Intels panics over importers’ boycott of facilities


Managing Director of Intels Nigeria Ltd., Mr Simone Volpi
                     
The management of Intels Nigeria Logistics Limited is in a quandary over the persisting massive boycott of its facilities by Nigerian importers and their agents, who are protesting alleged highhandedness and excessive charges by the logistics services provider.

The port concessionaire, who provides logistics support for oil and gas-related cargoes at Onne, Warri and Calabar ports, has lately been hit by mass exodus of its customers who are protesting what was described as alleged extortionate tendencies, “high charges, arrogance and wilful disregard for the Federal Government policy on dollarisation.”

Prior to this period, importers and their agents have cried themselves hoarse over alleged high charges at the Intels’ facilities, which, they claimed, were 300 per cent above 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, who sought anonymity, declared.

“Previous governments have so much pampered the company that it has been turned into a huge monopolistic octopus that is viewed as a veritable demigod by by its peers, and other stakeholders,” another operator said, also craving anonymity.
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Notably, a pronouncement by former President Goodluck Jonathan at the twilight of his administration gave the spark to the smouldering anger of importers and their agents against Intels.

It would be recalled that, few weeks to his exit, the erstwhile President had declared that all oil and gas-related cargoes should be handled at so-called oil and gas-designated terminals, which are incidentally the havens of Intels in Onne, Warri and Calabar ports.

This pronouncement generated furore among importers and their agents, who described the former President’s directive as one that allegedly grooms and transforms Intels into a monopolistic giant.

Other terminal operators have 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) said.

In the heat of the controversy generated by the then President’s directive on the handling of oil and gas-related cargoes, the National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, threatened that ANLCA members will oppose the directive by boycotting the facilities of Intels.

Shittu had declared that freight forwarders will, rather than obey the Presidential order, divert oil and gas cargoes entrusted to them to the ports of neigbouring countries and deliver these consignments overland to Nigeria.

Roundly condemning government’s moves to grant such perceived monopoly to Intels, Shittu said that he would instruct ANLCA members who handle oil and gas cargoes to, henceforth, direct the vessels bearing their cargoes to boycott all Intels-controlled seaports, unless the directive was reversed.

 The ANLCA boss 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.”

Shittu said: “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.”

The ANLCA chief added: “We have started our campaign also to call for the boycott of all Intels’ ports 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 have been a problem and it is like a country, a sovereign of its own. That is because the promoters are holding the jugular of the government and Nigerians. It is very unfortunate.”

Checks have revealed that the importers and their agents have made good their threats.
A visit to Seme and Idiroko border post showed that the importers have started and are continuing to divert their oil and gas-related cargoes to the neigbouring Cotonou Port, Benin Republic, and similar facilities in Togo, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, and further afield along the West African coast, from where these consignments are then brought into the country through these two international border posts that connect Nigeria with the immediate westerly neighbour, Benin Republic.

It was gathered that those who do not want to utilise the cargo diversion option have either chosen to continue as patrons or decided to become new clients of other terminals than those of Intels, which charges, according to them, are reasonable and services more courteous.

It was learnt that the Intels management, in an adroit move to win back the runaway customers, has deployed aggressive public relations strategies to counter whatever possible threats to the company’s business interests.

In the drama that continues to play out, a nascent group calling itself Nigerians United Against Theft in the Maritime Sector, in a sponsored campaign, has urged the Federal Government to halt the exodus of patrons from the facilities of Intels in a bid to save the multi-billion dollars investments of the company, which, the group noted, are now being threatened.

The Chairman of Nigerians United Against Theft in the Maritime Sector, Dr. Jonas Bankole, claimed that several millions of United States Dollars (USD) had been lost in recent weeks, following alleged impunity with which some terminal operators engaged in what he described as inappropriate discharge of cargoes.

A self-confessed maritime expert, Mr Kolawole Olatunbosun, echoed the group’s claim that the Federal Government is losing USD4.4 per tonne of oil and gas-related cargoes not discharged at the appropriate and designated terminals.

 Similarly, a legal practitioner, Mr John Ikezugo, had also claimed that the diversion of Nigerian-bound vessels and oil conveying oil and gas-related cargoes to any other country or other port terminals in Nigeria, other than those of Intels, for discharge is illegal and an economic sabotage.

Checks revealed that the testy situation remains nowhere near resolution, as the aggrieved importers have vowed to stick to their guns and call the bluff of the logistics service provider in its attempt to lure them back to its terminals.


In the words of an importer: “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.”

He accused Intels of allegedly peddling “cheap blackmail and sheer misinformation” concerning the matter.