Importers have said that the new policy of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to examine all containers physically will cause delay and elongate turnaround time, but the Service insists that it would curb fraud and other security challenges, BAYO AKOMOLAFE
Over time, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) had complained that importers and customs agents indulged in wrong classification of cargoes, transfer of value, concealment and false declaration with impunity at the seaports. The Service also said that there had been increase in the level of discrepancies in importers’ names and other information provided on clearing documents.
For instance, the Service’s Comptroller-General, Col Hameed Ali (rtd), had complained at a stakeholders’ forum in Lagos that, “out of 100 containers imported into the country, there are hardly 10 containers with genuine declaration.” Ali lamented that there was high rate of falsified documents at the ports, under invoicing and false declaration. However, the Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry (LCCI)’s Freight Forwarders Group blamed the Service’s fast track-scheme introduced for big time importers, especially multinational and institutional importers, for various infractions. According to the group, under the policy, importers that meet conditions specified by NCS are allowed to take delivery of their goods from the port without inspection or valuation. Such cargoes, mostly containers, are examined by Customs officials at the warehouse or premises of the importer. However, the scheme has been abused because it has become an all-comer affairs where importers with no good track record bribe officials of the Service to be listed as beneficiaries, leading to fraudulent practices as customs agents connive with NCS officials to circumvent the cargo clearing process at the sea ports.
In a move to check cargo fraud and other anti- trade practices at the seaports, NCS has said that all homogenous containers must be physically examined before exiting the ports. The move is to curb false declaration and concealment of cargoes.
Homogenous examination of containers is a practice where bulk containers are randomly selected for examination based on the discretion of officers at the port. The Service also explained that the policy would tackle the rising insecurity in Nigeria as a result of arms proliferation and ammunition, illicit drugs and other dangerous imports.
In a circular with reference number EI&I/2021/circular No.008, titled: “New rules on Homogenous Examination,” the service warned that any releasing officer who failed to comply with the new directive would be punished. The circular was signed by the Assistant Comptroller General, Enforcement, Investigation and Inspection (EI&I), Aminu Dahiru and addressed to all area controllers. From now on, the Service said, examination of containers, no matter the quantity, must be positioned, cut and examined before exiting the command’s terminals, noting that the directive takes immediate effect. It said: “The common practice of homogenous examination where bulk containers scheduled for examination are randomly selected for examination is hereby abolished.”
Notwithstanding, the Director General of LCCI, Muda Yusuf, said the only way to address security breaches and delays associated with the physical examination of containers would be through the use of technology. According to him, Customs may have a point because it is possible that they may have some experience that are posing some security risks to the country. Yusuf said: “If you have random examination, it is a very vulnerable method to security breaches and can easily get the system compromised. “But what I think should be high on the agenda is the use of technology and I don’t know why it is taking us so long to be able to deploy technology to scan containers. “We must not waste any further time to make that happen. There is nothing wrong if we subject all containers to proper examination but the way to do it is to use technology otherwise, we may be examining containers endlessly and the whole process of physical examination of containers is full of problems of delays. “I don’t know what the big deal is about getting scanners for a port where government is generating almost N5 billion every day and yet we can’t afford scanners? We heard Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was offering to buy scanners for them. I don’t know why we need to get to that ridiculous low. “We cannot dismiss what Customs is saying completely because of the delay that it will cause, but we need to accelerate the use of technology. “That is the only way out. If we say they should not do it, they can argue that it is causing a lot of security breaches. So, what we should be pushing for to deal with the security concerns and the issue of delay is the use of technology.” He condemned the absence of scanners at the ports despite the large income being generated from the port daily, blaming the development on lack of serious commitment and political will on the part government. Yusuf stressed that there was no serious commitment and political will on the part of government to purchase scanners. Also, the Managing Director of Sceptre Consult Limited, Mr Jayeola Ogamode, said that 100 per cent physical examination would lead to delay, extortion and man hour loss. He said that it took over two hours to examine a container manually at the port, saying that government should make available scanners, which could examine a container within five minutes instead of the manual Bulk-in and Bulk-out (BiBo)approach. According to him, it is Customs officials that encourage fraud at the port by truncating its various policies, saying that up till now, the Service has failed to commence single window, which could facilitate smooth container examination in the port.
Government should make adequate provision for scanners and other technology that will aid smooth trade facilitation at the sea ports