BusinessDay

Port users call for Customs reform, Tin-Can road completion

Port users have called for an urgent reform of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to stem undue delay in cargo clearing at Nigeria’s seaports.

There is currently a long list of Customs units at the ports where importers and their agents are made to pass clearing documents for authorisation.

According to the port users, the government needs to bring technocrats in the leadership of the Customs, who will champion the full digitalisation of Customs cargo clearing processes and ensure a 24-hour cargo clearance at ports.

The port users also expect the Federal Government to mandate the contractor in charge of the ongoing construction works at the Tin-Can Island axis of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, to complete the Mile 2 to the Tin-Can section of the road to ensure seamless delivery of cargo to and fro the port.

Tony Anakebe, managing director of the Gold-Link Investment Ltd, said for port business to thrive in 2022, the Federal Government needs to reform Customs and also ensure that cargo clearing procedures are automated.

He pointed out the need to unify Customs by reducing the number of Customs units involved in cargo clearance as well as those that interfere by way of detaining on transit, already released cargo at the port.

This, according to him, will help to cushion the high cost of doing business that importers are experiencing due to the high exchange rate and high freight cost.

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“Digitalisation of Customs procedures vis-à-vis cargo clearing processes will help to reduce the number of Customs units involved in cargo clearance. There is also a need for a 24-hour cargo clearance at the port to fast- track cargo delivery to importers’ warehouses. This will also help to bring out the full potential of Nigerian maritime industry, which is over $5 trillion yearly,” Anakebe added.

On the impact of the bad state of Tin-Can Island road on port business, Jonathan Nicol, president of Shippers Association of Lagos State, told BusinessDay in an interview that returning empty containers to the port has been an issue that shippers have been contending with.

According to him, truckers pay as much as N80, 000 as a toll to drop empty containers at some shipping lines holding-bays while some other shipping lines refuse to receive empty containers, thereby compelling the empty to remain on top of the truck at a cost for the cargo owner.

“These tolls still go back to the shipper by way of the high cost of transporting containers. This has created some unrest between the transporter and the cargo owner. Currently, there are shipping lines that transporters are refusing to pick their cargoes because it is always difficult to drop the empty containers and that is not too good for business,” Nicol explained.

Continuing, he said: “We are not making progress in this sector. Some industries will go under if Nigeria continues like this, though, some have already packed up because of the high cost; it is difficult for such people to service their loans.

On the outlook for port business in 2022, Nicol said that import volume at the nation’s port will remain stable as specialised cargoes for government, factories, and industries such as key industrial equipment would continue to come into the country.

He said that raw materials and equipment will continue to come but it may not be at 100 percent due to high exchange rate of naira to a dollar which is at N426.25 per dollar at the official window and N570 per dollar at the Lagos black market.

While appealing to the Central Bank to consider giving shippers, especially those running industries a special window to get foreign exchange because they are employing millions of Nigerians, Nicol said that if otherwise, such industries will begin to trim down their staff and more Nigerians will lose their jobs.

“The foreign exchange rate and supply for industries have to be static. Also, the exchange rate to clear goods at the port, which is the rate approved by CBN for the payment of Customs tariff, needs to be static as well because the fluctuation of rates also affects industries,” Nicol added.