Freight Forwarders Should Have Negotiated For Improved System Not Storage Charge Increment, Says Ajuzie


…Knocks practitioners for not taking a position before meeting with terminal operators 

A former Chairman of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF Apapa chapter, Dr. Fred Ajuzie has said that the freight forwarders should have negotiated for and insisted on terminal operators improving on the system rather than going to negotiate for a slash in the percentage increment on storage charges.

Ajuzie who stated this in an interview with Primetime Reporters  in Lagos on Wednesday argued that once the system which he said was the root cause of the persistent increment was gotten right, there may not be any need for increment in storage charges as containers may no longer be spending more than the three days free period at the port.

He argued that the percentage of increment was not the issue but the circumstances that led to the payment of the storage charges otherwise known as rent in the first place adding that once you get the system right, there won’t be any need for storage charge increment.

According to him, “If I was mandated to represent NAGAFF in such negotiation, it is not about money matter, it is about system matter. Let us go to the root of this issue. First of all, before we start negotiating about their price increase, we don’t have problem with the increase because every Nigerian knows that prices are being increased in all sectors. You have workers you are paying, you are buying diesel and other things. Yes, there will be a reason to increase which is normal.

“Then let us review their system, the way they are operating. The ship berthed, you give us three days free period and now they have extended it for five days as I heard. I am ready to book because when I come to book, it means that I am ready to do examination, you now booked me three to four days ahead to do the examination otherwise it is for you to bring down my container for me to do examination because the customs are ready for examination at any moment. But you booked me three days to four days after that day and you are charging me for the days that I did not volunteer on my own for the containers to stay at the port before the examination. Why are you doing so? Let us start from there.

“So, from today, if I am ready to do examination today, book me today to do examination except I am the one telling you that I am not yet ready, then you can now ask me if I will be ready in the next three days, if I agree with you, it becomes a mutual agreement, only then will you go ahead and charge me. How can you be negotiating on something as trivial as increment without negotiating the root of the increment which is systemic corruption?

“They have increased their charges by 600 percent knowing that during negotiation, you will agree to 50 to 60 percent of the increment which is still their gain and it is not permanent and there was no agreement there that after this increment, till the next five years, there won’t be any other increment and then put it on paper as a Memorandum of Understanding. Because we have agreed now, after six months, they may come for another increment and you enter into another negotiation.

“It’s not about making noise, what do you have on the table? There are people that have a lot of ideas to put forward. When I was Chairman (of NAGAFF Apapa chapter), terminal operators will never effect any increment in charges without consulting us. They will first of all hold a discussion with us after we have had breakfast or lunch together. It is in the process of having this breakfast or lunch that they will now initiate the discussion and we will discuss and agree on a template. It was after the discussion that they will silently implement our agreed rate of increment which will not cause people to raise their eyebrows because that was a collective agreement.

“You can’t just wake up and effect an increment 100 percent, it is not done because they looked at us as people who are not informed and united. During my time as chapter Chairman, we were more united than what we have today. ANLCA and NAGAFF are at the top, supported by other sister associations and we speak with one voice. It’s either I am the spokesperson or Olumide (Fakanlu) will speak on our behalf and that ends it, we will agree. But this time around, they never listen to anybody to make an input.

“This thing (increment) is supposed to be a collective efforts, other stakeholders are supposed to be part of the negotiation and we take a position and agree before the wider negotiation with the terminal operators and the Shippers’ Council, because once you get the system right, there won’t be any need for storage charge increment. But as it stands today, after six months, they will come up with another increment because the system still remain what it is. They are the ones who still determine how many days it will take you to book your consignment for examination and you are still paying the rate we agreed on.”

On the inability of the freight forwarders to come together to take a position before attending the meeting with the terminal operators called at the instance of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, NSC, Ajuzie who is also the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Pat-Fuze Investment Limited said, “Haastrup is the President of all the terminal operators and Ascanio Russo represented the shipping companies, but freight forwarders who were their spokesperson? Before you go into any negotiation, you must sensitize your people. You go bring money, throw party, put everybody on the same page. Everybody will suggest whatever he knows about the issue and from the suggestions, you come up with a position that everyone will accept as their position and then, you go out to negotiate.

“But there was nothing like that ; NAGAFF agreed on its own, ANLCA agreed on its own and so did every other association. But the terminal operators and the shipping companies were organized and their position was put out by the Chairman of STOAN and the Chairman of Shipping Lines and they subjected you people to agree on the decision they have already come up with. The only thing that we succeeded in doing is getting them to slash the percentage of increment. But that 400 percentage increase, who is going to pay? Is it not an increment on the amount they were paying before? So, who gained on the long run? It was the terminal operators that gained after all.

“And the outcome of the negotiation is not binding on the parties. There should have been a document stating that we have agreed that in the next six months or so, there shouldn’t be any other increment. Now after six months, watch what I am saying, there will be another increment, they will trigger another increment and you will go back again for another negotiation and they will still add a plus and you will still pay.

“You can find out that the freight forwarders are defeated people because of their inability to forge a common front. There is freedom of association, I don’t mind the association that you belong to, it does not mean that we cannot speak with one voice. But thank God that they agreed that the outcome of the negotiation was fair enough and everybody is going to pay.”

Photo: Dr. Fred Ajuzie, former Chairman of NAGAFF, Apapa chapter.

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