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A visit to the ports, shipping companies and bonded terminals yesterday shows a usual port and cargo clearance operations.
At some of the Ports entrance gates, the only measure put in place by the terminal operators  is body temperature checker and hand sanitizers,  while inside the terminal it is “to your tent O Israel” – a case of life goes on as usual having crossed the gate, mostly so , with the Clearing Agents, even some gather to discuss the COVID -19 , and jokes about it. You can easily point to one to four agents wearing masks, or having pocket size hand sanitizer.

At Some of the Customs operational offices (within the port terminals) visited, many senior officers are seen as taking the initial precautionary measure to protect themselves with mask and a hand sanitizer handy on their tables, as for the junior officers, many seems nonchalant about the Covid -19 spread.   The same applies to other regulatory and security agencies in the port.

Unfortunately, majority of Freight Forwarders ( operational staffs) seems unpethub about the Covid -19 ravaging. Usual hand shakes, cracking jokes, crowding Customs desk officers, or Offices, or around seating/resting areas, or over the counter (regardless and incautious of body contact) are still the peculiar character and scenario’s.   The same is replicated at the offdock and bonded terminals.

At the shipping companies, Agents are seen crowding the entrance gates, inside the market halls Agents are seen queueing over the counter or made to seat in a limited steel bench, having applied hand sanitizer, few of them managed to put on masks.

Indeed the Freight Forwarders are under serious pressure to deliver their clients imports and willing to go the extra miles to effect so.  The pressure is compounded mostly so in a prevailing congested ports, traffic gridlocks and worst still, in a traditional, port prone to human contacts to cargo clearance /operational activities. As such , A Forwarder can hardly seat at home, as he can not transact effectively on line, how much more delivering his container online, because the system is skewed against e-commerce.

In view of this , a Forwarder will always be in the port irrespective of directives , not really that he desires of so, but because the system is not structured to soothe his operations, so, excerpt the ports , Customs offices and Shipping lines are close for business. He is under the pressure and mindful not to incurre additional or excessive storage and demurrage charges, especially where there is no official pronouncement of operational break or holidays.
The implications is that, a Forwarder is merely exposed and risks contacting Covid -19 , as they feels that no one seems to consider his plight.

Here again, in an ideal industry environment, the Ministry Of Transport through its relevant agencies is expected to give an industry directives as a proactive response to the Covid -19 pandemic.    The Relevance agencies are expected to have met, and thinker out a new operational approach/modalities to mitigate human contacts, where it becomes difficult to close the ports to external operational activities, while receiving cargo inflows.

At worst, relevant government agencies can reorder internal cargo traffic as a temporary stop measure. Without mincing words, the present situation calls for sense of not just administrative but national emergency in operations.
It most be stated that, where a Freight Forwarders contacts Covid- 19, it is as good as at a ratio of 1/10 and much more (with consideration to his immediate family, social mobility).

Therefore, as directed by the government, one expected the concerned Agencies to enforce the sit at home ( Self Isolation) or social distancing as the present scenario suggests. As such the Agency should make further public pronouncement assuring the Shippers and Freight Forwarders of necessary waivers within the period of Covid 19 ‘health impasse’.
Closing the international frontiers, when the Virus has gain entrance into the Country, and opening the port for normal business operations, is indeed an industry administrative carelessness, it does not in anyway suggest complementary to the central directives of the government.

The Council For The Regulation Of Freight Forwarding Practice In Nigeria , as an agency of the government is expected to show leadership in this direction. The health and wellness interest of the Freight Forwarders must be paramount…
The National Association Of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), is commended for taking the bold initiative to direct its members to maintain social distancing by staying off work for 14 days.

The control of Covid- 19 is a must and collective response to stop its spread. The future of the Nation is in our hands, so also our professional survival is attach to our lives. The choice we make today, will speak volume of our tomorrow.


Fwdr. Dr Eugene Nweke.
Sea Empowerment Research Center Ltd GT.

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