By Wale Oni
While everyone blames the Nigeria Customs Service for all the sins of the port industry, Chief Olusegun Ologbese, a long standing licensed Customs agent, has said that the Executive Order on the Ease of Doing Business in Nigerian ports will not have any meaningful impact if the excesses of port terminal operators and other stakeholders such as the shipping agents, NDLEA and SON are not drasticaly curtailed. He also said that the Acting President should have constituted a Presidential Task Force or Commitee on the rehabilitaton of port access roads before he issued the Executive Order.
“It is not the first time such Order is coming. Former Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo Iweala once gave an Order that cargo must be cleared in Nigerian ports in twenty four hours. It is possible but not feasible now because of many impedements both official and unofficial”,noted Ologbese. He declared that contrary to wide held opinion, the Nigeria Customs Service is efficient,proactive and are the only agency ready to comply with the twenty four hours clearing Order of the Acting President while the port terminal operators, the shipping companies and some Government agencies are a clog to the implementation of the Order.
Speaking about the official aspect,Ologbese said it does not take the Customs forty minutes to finish with a container examination. “If you are truthful with your papers, they dig out your entry and if the duty, weight and origin correlate with your declaration and no scanning problems, they mark it then go and carry your load and off you go”, explained the licensed customs agent. “But dont foget that an importer or his agent will have to deal with the shipping companies first and if he has discrepancies either by ommission or commission like short loading, that means twenty four hours clearance is not possible for such importer or his clearing agent”.
Ologbese rued that Government agencies such as the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) wield enormous powers such that, on mere suspicions of the vagueness of origin or quality, they can block your load from leaving the port and twenty four hours clearing is thereby rubbished; yet Customs take the blame.
However, Ologbese identified the ports terminal operators as another major problem to the success of the Executive Order of Professor Osinbajo. He accused them of deliberately delaying positioning of cargo for examination by as many as four days while demurrage accrues for the shippers. “It does not take Customs more than thirty minutes to forty minutes to examine a cargo, they are trained to do so, but the terminal operators would create many encumberances to delay positioning for examination for days, and you pay demurage for the days wasted whereas you discover that some have equiptment gaps, or deliberately frustrate accelerating clearing process because of demurrage extortion”. For an example, APMT have been severally alleged as the mastermind of the ceaseless, endless traffic holdup in the Apapa environ as it keeps trucks inside its terminal for as many as four days without loading while the queue outside stretches as far as Ijora and Liverpool for weeks. They also advised that the barrier on the wharf road at the Ijora Bridge head be removed immediately as it hinders smooth traffic in and out of Apapa, querrying the relevance of such a barrier on a road trafficked by at least two thousand heavily laden trucks daily
Ologbese went further to warn the Presidency about the likelihood of its Order being sabotaged by a well known foreign mafia. He wondered why the cargo examination scanners have worked in fits and starts since they were handed over to the Customs by foreign inspectors including Cotecna and SGS. He said these people were not exactly happy that Customs took over from them and begrudged CG Dikko who was against foreigners milking billions of Naira out of Nigeria in the name of scanners.”The SGS and Cotecna poeple are a mafia, they dont rest or give up. Except a highly placed government official wants to collude with them, Nigeria Customs Service can capably handle the scanning job. But these people have been giong about discrediting Customs, carrying dollars about to settle top people in order to stage a comeback, but they will fail” he declared.
Chief Ologbese submitted that the Executive Order on the Ease of Doing Business in the ports and achieving twenty four hours clearing of goods will only succeed if the repair and reconstruction of Apapa port access roads is supervised by a presidential fiat. By this, Olobgese called for the setting up of a taskforce or commitee to execute the reconstruction with urgency as the success of the Executive Order and twenty four hours clearance is contigent on availability of good roads. “The roads must be rebuilt fast by a special Presidential intervention, while I advise Acting President Osinbajo to look more curiously into the activities of some of these agencies and the terminal operators,” he concluded.
By Wale Oni