FREIGHT FORWARDERS FLAY SIFAX GROUP FOR COLLECTION OF ILLEGAL CHARGES
** Describe demand for charges on purported “overtime cargoes” as overbearing and extortionary
By Mcanthony Onuoha
Freight Forwarders have accused Sifax Group of arm-twisting them to make payments for non gazetted ” overtime cargoes”.
Some of them who narrated their ordeals in the hands of the Bonded Terminal Operator described the collection of mandatory non- receipted overtime cargo charges as extortionary and unjustifiable.
According to the narrative of one of the freight Forwarders, Sifax Group has all these while, been demanding and forcefully collecting non-receipted charges on certain consignments they classified as “Overtime Cargoes” without making available the official gazette from the Nigeria Customs Service.
Fwdr. Obinna Austin Obidile, in his narrative flayed Sifax Group for high-handedness and outlandish impunity, describing as shocking the level of desperation with which Terminal Operators and Shipping Companies carry out their day to day dealings with freight agents.
According to Ofodile, ” l have a 2/40 ft containers at Sifax, Trinity, the vessel berthed around October last year, due to a minor issue with the Shipper, their was delay in sending the original Bill of laden, so the consignments accumulated some demurrage, l went to Sifax to see if they could grant me some waiver but they declined. We paid over N7.8 million, and also paid additional demurrage of about Five hundred thousand Naira (N500,000.00) making Eight million plus, paid as demurrage alone.”
” We printed exit having paid additional charges, for us to print Terminal Delivery Order (TDO), they said the containers were overtime cargoes, that we should pay N75,000 per container, and l asked them why, and requested to see the official Customs gazette where the consignments were listed as overtime cargoes, and why it was not indicated in their debit note instead of making oral demand of the charges, they insisted l must pay them N75,000 for each of the containers. I requested to see the Terminal Manager, one Mr.Taiwo, and when l told him about it, he said that the instruction came from their MD, Mr. Taiwo Afolabi, l asked him why l must pay money that was not included in the Debit Note, so what will l tell my client, he said that the payment was non negotiable.”
” I took my case to the Acting National President of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents -ANLCA, Dr. Kayode Farinto, of which he called the Terminal Manager at Sifax Trinity, and he also told Dr.Farinto that there was nothing he could do about it, that the instruction came from the MD of Sifax. I went to their head office at Apapa, met the head of Customer Care Unit, one Ms. Catherine , who asked me to do a mail which l also did, as l speak to you the mail has not gotten any response , and in the process, the charges expired and l had to raise additional DN and also made cash payment of N75,000 for each container, it is quite unfortunate that the industry is being run by organizations who are very poised on milking freight forwarders dry without the least consideration, recklessness and gross impunity have become the order of the day. How can an agent pay money for a container a Terminal Operator claims to be Overtime cargo and can not make available Customs gazette where it is listed as such; is it done anywhere ? If it is overtime cargo it must be in Official Customs Gazette , you collected your terminal charges and went further to press for overtime cargo charge which is neither on the Debit Note nor gazetted by Customs, is it not extortion ? And the level of impunity with which the money was collected is out of this world, telling me to report to any authority in my contacts, that their demand for overtime cargo payment subsists, delayed my consignments and pushed me around.”
” The issue remains that once your container is gazetted by Customs as “overtime cargo”, you go ahead and process your documents, get clearance and carry it as overtime cargo. You pay your duty, pay Shipping charges up to date, then go ahead to write your TDO, but for Sifax, without providing such proof, they hold you down for you to make undocumented cash payment for overtime cargo. If a container is classified as “Overtime”, it is taken to Ikorodu, so if it is not classified as such, why are you collecting money for overtime cargo?”
” If we can have someone like Mr.Taiwo Afolabi that is ANLCA Board of Trustees (BoT) Chairman and as MD Sifax Group doing this to freight forwarders what else do we do ? Imagine the level of blunder being committed even as a member of an apex maritime association and Chairman, BoT. I did series of mail but got no reply, and he was the one that handed them such instruction which for me, is criminal. Every freight forwarder is complaining seriously about this extortion by Sifax Group, it is indeed appalling. And l have made some findings and may resolve heading to court any moment for redress.”
” The attention of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and Nigerian Shipper’s Council (NSC) must be drawn to this, while we are complaining of the high-handedness of non indigenous Shipping Companies, Sifax that we see as an indigenous company is busy milking fellow Nigerians with reckless abandon”, Obidile alleged.
When contacted for his take on the issue, the Acting National President of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents- ANLCA, Dr. Kayode Collins Farinto, said that any container listed in Customs Official Gazette as Overtime cargo needs to obtain clearance from the Customs Zonal Coordinator, and that making payments to anyone for a purported “Overtime Cargo” that is not gazetted by Customs is not appropriate.
Some other freight forwarders who had the same plight as Obidile also corroborated his story, and vehemently criticized Sifax Group for high-handedness.
Attempts to get the Terminal Manager Sifax Bonded Terminal at Trinity on phone for his own side of the story before filing the report proved abortive.