legal practitioner posited that the directive would result to loss of jobs for his members adding that the impact of the policy was going to be negative on the individual as well as on the government.

In his words,” I have said it earlier, it is going to cause problem and part of the problem it is going to cause is increase in crime because the federal government has not given us anything at the border posts to help the masses live better through creation of employment and now, what they do to survive, because most of us are involved as customs agents, that is the lifeline through which customs get their money, we are involved. There will be reduction in our participation, the federal government losing revenue because if you check properly, the revenue generated at land borders, 50% to 55% of it are generated from cars and almost this time around, they generate over N1 billion almost on monthly basis”.

He therefore called on the government to have a rethink on the policy so as to allow for more time before the actual implementation of the ban.

“At least, three months is normally the time given so that those cars on the sea will arrive, so that people that will go and borrow money from the banks and clear their cars would have been able to go in before the expiration date of the restriction. We are advising the government to have a rethink about that and do something to help people so that those who borrowed money from the banks will not sink into the gutters”, he observed.

On his part, the Chairman of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Seme Border Chapter, Eze Ekene Ajunwa said that although they were not condemning the action of government in its entirety, government have given them information about this decision before hand to enable them get prepared for it adding that government took them unawares.

Ajunwa pointed out that the freight forwarders at the borders particularly at Seme were not happy with the development as some of their importers’ consignments on the high sea had been trapped by this development.

According to him,”What we are trying to beg the government is to see how they can push it forward. If they want to impose the ban, they should give us time to be able to reach our importers, as we reach them, we let them know that these things will become contraband in say six months time so that whoever is importing through the land borders after the six months period, you know that the person is looking for something else.

“But not  like you wake up, you announce that this thing has been banned with immediate effect, it is not so. When you check, today is 5th and we are talking about 1st January, how many day? Calculate the working days that are inside and you will see that we have like twenty working days.

“So, I don’t think such policy is good. We are not happy about it and we believe the government will do something about it, if they can extend the grace period”.

He pointed out that they were yet to overcome the impact of the ban on importation of rice through the land borders and now the government wants to extend the ban to vehicles adding that government should consider their plight and reconsider the ban.

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