Cargoes that should have left the shores of the country in the last four days are currently tied down at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) as custom agents agents protest a 100 percent increase in tariff.

This is also as the custom agents disclosed that they have lost over ₦2 billion as a result of the protest they embarked.

Speaking during a press conference at the weekend, Davies Chukwuneye, the vice chairman of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Custom Agents, (ANCLA) MMIA chapter, said the association withdrew their services after Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) and Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCO) increased ground handling charges by 100 percent despite a similar increase three years ago.

Chuwkuneye said the association viewed the increase as obnoxious and highly insensitive and has held series of meetings with both ground handling companies, pleading with them to reduce the tariff to no avail.

“At the second week of February, the ground handlers sent a circular to the executive of ANLCA, introducing an upward review of 300 percent on their handling and other charges.

“The Association viewed this as being obnoxious and highly insensitive judging from the fact that the economic situation currently is so harsh to the extent that the Nigerian masses are struggling to survive.

“In view of this, the union excos entered into negotiation with the ground handlers specifically to make them realise that increment at this time is ill timed and that it will definitely have negative effects when it was still less than three years they had the last increment,” Chuwkuneye said.

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He noted that exco’s intervention on this fell on deaf ears as they reluctantly came down to a 100 percent increment, adding that all over the world, there is nowhere 100 percent increment has been accepted and implemented.

He said people are struggling to survive in Nigeria and the regular increment without corresponding services is very worrisome.

“If we fold our hands and allow this to go on, maybe by the end of this year, another increment will come up. We are calling on the federal government to call the ground handlers to order.

“Four days ago, we withdrew our services from the warehouses and up till now, they have not made any move to send correspondence to us and we are dismayed because it shows that they are insensitive. We have made them understand that the increment will not help anyone including them,” he said.

He explained that the increment will send many custom agents out of business that is why the agents are pleading with the relevant agencies and stakeholders to intervene so that it would not generate into crisis that would be difficult to control.

“Within these few days, we have lost more than two billion naira. We are not saying there should be no increment, what we are saying is that it should have a human face so that we can remain in business.

“When this issue came up, we wrote to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) who are the regulators but till now, we have not heard anything from them. The two ground handlers have already started the implantation of the increase which has made it difficult for us to operate,” he said..

He explained that the services that they have been getting from both ground handlers is nothing to write home about.

“I can tell you authoritatively that most of the hand trucks used in both warehouses are bought by our members, yet we are paying handling charges. We had a situation where they went and hired machines and positioned them for us to inspect and few days after we had accepted increment, NACHO returned them to where they were rented.

“As I speak, the entire warehouse is leaking and the rain flooded the place and soaked the goods. We have been suffering loses as a result of our cargo being soaked by rain and we bear the cost of the damaged goods because our customers won’t agree to pay for goods damaged by rain,” he said.

But in a joint letter signed by Boma Ukwunna and Saheed Lasisi of SAHCO and NACHO respectively, which was addressed to the chairman of ANLCA, the ground handlers said the final rates adjustment was effectuated in line with aviation standard as all relevant stakeholders recognised by law including government agencies and the regulator were duly consulted.

The ground handlers also insisted that they have complied with the relevant provisions of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)’s four main principles on increase in charges for Airport and Air Navigation Service providers as contained in ICAO Doc 9082, which are: Cost recovery, transparency, consultation with users and non-discrimination.

“On April 17, 2023 we had a meeting with all the relevant stakeholders, consequent upon which an agreement was jointly executed on April 19, 2023, where it was collectively agreed that the ultimate effective date for the implementation of the 100 percent increase is Monday, April 24, 2023.

“We were therefore shocked and taken aback that having achieved the above millage based on thorough justifications regarding the current economic realities, ANCLA members still went ahead, staging a protest for a matter that has already been resolved,” the ground handlers said.