By Adumaza Joe Sanni
Several global organizations have come to Nigeria to engage stakeholders operating within the Ports system and Border Stations, in finding out the problems constituting a drag or obstacle in facilitating trade through the international borders and, articulating solutions to the identified challenges.
These organizations have always being told in unmistakable terms that Nigeria does not lack the capacity to acknowledge the problems of trade facilitation, and in fact proffer solutions to them, but it (Nigeria) definitely lacks the Political will to carry through proven, home grown designs to remove challenges to obstructions within the cargo clearing processes.
In an earlier intervention challenging the proposed e-Customs modernization project in which a whooping sum of $300 million of Nigeria’s money (through AFC – African Finance Corporation) is to be committed and recouped by some four companies involved in 20 years, it was pointed out that the only stage during the cargo clearing process that requires automation now is the Examination of cargoes stage/bay, where tropicalized, rugged scanners are expected to be installed for effective security, and other checks on cargoes.
All Customs related actions before the examination stage are done electronically and in minutes. These include payment of Customs duties and all other statutory levies attached to it. These actions are required or done even before the arrival of the vessel. As the vessel berths, discharges are carried out – by the shipping companies and terminal operators. Once cargoes are in the terminal, importers, through their appointed customs brokers, book for the physical examination (since scanners are unavailable) of the cargoes and alert the resident officers to come perform the examination of the positioned cargoes.
It is at this stage that humans come in contact with each other to transact on the cargo, with every agency permitted to be in the port (two agencies that are unpermitted still partake in cargo examination for their pecuniary gains) witness the examination and make their reports. Declarations that are honest enough especially with correct classification and within values range and constitute no security threats are immediately cleared for release and exit.
Those with discrepancies in contradiction with their document declaration are held down, for further inspection and interrogations. The process of further interrogation is where calls for concern and is the area that attracts much condemnation. It is at this point that Nigeria Customs earns the wrong perception that the public views it with. This is the area that needs to be opened up transparently. It is at this stage that lots are shrouded in secrecy and valuable time lost. This is the area of cargo clearance processes that needs to be automated for Trade Facilitation.
ACTION NEEDED: For sincerity of purpose, and to completely remove the toga of being seen as corrupt in the performance of their statutory functions, Nigeria Customs Service, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Finance, supported by the relevant committees of the National Assembly (NASS), must, as a matter of urgency, structure out a Public, Private Partnership-PPP/BOOT (Build, Own, Operate, Transfer) arrangement for the provision of scanners in all the Seaports terminals, airports and Border stations.
There is need to blanket the entire examination bay and the exit main gates with CCTV cameras to monitor all activities there, with control/monitoring rooms at the CPC and some other specifically designed offices/rooms.
COSTS OF ACTIONS: From all the searches carried out, scanners costs are between $500,000 to $3m and going by the ultimate cost with even our bloated exchange rate, each should cost less than one billion Naira. A very senior and seasoned customs officer once informed that any businessman that invests in the provision of a scanner in one or two of the terminals, especially the one he once superintended over, and with the volume of cargo through these terminals, charging only one thousand Naira per TEU scanned, guarantees such an investor something close to sixty billion Naira every year.
All the CCTV installations with illumination of the environment, including functional workspaces/offices with conveniences for the workforces, all put together cannot, for each of the terminals, be above fifteen million Naira. These are doable in no time and with little efforts.
Is this what Nigeria Customs Service cannot even do from its own seven percent per collection? Also, in an earlier intervention, example was made of the immediate past CGC- Alhaji Dikko Inde Abdullahi, CFR – who in his own wisdom introduced the PAAR (Pre-Arrival Assessment Report) and also began the NICIS (Nigeria Integrated Customs Information System) structures, using the resources at his disposal, by constituting a corps of fresh, intelligent and ICT- savvy young officers graduates to come up with these structures.
