…ANLCA Debunks Customs Allegation On 100 percent Physical Examinations
Lack of functional scanners for cargo examination at the nation’s seaports, despite Federal Government’s approval and release of funds for provision of such infrastructure, has continued to frustrate cargo clearance and both export, import trades in the country.
Last January, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) announced that three new scanners have been purchased by the Ministry of Finance and an additional four to be purchased by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to boost trade facilitation.
“We are appealing to the National Assembly to put pressure on the Federal Government to provide scanning machines for export and import cargoes at the ports. We have never obstructed Customs from conducting 100 per cent physical examination,” these were the words of the Vice President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA).
Despite multiple claims and approvals by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for the purchase of cargo scanners, the ports continue to depend on laborious manual inspection.
Recently, the House of Representatives has expressed anger over $120 million 22 cargo scanners purchased by the Federal Government but were mishandled after take-over by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
This situation has subjected Customs officers to conduct manual examinations popularly known as 100 percent physical examination on every cargo coming into the country even as it takes weeks to clear certain cargoes.
On several occasions, stakeholders lamented that lack of scanning machines and manual inspection on cargo is breeding corruption between the Customs officer and unpatriotic freight forwarders.
While appearing before House of Representatives recently, the management of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) accused the licensed customs agents of obstructing its officers from conducting 100 per cent physical examination of cargoes at the nation’s seaports.
Speaking at the National Executive Council (NEC) Meeting of the ANLCA in Lagos, its National Vice, President, Farinto Kayode, said the association had received a letter from the House of Representatives Committee on Customs and Excise in which the management of the NCS was alleging that licensed customs agents were obstructing the officers to conduct their 100 per cent physical examination.
He said that in 2021, Customs should not be talking of subjecting containers of homogeneous goods into 100 per cent examination in the place of scanners.
“Scanner is an equipment that has to do with security because when you are scanning a commodity, you will be able to know whether you have discrepancy there or not. You will know whether that commodity is carrying arms and ammunition.
“We are going to put a letter back to National Assembly that we have never obstructed Customs to do their 100 per cent physical examination. We are appealing to National Assembly to help us put pressure on Federal Government to expedite actions on provision of scanners.
“If it is possible, as soon as the vessel is landing, scan all the containers before they are taking to the terminals. You already have what is called image report. The freight forwarders will just go and work with the image report instead of freight forwarders waiting for the containers to be scanned,” he said.
According to him, 70 per cent of factors militating against cargo clearance in Nigeria is caused by the Nigeria Customs’ “modus operandi.” He lamented that logistics performance index rating of Nigeria has been very poor under the current management of NCS led by Col (Rtd.) Hameed Ali, saying that the first criterion used by World Bank in the Logistics Performance Index is the efficiency of clearance process (i.e speed, simplicity and predictability of formalities) by border control agencies, particularly Customs.
“The predictability of Customs is lacking. It is very unfortunate that the present Customs management has taken us backward. We must be truthful in saying that we have never had it so bad,” he said.
However, he informed the NEC that the allegation Customs laid against them is a serious one and there is need to engage the House Committee in order for clearing agents to put the record straight and debunk the spurious allegation.
He advised professional Customs licensed agents to be more patriotic and increase their level of compliance in order to have moral right to challenge any illegalities or arm-twisting and imposition of spurious demand notices.
Meanwhile, the ANLCA Chairman, Onne Port, Mike Ebeatu, said there is need to engage Customs to bring tangible evidence to support their allegations.
“In Onne, if they bring up such allegation, I will tell them no. We have never been against 100 per cent examination. What we are against is when the scanners are not working; we are subjecting 100 containers of white cement to 100 percent examination, which is not economically sound,” he lamented.
He said clearing agents are suffering because they are the ones paying the bill; Customs can make their decision, clearing agents also have their answers and voices.
ANLCA Tincan Island Port chapter, Mr. Ojo Peter Akintoye, said in the west, most of the containers that are seen today are not subjected to 100 per cent examination or homogeneous scrutiny.
“We have 74 containers of the same items last week and we are subjected to draw the entire containers for examinations, which caused up to three to four days to conduct the examinations. Any container that being alight and not being examined by Nigeria Customs Service, if we should really find out, it has to be container that the same Customs Service is clearing.
“Because, for your information, we know that top of the Nigeria Customs officers today, both retired and the serving ones, are also doing our job (clearing agents’ job). And due to that, they give themselves a kind of privilege in terms of this situation,” he added.
He said if Nigeria can withhold the scanners for the past 10 years and today, they want to subject all the containers coming into the country to physical and 100 per cent examinations, that means Customs also has question to answer.