Plans by government to concession operation of scanners to foreign firms at Tin-Can Island, Apapa, Calabar, Port Harcourt ports and land borders have been opposed by stakeholders, BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
As at 2005, Nigerian ports faced major challenges, which made it one of the most inefficient ports globally because of poor infrastructure.
Insecurity and pilferage, delays in cargo clearing and inefficiencies in cargo handling were rampant because of manual processes.
As a result of the challenges, the Federal Government of Nigeria, in 2006, decided to acquire scanning machines to accelerate examination and clearing of cargoes and promote economic growth and development.
However, the system collapsed abruptly due to lack of maintenance and conspiracy.
Till date, bureaucracy has stalled the acquisition of new scanners to quicken cargo examination since 2017.
The machines are supposed to cost the Nigeria Customs Service $100 million.
A source disclosed that if government eventually acquired the scanners, the new machines would be concessioned to foreign firms.
Worried by this development, members of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Custom Agents (ANLCA), who alleged that the scanning machines would be handled by foreigners, opposed the concession plan.
They said that concessioning the scanners to foreigners would not do the country any good in terms of security and economy.
For instance, the Executive Director of Sceptre Consult, Mr. Jayeola Ogamode, noted that foreigners had taken over cargo clearing and freight forwarding in the country’s port industry.
He explained that it would be dangerous to entrust such sensitive machines in the hands of foreigners, who will eventually compromise the security of the country.
Already, Vice President of the association, Kayode Farinto, complained that 100 per cent cargo examination had allowed under-declaration of cargoes and importation of contrabands into the country.
He noted that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the procurement of the scanning machines, saying that there were insinuations that foreigners were lobbying for contract to operate them.
The vice president added that the Federal Government should look at the issue critically on three grounds, which include security, morality and economy of the country.
Before the new development, the Group Executive Vice Chairman, SIFAX Group, Dr. Taiwo Afolabi, had advised government to take advantage of private sector financing, in view of the current dwindling financial capability of government and concession the port scanning services to port terminal operators in the manner the seaports was concessioned in 2006.
However, Farinto noted that concession to foreigners would be too dangerous for the country.
He said: “I remember some years back when some arms and ammunitions were discovered in Nigeria. It was narrowed down to some foreigners. Now, if you allow foreigners to man our machines, the security implecations won’t be too good for the country.
“In terms of economy implications, you will agree with me that when pre-arrival of assessment report was introduced, I remember then that the ex-Customs comptroller general was compensated.
“A percentage of the money was to be given back to Customs annually in whatever they generate. Now, if you’re bringing in these scanner machines, I also know that one per cent supposed to be given back to Nigeria Customs Service. When you are now bringing in experts from abroad, definitely, the one per cent goes to them.”
Farinto explained that some officials of NCS had been trained on how to operate scanning machines, saying the Federal Government should allow customs personnel to handle the machines because they are the ones trained to read image analysis.
Farinto stressed: “We should be patriotic and not give this sensitive service out to foreigners because some people want to collect percentage from them. It is not too good.
“Allow customs officers to operate the scanning machines, but when it comes to technical maintenance, that is, if we do not have indigenous engineers that can service the machines, you can now bring in experts abroad.
“But Nigeria has risen to the level where I know that we can produce indigenous engineers that can maintain our scanning machines.”
He advised the Federal Government not to fall into the hands of people such as politicians clamouring that operation of scanning machines be given to foreigners.
He noted that the proposed concessionaires would want to repatriate the money, which does not do Nigerian economy any good, even at a time the country was battling COVID-19.
He said: “If you allow foreigners to man our machines, the security implications of it won’t be too good for Nigeria as a country.”
There is the need for those in charge to be patriotic and not give this sensitive service out to foreigners just because some highly placed individuals want to get undue financial gain from it.
The Federal Government should allow customs or indigenous firms to handle the operation of scanners at the seaports and borders because of the security of the country.