By Adegboyega Oni
The Nigeria Customs Service as a leading government agency in cargo clearance processes in the port has been blamed for not being proactive in saving importers and customs agents from incurring over N6billion demurrage to the delay of issuance of offshore Conformity Assessment Program (SONCAP) by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) which was caused by failure of its SONCAP portal to connect with the Customs’.
SONCAP is an offshore assessment document for processing imports of regulated products into Nigeria by SON; an instrument which the Customs depends upon for issuance of the Pre Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) for cargo clearance in the port. Because of the non-connection, it was alleged that SON could not generate SONCAP and thus restraining the Customs too from issuing PAAR while cargoes were attracting huge demurrage daily.
Dr. Kayode Farinto, Vice President. Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) blamed the Customs for the development at a recent media briefing in Lagos. According to him, while the SON was having this challenge, the Customs could have reached a compromise with the SON as a palliative to allow customs agents clear their cargoes and SON would then follow the cargoes to the warehouses of the importers for due diligence.
Customs, according to Farinto, is only interested in meeting its revenue target which, he said, is unprofessional and non-trade facilitation while importers are losing huge revenue fortunes to demurrage because of system failure which is not their own fault. ‘’Since November 2019 when this problem started, demurrage has run into over N6 billion. Who will pay the demurrage?’’ asked Farinto who advised the customs to provide solution to save the situation as he noted that if the situation persists, members of the association may head to court to seek redress.
But the SON has denied the allegation claiming that its online application portal for the operation of the SONCAP for processing of SON regulated imports into Nigeria broke down as a blatant lie.
Mr. Bola Fashina, Head, Public Relations, SON, stressed that rather, it is those importers who fail to comply with the pre-shipment process who are crying wolf on accumulation of demmurage on their consignments.
Fashina noted the portal was recently upgraded to ensure optimal performance, enhance a seamless operation and more efficient service delivery to customers and stakeholders alike.
He said the upgraded SONCAP portal offers importers and customs agents a lot of advantages which include a one-stop-shop that provides clients opportunity to apply, track application, send messages to SON and receive responses as well upload evidence of payments seamlessly, profile of the work done and documents used for application are available on Clients’ dashboard, no more Tax Identification Number (TIN) error and no more mistakes in company name etc.
Fashina alluded to a recent challenge in transmitting approved and activated SONCAP certificates to the National trade portal which according to him was not peculiar to SON but all other trade related agencies from January 22, 2020.
He stated that the issue has since been rectified on the national trade portal and all pending SONCAP certificates transmitted to the Nigerian Integrated Customs Information System (NICIS) portal as at February 1, 2020.
On the claim that importers were accumulating demurrage as a result of the gap, Fashina explained that the SONCAP is a pre-shipment process, stressing that only non-compliant importers, who apply for the certificates after the arrival of their consignments are crying foul.
He said some importers who brought in about 182 containers into the country without following the pre-shipment conformity assessment process are those trying to circumvent established procedure and crying wolf.
According to him, such consignments would naturally be subjected to scrutiny, seized if found to be substandard while those behind then would face prosecution.
He advised importers to follow the import procedures strictly by ensuring that they process their product and SONCAP certificates offshore rather than looking for short cuts after the consignments have arrived Nigeria.