Container Flying: Onne Customs threatens to block freight forwarders over abuse – Matters Arising

Eugene Nweke

By Fwdr (Dr) Eugene Nweke Rff.

The above news headlines drew my attention, hence my subsequent reaction, especially on the use of such choice words as: “…over the abuse of clearance procedures”, which I consider as a calculated attempt to smear the integrity of the freight forwarders, thereby representing the forwarders in bad light before the public.

This news headline reported that: “The Customs Area Controller of Onne 2 Command, Compt Auwal.B Mohammed said the attention of the command has been called to the fact that freight forwarders were positioning containers for examination without first making declaration and payment of duties”.

It is patient to posit that, freight forwarders have no power to decide what manner of special administrative treatment should be accorded to their umport outside the Nigeria Customs Service stipulated procedure or administrative directives.

But where there is an obvious invitation for a “treat”, that is the application of discretional powers of an area controller in consultation with the trading public (freight forwarders inclusive), to remodify or rejig certain laid down operationally procedures for optimal results, or in other to cushion the effects of operational peculiarities on ground, doing so without an intent to compromising trade facilitation, security and revenue of the government. Turning around to classify such originating ” invitation for a treat” as an abuse of procedures on the part of freight forwarders, simply depicts the proverbial saying: “Kettle calling the pot black.”

However, should it be true that the freight forwarders have mustered such powers to now dictate or set operational procedures for the Customs, as alleged? Then, I must appreciate the exhibition of a rare courage and boldness, pursuance to compliance to statutory procedures, even though that, the prevailing status quo actually represent the “Bill at Sight” concept of the customs cargo clearance operations, which, in modern terms, captures the real essence of Destination Inspection and provided that the practice/system is not compromised.

Furthermore, from the face value and professional perspective and understanding of this memo, it is a smack off, if not an open indictment on the past customs area comptrollers, whom this memo seems to have cast a shady spot on their administratorship capacity while presiding in the area command.

This alleged singular act of the past comptrollers, suggestively setting aside ( the supposedly unclear and inconsistent , as opined in some quartets) import clearance procedures, for a compromised system in a league with the trading public ( in the eyes of the “Traders data inputs zone”) and not just the freight forwarders per say, calls for administrative reviews.

If the system is truly suspended or compromised without recourse, then, the question will be; at what point was it compromised? For how long and what possibly led to the present practice? Is the zonal administrator unaware of the said act?

Commendably, though from a professional point of view, this alleged eastern imports clearance operational system puts to rest and addresses the present practices of multiple alerting system and countless interceptions ( settlements) along the delivery corridor, as obtained in the western ports cargo clearance operations. This is because, prior to import declaration, physical examination has been performed and declaration shall be based on what is physically seen and offensive imports shall be subjected to statutory provisions.

The said memo also opens up a kind of cankerworm suggesting a double standard or un-uniformed regime in the administration of the import clearance and operational application templates by the Nigeria Customs Service.

In practical terms, while in the Western ports, all imports ( excluding certain used items) pass through a compelling benchmarked import duty payment via the PAAR Process and documentation (aka “Blind Examination” ).

Expectedly, in this wise, the system selects the channel for further interventions by the concern office/officer, either by way of a documentary checks, scanning of the import or physical examination interventions.

But as noted in the memo, what obtains in the Eastern Customs ports is; first, the containers are positioned for physical examination and thereafter further interventions follow, including payable duty payments.

These systems cannot be tagged as container flying as alluded by the report, rather it is a clear case of unequal trade treatments and unlevel playing field, which does not in anyway support the “preferential treatment” concept of the global customs application.

With this latest development, it is also worrisome to think or doubt the uniform application of the VIN regime.

May I conclude by imploring the area comptroller to strive as much as possible, effectively engage the stakeholders and dialogue constructively than being quick to jump to the press. In this regard, the need to maximise the concept of 3Ps ( people, partnership and political support) of the WCO.

In addition, I wish to call on the management team to do a system reviews of factors leading to non-compliance to trade laws in the country, then emulate from other custom administration, and set up a clear and easy to understand trade compliance templates.

Finally, those officers with a penchant to rubbish the professional integrity of the freight forwarders at every least misgivings, should please be at home with the obvious fact that, same freight forwarders actually generate revenue for your reassessments and further accounting to the federal government. As such, I wish to plead with such officers to treat the freight practitioners with due sense of reasonableness and dignity and not with disdain.

This is a professional right of expressions for common good.

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