• Monday, February 26, 2024
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‘Cargo-clearing procedure is very tough with Customs having multiple units’

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Tony Anakebe is the managing director of Gold-Link Investment Ltd., a clearing and forwarding company. In this interview with AMAKA ANAGOR-EWUZIE, he speaks on the present cargo clearing procedure in the ports particularly the contribution of multiple Customs units in delaying timely delivery of consignment to importer’s warehouses. He also spoke on other issues. Excerpts:

Port business in H1

Several factors affected business activities in the first half of 2019. One of such was the political atmosphere, which started with the 2019 general election, inauguration and delay in passage of the 2019 budget. As a result, the ports have not been booming as they used to, but we have been hoping that things will normalise. However, without full established government structure, the economy and the port would not move forward.

Government needs to put their houses in order because the economy is stagnant and Nigerians are suffering. The government is yet to put the cabinet together and budget implementation is yet to begin.  The non-implementation of the budget creates an atmosphere of uncertainty in the business environment as importers find it difficult to make business decision due to lack of clear-cut economic direction.

Also, port users have been encountering a lot of problems in Apapa for many years now and these problems are still there. Importers are losing money through demurrage and delays in clearing goods, and government has done anything to ameliorate the plight of the people.

Therefore, government needs to do something as soon as possible because if the port problems continue, it will affect the manufacturers, businesses and the economy at large. Maritime industry is next to oil and gas, therefore neglecting the port is neglecting the economy.

Customs N326 exchange rate for cargo clearing

The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) does not go back on policies. What Customs did was to adjust the import value of all imported goods from N306 to N326. Customs is implementing till date. This does not mean that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has adjusted the rate of Naira against the dollar, which remains N306 in the official market.

Cargo dwell time at the ports

There are several bottlenecks hindering smooth and timely clearance of goods at the ports. It takes a minimum of two weeks to clear cargo with genuine documents out from the ports.

Now, the clearing procedure is very tough with Customs alone having about eight different units that must authorise the release of the consignment including other government agencies that delay cargo clearance at ports.

As far as we continue to multiply the units of officers from the same agency like Customs, we will only continue to breed corruption in the ports. Imagine eight different Customs units that one must go through before clearing one container. They include Enforcement, Valuation, Customs Intelligent Units, Residence, Taskforce, Strike Force and Abuja Alert including the Federal Operations Units that mounts checkpoint right at the port gate.

Why multiply all these units? If not the protest by Licensed Customs Agents, the management of Customs wanted to deploy another taskforce to ports. Government needs to make it easier for Nigerians to take delivery of their consignments within 48 hours rather than enrich shipping companies through demurrage accumulated from time wasting, which is being repatriated to their home countries.

To clear and get documentations for a container including obtaining the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) takes close to one month. After Customs examination inside the port, the cargo owner will come outside the port gate to start all over. One wonders why our authorities would prefer to enrich foreign shipping companies rather than our importers and businesses.               

Cargo inspection in Nigerian ports

The Nigeria Customs still does 100 percent physical examination till date, meaning that scanning machines have remained non-functional till now. For instance, if a terminal like TICT has 500 containers for examination, all would be inspected physically, and the question is: how many Customs officers can be deployed to take care of that?

After the examination, the report would be sent to Assistant Controller for release after which it would be taken to Deputy Controller. In Dubai, agents have no business meeting face-to-face with Customs as the agents pays the duty, scan the document to Customs and within two to three hours, the agents would pick his cargo.

They pay attention to paying correct duty and bringing in the right cargo while the rest of the authorities do their jobs online. Our cargo inspection system is still like that of 18th century but we are in the 21st century. Their Standards Organisation and others go online to see what is coming and going out.

Our import processing system is back to the dark edge. Initially, about five years ago, the scanners made things easier for Nigerians when the former President Obasanjo’s administration introduced it and the shipping companies compiled. The system favoured them because it enabled them to bring in more goods into the country.

The scanning machines were not maintained and our system has become a highly disorganised system. There is no seaport in the world, including Togo and Benin that are not making use of scanning machine.

Technology has taken over even in the management of the ports such that the importer gets to the port and sees when the consignment would be discharged, which is usually accurate. But, in Nigeria today you cannot be guaranteed that the ship would berth same day it was projected to.

Movement in and out of Apapa recently

The access roads to Apapa have been neglected for years, no holding-bay for empty containers and truck parks. The truckers and tank farms have made the Apapa situation worse. There is no sane country that situates tank farms this close to the seaports. Several tank farms are springing up within and around Apapa. These farms receive nothing less than 500 trucks a day.

The biggest problem is no serious infrastructural development within Apapa. Apapa needs infrastructural development because having taskforce or task team will not solve the traffic problem. We need roads and there is need to build a bypass road in and out of Apapa.

The extortion is still there because removing Navy and Army to bring Police does not solve the problem. Last week, we loaded a container that the transporter borrowed N50,000 from me to send the truck inside the port to load the container. This money is being given to the police and others mounting the checking points, as bribe.

Expectation for H2

The business atmosphere is not clear yet and is difficult to project what the situation would be in the second half of the year. But if the government gives clear-cut economic direction, it will enable the people to plan for their businesses.