The bureaucratic bottlenecks stifling national export potential have taken another turn with the two major ground handlers in the air transport sector raising cargo processing charges by 100 per cent.
The spike, courtesy Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCO) and the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company’s (NAHCO) new pricing regime has grounded export activities, especially at the busy Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) cargo section in the last couple of days.
While the service providers hinged the price adjustment on economic realities, affected agents and exporters have pushed back, seeking a reversal to the old rates.
The Guardian earlier reported that more airlines departed Nigeria without exportable goods in 2022, and much to the pains of stakeholders and loss of foreign exchange earnings worth billions of dollars yearly.
Findings showed that besides mails that topped cargo net export in 2021, the country slumped in the export of agricultural produce following a high rate of rejections and prohibitions overseas over poor packaging, documentation and alleged noncompliance with acceptable standards.
While regulators blame exporters for the failure of due diligence, operators push back on regulatory bottlenecks, one-too-many local agencies/conflicting guidelines, high cost of freight, multiple charges, and extortions even on goods that are not prohibited.
The high cost of freight was further tightened when NAHCO and SAHCO commenced a new cargo handling regime with 100 per cent increase.
The increment showed that general cargo or bank consignment charges per kilogramme immediately rose from N63.3 to N130.6, the demurrage charge per kilogramme also went up from N13 to N26, while re-registration was pegged at N15,000, a sharp rise from N4, 420.
First to feel the pinch are the cargo terminal agents. Members of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) at Lagos Airport, Ikeja, have vowed to resist the alleged “unilateral” price review.
Vice Chairman of ANLCA MMIA, Davies Chukwunenye, condemned the actions of the handling companies, describing it as insensitive, and an attempt to add to the sufferings of the masses.
Davies explained that in the second week of February 2023, the ground handlers did send a circular to the executive of ANLCA introducing an upward review of 300 per cent on their handling and other charges, which ANLCA declared as highly insensitive, as a result of the current economic harsh situation in the country.
He noted that all attempts to make handlers see the wrong timing were not considered, adding that the last increment was just less than three years ago.
Davies said further that they had managed to negotiate a 100 per cent increase, though acknowledged that such a leap is unheard of in global trade relations and price negotiations.
The previous increment, he noted: “Sent many agents out of business, as they could not cope with the situation. The new adjustment will further worsen the plight of agents.”
ANLCA called on the government to come to their rescue and save the suffering masses, adding that the association had written to the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to intervene, but no response from the regulator yet.
In a joint memo to the travel agencies dated April 27, 2023, NAHCO and SAHCO informed that the final rates’ adjustment was affected in line with aviation standards, and all relevant stakeholders recognised, including government agencies and the regulator, were duly consulted.
The memo read: “It is on record that the Ground Handlers have held several meetings with all critical stakeholders and various associations of Freight Forwarders and Brokers in the industry.
During the engagements and numerous conversations held with the stakeholders, it was collectively agreed that there is a need to ensure compensation for services rendered as a way of cost recovery for operations and as such must enhance the safety, efficiency and security of our collective operations and the airport environment.
“Consequently, it was suggested that the Ground Handlers should amongst other things come up with competitive rates that to a large extent match up with the integral cost of operations and that are commensurate with what obtains in other West African countries. This was intensively considered by all parties,” the letter read in part.