Multiple Customs checks, agencies’ interference stifle businesses at ports
The different units of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) still query the same cargo clearing document repeatedly to delay importers from taking delivery of their cargoes, despite the Federal Government Executive Order on ease of doing business at ports.
Also, government agencies not directly involved in cargo clearing at ports also make doing business more difficult for importers by impounding and detaining already released containers, either within the port terminal or on the way to the importer’s warehouse.
There are a growing number of containers not cleared at ports due to unresolved queries as well as interferences from agencies like Maritime Police, officials of the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON).
These actions hinder trade by delaying cargo clearing and add to the high cost of doing business for importers. With this, cargo owners cannot take delivery of their consignments as and when due leading to payment of demurrage and storage charges to shipping companies and terminal operators.
Emeka Enwelu, CEO of MCMannuel Logistics, says in an interview with Todaynews that in most cases, multiple alerts or queries can come from different units of Customs on the same cargo.
Citing an example, he says four different units of Customs such as valuation, enforcement, Customs police, and Customs Intelligent Units (CIU) can input alerts on one consignment, thereby making cargo clearance very cumbersome.
To him, the Customs Intelligent Units, which is usually part of the physical examination process, is at the right position to alert the Valuation Unit of Customs and to demand a reappraisal of the value, if infraction was discovered on the cargo in question.
“Customs places an alert on cargoes that were wrongly classified during valuation. However, to facilitate trade, especially at this time of implementing African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), Customs needs to stop multiple alerts inputs on containers in order to eliminate delays,” Enwelu notes.
Meanwhile, Tony Anakebe, managing director of Gold-Link Investment Limited, states that the Maritime Police and the NDLEA are among the agencies that obstruct trade facilitation at the ports.
According to Anakebe, these agencies impound and detain containers already released by Customs without any serious reason.
“Customs units are multiplying and their existence results in duplication of duties, which hinders trade facilitation at ports. At the Tin-Can Island Port, there are always multiple queries and alerts on containers that Customs management has failed to address for a long time,” he explains.
On his part, Ibrahim Tanko, national coordinator of the 100 percent Compliance Team of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), who agrees that multiple Customs units also hinder trade facilitation, says the creation of Customs Police and Enforcement unit is a duplication of duties.
Jonathan Nicol, president of Shippers Association of Lagos State, says shippers are paying extra to cover for demurrage and storage charges due to interference by officers of Nigerian Police.
The Police has left its statutory functions of providing security in the ports to making money for its officers, he says.
“Police now have access to the ship manifest, which is not supposed to be and that has enabled them to encroach into shipping. The Police most of the time say some goods are not well detected but that is the work of Customs,” Nicol explains.
He also confirms that Customs issues unreasonable queries on containers, which can take an importer a week or more to resolve depending on what it is about.
“Police block containers that are stacked at the port terminal, and tell the owner to come to their Alagbon office in Lagos where the importer is always asked to part with something,” he says.
Uche Ejesieme, public relations officer of Tin-Can Island Port Command, explains that only eight statutory Customs units are involved in cargo clearance.
“CIU provides additional intelligence while the valuation unit is to check and appraise value when infractions are noticed. The Customs Procedure Code (CPC) is for modification of Harmonised Systems (HS) code and the Post Clearance Audit is a follow-up unit for fast track beneficiaries, while monitoring and compliance unit is a statutory requirement of the World Customs Organisation. The DC Terminals and Officer in Charge (OC) gates are for final documentary checks,” he says.
Ejesieme however notes that the interferences of any other unit are usually on the outcome of the physical examination or intelligence report.