Customs agents protest manual tallying at APM terminal

Funso Olojo || The worldwide cyber-attack last week which affected giant shipping company, AP Moller-Maersk Group, took a heavy toll on its Nigerian operation when aggrieved licensed customs agents vented their one-week-old bottled grievances by resorting to pelting APMT marketing staff with sachet water at Apapa port Lagos last week.

They also allegedly barricaded the marketing hall with a padlocked chain. Obviously hampered by the cyber-attack which resulted in the collapse of its server, APMT Nigeria staff had resorted to manual writing of Debit Notes {DN} and Terminal Delivery Order {TDO} for agents preparatory to picking their cargo from the terminal.

For the first few days after the challenge to the server, Monday 26th to Friday 30th June, APMT management had granted a concession waiver that those who had written their TDO should pick their cargo unconditionally.

But from Monday last week, when incidentally the crowd of desperate customs agents had grown in number, APMT’S response to work exigencies became unusually sluggish and slow.

“We slept here all night because APMT have been doing skeletal job since last week not minding the situation. Their bosses came this morning (Wednesday 5th) and asked us to line up and collected documents from a few of us.

Since morning they did not show up. We got frustrated and naturally, we flared up and started the little protest of pelting them with sachet water,”Akeem, a customs agent explained.  The fracas was quickly nipped in the bud thanks to the quick and dexterous intervention of the O C Terminal, Deputy Comptroller Rufai Alao who pleaded passionately with the agents to calm down while he assured them on behalf of APMT that more efforts and time would be committed to their service in order to ensure that everybody was attended to.

Consequently, APMT there and then announced to work till midnight daily until normalcy was restored. According to Comptroller Alao, work did not stop at APMT Customs for a moment, though it was being done manually because of the APMT server collapse triggered by the well-reported cyber-attack in Europe which invariably affected their Nigerian operation.

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“Work is still being done, though manually. They have promised that things will be normal very soon and I believe them”, said Alao who compared the relationship between the three stakeholders as that of husband and wife.

“Husband and wife do quarrel but the relationship continues thereafter. We agree and disagree, but the essential thing is to get the job done in the overall interest of the nation. Police actually came in but by then we had taken charge and what they met was a peaceful environment.

In the next twenty-four hours I assure you that we would have tackled and surmounted everything”, averred the DC in charge of APM Terminal. Meanwhile, some licensed customs agents have wondered why their union leaders of ANLCA, NAGAFF, and AREFF were nowhere to be seen for the past days since the chaos began at APMT.

“We only see our union leaders on the pages of newspapers and at big occasions. Where are they now to help us from APMT suffering and extortion? We suspect collusion, but there is God o,” lamented an agent.

They further alleged that the chaotic operational situation was deliberately masterminded for APMT’s pecuniary gains and estimated that on the thousands of containers that exited and are yet to exit APMT in the last one week, the organisation has made billions of naira through demurrage billings.

According to Akeem, APMT’S real problems are their lust for money and their shortage of vital operational staff.

“Billions of Naira has been extorted by APMT from us agents and importers in the past week. They seem to relish the operational sluggishness going on here, while we suffer. They don’t have enough number of staff. They seem to have sacked many important staff during the recession and now that there is a surge in traffic, they can’t cope, a job meant for three is assigned to one person and we are to suffer for their blunder, they just take us for granted”, noted an angry Akeem.

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A licensed customs agent named Stanley, however, disagreed with Akeem. “APMT has been fair to us all. They gave us about seven days from the 23rd to 30th of June as grace to adjust to the emergency. If you write your TDO and do your debit note and collect your receipt, you can load without any problem. I loaded without any unwarranted payment. I have no grouse against APMT”, said Stanley.

The minor fracas of Thursday 5th July 2017 was indiscretionally caused by the management of APMT when it wrote a letter to countless importers that its server that collapsed in the aftermath of the cyber-attack had returned to full function. The letter thanked importers for their cooperation and urged them to return to the terminal, where quick clearance of their cargo was assured.

This was not true, but ever anxious importers had thereafter, resultantly put unbearable pressure on their agents accusing them of incompetence, dishonesty, and falsehood owing to the delay of their cargo at APMT and the attendant demurrage.

A totally distraught customs agent showed a copy of the letter from APMT to his importer telling him that the server was back functioning.

“APMT sent this letter to all importers that their ICT is back to normal. It is a lie and these importers have become angry, even belligerent. The pressure from the importers was the cause of that chaos at APMT. Thank God that authorities stepped in to curb it”, explained the notable custom agent