By FUNSO OLOJO|
The management of Integrated Logistics Limited (INTELS) is presently growing goose pimples over the massive boycott of its facilities by Nigerian importers and their agents.
The port concessionaire, who provides logistics supports for oil and gas-related cargo at Onne, Warri and Calabar ports, has lately been hit by the mass exodus of its customers who are protesting what they called ”its extortions, high charges, arrogance and willful disregard for the Federal government policy on dollarization”
Prior to this period, importers and their agents have cried themselves hoarse over charges at the Intels facilities which they claimed was higher than charges at other terminals.
”But rather than address our grievances, they treated us with levity and arrogance due to their perceived closeness to political powers”, an angry operator declared.
”Previous governments have so pampered them that they have turned into a huge monopolistic octopus” another operator observed.
However, the pronouncement of former President Goodluck Jonathan at the twilight of his administration gave the spark to the smouldering anger and resentment of importers and their agents against the service providers.
Few weeks to his exit, the erstwhile president had declared that all oil and gas –related cargo should be handled at oil and gas designated terminals which are incidentally the haven of Intels in Onne, Warri and Calabar ports.
This pronouncement generated a lot of furore among importers and their agents who described the call by the former president as conferring on Intels the status of a monopolistic giant.
Also, other terminal operators kicked against the directive which they said was capable of running them out of business.
”We all signed a concession agreement with government and it would be unfair and unkind to create a monopoly out of one of us”, a member of the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), declared.
Prince Olayiwola Shittu, the National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents(ANLCA) had during the controversial directive, threatened that his members will oppose the directive by boycotting the facilities of the port concessionaires.
Prince Shittu had declared that freight forwarders will rather than obey the presidential order, divert their oil and gas cargo to the neigbouring port from where they would be brought to the country.
The ANLCA boss, who decried government’s moves to grant such monopoly, said that he would instruct his members and principals who handle oil and gas cargoes to henceforth direct their vessels to boycott all Intels’-controlled seaports, unless the directive was reversed.
He described the action of government as ”irresponsible”, saying that “what they are doing is creating a monopoly that is anti-people, and not in the interest of the economy”.
“Everybody should have a choice of where they want to take their cargoes to. The government concessioned the ports, all of them (concessionaires) signed the same documents. Why do you have to force people to take their cargo to Intels…so that they can charge them in dollars, and not only that, their charges are 300 times more than regular charges in other ports”.
“We have started our campaign also to call for the boycott of all Intels’ port facilities. In addition, we are prepared to take our oil and gas goods through Cotonou. If that discrimination is going to happen, then we go through the border.
“It is very unfortunate because Intels has been a problem and it is like a country, a sovereign of its own. That is because the promoters are holding the government and Nigerians by the jugular. It is very unfortunate”.
Investigations showed that the importers and their agents have made good their threats.
A visit to Seme borders showed that the importers have started to divert their oil and gas related cargo to the neigbouring ports of Cotonou from where they now bring it to the country through the border.
For those who do not want to divert their own cargo, they now use other terminals where they said their charges are reasonable and services more courteous.
However, out of desperation and in an attempt to win back the runaway customers, the Intels management has employed aggressive public relations stunts aimed at whipping up sentiments that will compel government to wade into their predicament.
A faceless advocacy group which called itself Nigerians United Against Theft in the Maritime Sector, in a sponsored campaign, has urged the government to halt the mass exodus of importers from Intels facilities in a bid to save the multi-billion dollars investments of the company which they said are now being threatened.
According to the Chairman of the group, Dr Jonas Bankole, several millions of dollars had been lost in recent weeks following the impunity with which some terminal operators engaged in what he described as inappropriate discharge of cargoes.
The group claimed that the Federal Government is losing $4.4 dollars per tonne of oil and gas cargoes not discharged at the appropriate and designated terminals, a claim one Kolawole Olatunbosun, a self-confessed maritime expect, echoed.
Mr John Ikezugo, a legal practitioner, at the behest of the beleaguered logistics providers, has also claimed that the diversion of Nigerian- bound vessels carrying oil and gas cargo to any other country or designated port terminals for discharge is illegal and tantamount to economic sabotage.
However, the protesting importers have vowed to stick to their guns and call the bluff of the service provider who are pushing all buttons to compel them to return to their terminals.
”No amount of blackmail or propaganda can make us go back to Intels’ facilities. It is not true that government is losing revenue as a result of our boycott of Intels facilities. The money we pay at other terminals still goes to the same Federal government, so this is all cheap blackmail and sheer misinformation currently being peddled by intels”, a concerned importer declared.