These are the set of officers that have been able to sustain the infrastructures that drives the automation that guarantees generation of PAAR, payment of duties/levies and also checks the Risk levels of each cargo. This is what is required in the case of automating the examination bays, such that all images are analyzed on line without necessarily physically converging on one cargo. To ensure the sustainability of the installed scanners, experts from the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturers) companies must be brought in for hands-on capacity building, so that minor operational challenges can be sorted out, with little or no downtime.
A training school specifically established to train all aspects of personnel required to sustain the operations of the scanners should be part of the PPP/BOOT mix. Similarly, the OEM should be contracted to set up a spares-for-scanners factory, to ensure that scanners installed in Nigeria’s seaports and elsewhere does not go idle because of malfunctioning of some parts, at any time.
In line with automating the examination of cargoes process, a data collection unit for all imports must be established to gather data on items imported, importer, country of origin, Customs Broker, Hs Code, Duty Paid/levies, Releasing Officers, etc. These data are collated, analyzed, profiled and published. With this done, it will be easier for customs, and indeed the general public to know when and where things go wrong in the ports.
Similarly, all the shipping companies and terminal operators must be persuaded to automate all their transactions processes, in such a way as to guarantee effective cargo releases, payments and issuance of Delivery Orders and Terminal Delivery Orders.
In 2011, a Presidential Committee on Ports Reforms recommended the establishment of off-dock holding bays for empties and the utilization of some dormant off-dock terminals to take in overtime cargoes. Like it was then, is like it is up till now. Nothing has changed almost ten years after.
One wonders sometimes why Nigerians are regaled by its leaders with unnecessary excuses, when all that is required is a little push, political will to get things done and properly too.
Nigeria Customs must also come up with strategies to ensure that no cargo stays in the ports longer than acceptable to CEMA provisions. Customs must find this political will to send the message to importers that it can no longer be business as usual in the ports. Government’s cargoes should not be spared in this effort. Any one or entity importing cargoes must ensure that they have the funds to take delivery as soon as it arrives.
Activating vehicle prices portal is long overdue. Nigeria does not need any rocket science to start it. About one and a half million Naira can get this portal up and running. Why are we afraid of it? I guess some persons at the headquarters aren’t comfortable with its introduction, for obvious pecuniary reasons.
Fixing Ports access roads has become a deliberate cesspool for a few privileged persons to make money illegally for themselves. Truth is that, every government parastatal connected with the access roads have always pretended that they do not know when the access roads to the ports starts deteriorating, even when the Press and some concerned individuals highlights it or brings it to their notice.
Worse of all, sometimes when such information are brought to their notice, and it is captured in budgets, they overlook it, knowing full well that Nigerians are too forgetful to remember, after some time. Before one knows it, such monies/allocations have been misappropriated, only to re-insert it in the subsequent budgets. By the time these infrastructures gets too worse, after claiming lives and properties of Ports users, then Nigerians will be told that the cost of fixing the roads are too prohibitive, until a Dangote surfaced to offer counterpart or whole funding of the rehabilitation of the access roads. All that was once budgeted have been finally forgotten.
The rail-lines presently being laid to the ports must be intensified and sustained. Nigeria needs to evacuate cargoes faster from the ports, to guarantee that goods gets to the markets faster, cheaper and conveniently to keep prices of goods affordable.
From the foregoing, it can be seen that Nigerians are the greatest enemies of Nigeria. This is because we know what to do to solve our problems, but we pretentiously behave as if we lack the gusto, wherewithal and even the brains to articulate solutions to some, or all of our challenges.
Does it then make any sense to us when foreign companies, in collaboration with their Nigerian counterparts/friends, seek to offer us a Customs modernization proposal, without any of them presenting such proposals based on a survey carried out, or on a verifiable data collated within our environment over a specified period of time, or even tell us where such is functional?
Now, should they engage critical stakeholders, as happened in 2011 when such ideas was shot down, how would they convince anyone on the workability and sustainability of either propositions?
Once all the aforementioned actions or structures/automations are in place, trade facilitation will be guaranteed, as revenue collection will be greatly enhanced while security of lives and properties will also be guaranteed, without exposing our treasury to pretenders/looters.
Adumaza Joe Sanni
Licensed Customs Broker