Since the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) began its Naira redesign policy which led to scarcity across the country, port operations and haulage services have had to rely heavily on electronic transfer of funds, which can sometime be erratic, leading to grave implication on cargo clearance at the nations ports, writes TOLA ADENUBI
In port operation, time is money. Anytime lost during the cargo clearance logistic chain comes with severe implications on cargo owners who are involved in the cargo clearance business.
With many people resorting to electronic payment for services rendered across the country, the increased pressure on online banking seems to be exposing the weakness of online transaction, thereby affecting cargo clearance at the ports.
Cargo clearance chain
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When a cargo is discharged from the ship into the port terminal, the next process is for the cargo owner to quickly complete the various payments documentation that will allow the cargo to exit the port.
A port is not a storage point or a warehouse, so any cargo discharged from a ship into the port terminal must complete its necessary documentation in good time and exit the port or else, such cargo will start accumulating unnecessary bills, which includes Storage and Demurrage charges.
As part of efforts to ensure a cargo does not accumulate unnecessary bills, the cargo owner or representative must quickly complete payment document which includes duty payment to the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS, shipping charges to the shipping company, terminal charges to the port terminal operator where the container was discharged and haulage charges for the container to be moved out of the port either via barge or truck.
In an event that payment for any of this documentation suffers hitches or setback, the cargo owner starts incurring accumulated charges that could make the clearance of such container extremely expensive.
Failing online transaction
With the scarcity of Naira biting hard across the country, many cargo owners are currently struggling to exit their containers from the ports due to difficulty in making payments for services.
Speaking with the Nigerian Tribune exclusively, Spokesperson for the Tin-Can Chapter of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Joy Onome Monije lamented that online payment has become very difficult to conduct seamlessly since the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Naira redesign policy forced many people to transact more with electronic payment solutions.
According to the ANLCA Tin-Can Chapter Spokesperson, “We need the various banks to upgrade their online payment solutions.
“Maybe because of the CBN Naira redesign policy which forced many people to go with online payment solutions, thereby increasing the pressure on the various online banking networks and making online payment for duty or shipping charges now extremely difficult.
“Three days ago, I made a payment to a shipping company for a cargo. I was debited but the shipping company is yet to see my money reflect in their account. Because of this situation, I have not been able to take my container out of the port. The situation is crazy because the longer days the cargo spends in the port, the more demurrage and storage charges that I will have to pay to the shipping company and the port terminal operator.
“This is the dilemma we are facing at the port at the moment. Our online payment solutions have not been effective. Many cargoes are trapped inside the ports because duty payments and shipping charges that have been made online by clearing agents have not reflected in the accounts of the receivers.
“Cargoes are trapped at the ports because many payments made online are hanging. This is really frustrating.”
With many cargoes trapped due to failed online transactions, cargo owners are struggling for alternatives due to the scarcity of Naira in the country. Speaking with the Nigerian Tribune, a clearing agent, Nonso Nwachukwu explained that relying 100 percent on online banking has led to many cargo owners incurring unnecessary bills.
“Even after completing the payment of duty and shipping charges amid the epileptic online banking network, you have to make sure the haulage company gets money in their accounts before they will go to the port to pick your container.
“If the haulage company does not get your payment on time, your cargo will remain inside the port accumulating unnecessary bills that could have been avoided.
“I once transferred N370,000 to a trucker to pick a container for me from APM Terminals. However, due to network issue, the trucker said he cannot go and pick my cargo because he has not seen the money.
“After waiting 24 hours without seeing money, I had to contact another trucker to avoid unnecessary accumulation of bills inside the port terminal. I had to call my banks customer care unit over the failed N370,000 transaction before the money was reversed into my account.
“What if I didn’t have extra funds in my account to contact another haulage operator? Who will pay for the extra storage days that the container would have accumulated?
“Had it been I could get cash, relying on online banking would have been minimal for some services like haulage operations. Most of the truckers are not literate and always rely on third party arrangement when it comes to online banking. Some of these truckers don’t even use smartphones and thus rely heavily on sms alert when they want to receive payment alerts. That is why most of them prefer cash transactions if possible,” Mr Nwachukweu told the Nigerian Tribune exclusively.
Checks by the Nigerian Tribune further revealed that many cargo owners have had to abandon their cargoes at the port due to the prevailing Naira scarcity that has refused to go away even after the general elections.
A worker at one of the port terminals who spoke with the Nigerian Tribune on the condition of anonymity explained that many cargo owners are now attributing their refusal to clear their consignments to the Naira scarcity issue.
“Many cargo owners have been complaining of the Naira scarcity issue. Many now claims that they are struggling to evacuate their cargoes because they cannot get cash. Some are blaming the crazy situation at the banks for the delay in clearing their consignments.
“We (terminal operators) don’t know who is saying the truth nowadays. It’s either there is no Naira or network is down. Yet the cargoes keep piling up inside the port terminals,” the port worker lamented.
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