Officers jubilate as court stops e-Customs

Officers of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), over the weekend, expressed satisfaction over the interim injuction by a Federal High Court, Abuja restraining the Federal Government from enforcing or giving effect to an agreement on the Customs modernisation project.

In a chat with BUSINESSINSIDERNG, on Saturday, the officers who craved anonymity said the modernisation project was meant to cede activities of the service to a foreign firm.

According to the officers who feared victimisation asked the National Assembly to investigate the agreement saying it won’t bring any development to the service.

The officer said, “I pray this doesn’t sail through. It is too ambiguous and inherent to cause problem for the service in future. At what price are they concessioning the IT infrastructure? What happened to the I T infrastructure they have invested in over the years.

Also speaking, another senior officer said the court injuction is a welcome development, saying the service mist be rescued from those who want to ‘sell’ it to Chinese firm, Huawei.

“What is the interest of those planning to sell the IT section of the service to Chinese firm? What do the stand to gain? The court injuction is in the right direction,” an elected officer told BUSINESSINSIDERNG.

Recall that that a Federal High Court in Abuja, on Friday, restrained the Federal Government from enforcing or giving effect to an agreement on the Customs Modernisation Project otherwise known as E- custom allegedly executed by its agents on May 30, 2022.

The agents who allegedly executed the disputed concession agreement are the Nigeria Custom Service, Trade Modernization Project Limited, Huawei Technologies Company Nigeria Limited and African Finance Corporation.

The court also issued an order of interim injunction against the Federal Government or its agents acting through the Federal Executive Council from retrospectively ratifying the decision to concession the Customs Modernisation Project also known as e- custom project to Trade Modernization Project Limited, Huawei Technologies Company Limited and African Finance Corporation.

The restraining order issued by Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Abuja Division of the court shall last till the hearing and the determination of a suit brought against the Federal Government and other parties by two aggrieved companies.

Also, maritime experts operating at the nation’s seaports have expressed outrage over the concessioning of the operations department of the Service for 20 years.

The stakeholders queried while the Customs Service would handover it’s operation to a company that recently had security issues with the government of the United States of America and Canada.

They argued that the technology firm may compromise the nation’s security, saying no one would stop them from doing that because the already have access to Nigeria’s trade database while working on the e-customs Project which can be made available to third party partners.

A former president, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Eugene Nweke, queried how the Chinese firm emerged as to carry out the e modernisation project, asking whether there was a bidding process.

According to him, the contract was possible because the Customs Comptroller General, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), was not a career Customs officer.

He said, “the agency function so concessioned, is not a one man enterprise, but a public agency, as such Nigerians have a right to know how they did and when was the biding process advertised. Who are the bidders and what criteria was used to arrived at the choice of Chinese firms? The Law makers should answer and explain to Nigerians.”

“Also, may I state the obvious, the present scenario became possible due to the absence of a seasoned career Comptroller General of Customs. I can bet you no career Officer, no matter how unintelligent and corrupt he may be, would never accept nor succumb to the concessioning of any aspects of the Customs functions or operations.”

“There is need to set up a commission of inquiry to review the NCS modernization process and related contracts from 2001 to date since the CG Ali and ICRC director general claimed in their separate speeches that the project is a novel idea that would facilitate ease of doing business and enthrone digital smart processes and procedures in customs, thereby inferring that all the previous automation contracts and processes never existed or were not executed.”

“I never believed that, all along the NCS has been wasting the tax payers’ funds, going front and back and dwelling strongly on analogue import and export trade tools applications. By their submission, there is urgent need to ascertain the veracity of the automation processes in the NCS as written and published by DC Musa Omale in his book, “Nigeria Customs Service-An Overview”(Customs Monthly Order October Edition, 2012, page 27) under the title: Development Of e-Customs Through ASYCUDA.”

According to him, the service under this period developed the following electronic applications: e-manifest, e-payment,e-remittance, e-notifications,e-Government platform for single window to stakeholders in the international trade,e-release,e-provision of NCS national private telecom network.

Also speaking, a frontline member, Association of Nigeria Licenced Customs Agents (ANLCA), Chidi Opara, said relying on Huawei’s integrity in having access to Nigeria’s trade database while working on the e-customs project is presently is of little comfort.

“Huawei Technologies Limited, China, will definitely have access to Nigeria’s trade database while working on the e-customs Project, these data accessed can also be made available to third party partners. In the absence of a strong data protection policy and the dearth of enforcements of laws, executive orders, etc, what is the assurance that the data to be harnessed would be used appropriately? Relying on Huawei’s integrity in this regard, as is the case presently is of little comfort.”

He, however, stated that the 20 year period for the modernisation project is too long saying shouldn’t be more than 10 years.

“20 years is a very long period of time irrespective of the nature of the modernization that may be required. There is no reason why the modernization of Nigeria Customs Service, otherwise known as, e-Customs Project should last more than five years. In a worst case scenario, there could be a two-part period of five years each(total of ten years), the first five years would be for implementation of the designed modernization concepts and test runs. The last five years would be for consolidation and transfer.

“Huawei Technologies Limited, China, is a company involved in the supplies and services of sophisticated modern high technology hardwares and softwares. The company recently had security issues with the United States of America and Canada. If Huawei Technologies Limited decides tomorrow to compromise Nigeria’s security, nothing obviously would be able to stop them from doing that. We only hope that they would not do that, but that hope is flimsy.”

Source: BUSINESSINSIDERNG

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