Importers lose billions to SON over entries blocking, customs agents allege

Container stacking at Tincan Island Container Terminal in Lagos port. These boxes provoke bad blood between Standards Organisation of Nigeria and customs agents over blocking of entries by the former. Insert is the Director General of SON, Osita Aboluma.

By Gboyega Oni

Blocking of Customs cargo clearance entries by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has been described as a major impediment to the realization of the 48 hour cargo clearing policy of the Federal Government.

The issue of entries blocking by SON, according to some stakeholders in the industry, mostly customs agents, is a big challenge said to be responsible for time loss and difficulty in cargo clearing. But some of them believe SON willfully blocks their entries on frivolous excuses whereas, ironically, it is the SON that issues the SONCAP used by their importers for the importation of such affected cargo.

To others, the blame is on the importers as some of them rush to embark on importation without following the due processes and necessary consultation.

In an investigation carried out by PortNewsNigeria on the reasons why entries are being blocked by SON, it was discovered that some containers upon discovery by SON officials do not meet the SONCAP specified requirements such as Country of Origin, specified standards and others which importers are obligated to fulfill.

The blocking adds to the cost of cargo clearance and this is passed to the final consumer in the street. A blocked entry is unblocked only if the infractions are corrected with a huge sum of money having being paid by the agent as penalty. In a situation where agents are reluctant to pay based on superior convincing arguments, negotiations on the blocked entries could drag for days before it is eventually unblocked.

In an interview with PortNewsNigeria, Alhaji Ibrahim Tanko, a licensed customs agent, said it is devastating the high number of entries that are being blocked daily and described the experience of customs agents at SON as harrowing why trying to have their entries unblocked. He noted that excuses such as lack of Country of Origin and others being given by SON officials for blocking are not the making of agents but that of SON who issues the SONCAP used for the importation.

He said the indiscriminate blocking has made cargo clearing on the side of SON a bit difficult as customs agents waste a lot of valuable time to have their entries unblocked. He maintained that for an entry to be unblocked customs agents sometimes pay more than N200,000.00 which translates to billions of Naira considering the volumes of cargo involved yearly.

Speaking further, Tanko blamed SON for issuing SONCAP for the arms and ammunition imported from Turkey in 2017 after declaring them as iron and steel; they were subsequently seized by the Nigeria Customs Service at Tincan Island Port.

‘We have problems with SON over entries blocking. SON office is now a market place; they block and unblock your entries giving excuses like No Country of Origin and others which are not your own make. It is more like a revenue collector than standards regulating body asking you to pay N200,000.00 for unblocking. Pump riffles that were seized by Customs at Tincan Port in 2017 had SONCAP as iron and steel. This is our problem, nobody to fight for us,’ he lamented.

Also speaking, Mr. Bamidele Oni, a customs agent, who admitted that blocking of entries by SON causes delays in cargo clearance, fingered importers as the bane behind the action by not doing the right things. He said if importers could supply the right and proper information on SONCAP, there would not be any reasons for SON to block entries.

He advised importers to follow the rules of the game before embarking on importation so as to meet the 24 hour of cargo clearance time and save cost.

Baring his mind on the issue of entries blocking by SON, Dr. Kayode Farinto, the National Publicity Secretary of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), said Nigerians are not being fair to themselves by absolving SON of any complicity in the whole saga.

Farinto, the Managing Director of Wealthy Honey Nigeria Limited, a licensed customs agency, noted that before you embark on importation it is advisable for an importer to consult a licensed customs agent who is grounded and knowledgeable in cargo importation procedures, saying this professional would guide him against any infraction or blunder.

According to Farinto, a vice presidential candidate of ANLCA, ‘Nigerians are not doing the right things before importing; you must consult to know what to do. You cannot just import without knowing the rules and regulations put in place by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria guiding the products you want to import. It is the fault of importers.’

Engineer Bede Obayi, HOD, Inspection and Compliance of SON however told PortNewsNigeria that blocking of entries is not a new development but an alert to guide against infractions in product standards.

According to him, ‘It is not a new term; it is to confirm that your products are genuine and comply with standards. What we are doing is to make sure that products coming into the country meet the standards.’

He advised importers in the country to follow due processes and urged customs agents to advise their importers to comply with SONCAP regulations.

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