Customs must not manage scanners, APFFLON tells FG

One of the scanners handed over to the customs but left to rot away in the port.

The Africa Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria (APFFLON) has expressed dismay with the politicization of the purchase of scanning machines for cargo examination in the ports by the government, saying the acquisition of the scanners is not the problem but lack of care to keep the machines functioning.

While the Federal Government of Nigeria is perfecting plans to acquire new scanners for the customs, APFFLON, therefore, cautioned the government to avoid a repeat of the past when all the scanners which were handed over to the customs by the Destination Inspections (DI) agents – Cotecna, SGS and Globalscan – were left to rot away by the customs deliberately.

The President of the APFFLON, Otunba Frank Ogunojemite, in the position of the association at a Public Hearing of the House of Representatives on the modernisation of customs operations yesterday in Abuja, advised the government to let DI agents manage and operate the scanners instead of the customs and stressed the need for the repair of the existing scanners previously used by the Destination Inspection (DI) agents.

Chronicling how the Nigeria Customs Service floundered the technology transferred to it by the DI agents, he said “the problem confronting Nigeria’s modernization of the cargo examination process obviously has nothing to do with our inability to purchase scanners but everything to do with a poor maintenance culture, lack of transparency and accountability. The purchase of new scanners without any attempt on the part of the government to reach out to the OEM, in order to ascertain if the old scanners can be salvaged proved this.

“Purchasing a new set of scanners is not the solution; the problems will most likely repeat itself if no individual or agency is held responsible for their maintenance. To ensure the efficiency of cargo examination and improve competitiveness, nothing prevents the government from engaging the Original Equipment Manufacturers to repair the previous scanners and put them back in use alongside new ones that may be acquired.

“As the Nigeria Customs Service has proved itself incapable of handling something as sensitive as the operation and maintenance of multi-million scanners, in order to avoid a repeat of history, it is advisable that the scanners are best left in the hands of contracted DI agents who will operate and maintain it. In a country notorious for sabotaging well-meaning efforts geared towards national development, one must not rule out the possibility of sabotage from within the government agencies. This is because physical examination of cargo provides an avenue for officials of the government to extort importers and Customs agents for money and other valuable items in their containers.”

Ogunojemite who commended the Speaker of the House of Representatives Right Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila over the public hearing said the position of the association was unprejudiced and with respect to the issue of the non-performing contract after its completion. “It is expedient to begin by commending the speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, the House of Representatives on behalf of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for conveying this very important stakeholders’ meeting. We strongly believe this decision is premised on the need to ensure the enthronement of transparency, performance, and development of Nigeria’s maritime business environment which in turn would have a positive productivity outcome in the long run.”

It would be recalled that in 2006, cargo scanners were acquired by service providers, namely Cotecna Destination Inspection Limited (CDIL), SGS Scanning Nigeria and Global Scan System. Each of them was allotted specific Customs Commands to supply scanners to. The contract, which was based on Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) terms, also provided that the service providers were to provide training services and technical support to the NCS on risk management, valuation and classification.

The contract, which ran for six years, ended in December 2012 but while it lasted, the number of containers scanned daily went up to 150. At the expiration of the initial six-year contract, the federal government opened a transition contract agreement with the service providers to ensure a seamless transfer of functional scanners to the customs. This new contract was extended to November 2013. A Transition Implementation Committee on Destination Inspection Scheme was constituted by the then Coordinating Minister of Finance, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in July 2013 to oversee the transfer.

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