With the new presidential list of agencies authorised to operate in Nigerian ports, the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) seems to have won the battle against exclusion by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, last week, gave a fresh list of the agencies to operate in the ports. They include Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Police Force (NPF), National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Department of State Security (DSS), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and Port Health, Agencies banned from operating in the ports are Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Directorate of Naval Intelligence (DNI), Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA), Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Service, (NAQS), National Environmental Regulatory and Standards Agency (NESREA) and National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).
Osinbajo who is also the chairman of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), said that the new list is to ensure that only eight Federal Government agencies are allowed to operate and have physical representation at all port locations in the country.
The new list, therefore, has put paid to the lingering feud between NPA and NAFDAC on the exclusion of the latter from ports locations.
The NPA had earlier released a list which excluded NAFDAC from the agencies allowed to operate in the ports. The development caused some disorder in the maritime industry with NAFDAC raising a strong objection to its eviction.
Managing Director of NPA, Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, said the eviction of the agencies was to ensure a smooth operation of the ease of doing business as directed by the Federal Government.
Addressing over 600 stakeholders at a forum in Lagos, Usman said the eviction of the officials of all agencies operating illegally at the ports became imperative based on the Executive Order issued by the then Acting President.
She said, agencies not mentioned and approved to operate in the seaports should leave with immediate effect. But NAFDAC had argued that its presence at the ports is constitutional and so nobody could evict it from the ports. NAFDAC’s Port Head of Operations, Mrs. Maureen Ebigbeyi, said though the agency was asked to leave the ports at the height of the reforms in an effort to make the seaports efficient, the country had paid heavily for it.
She noted that in the past no regulated product was allowed into the country except it was certified.
“We now see false declaration daily. Recently, we intercepted 13 containers of drugs with wrong dosage and strength in Port Harcourt that were wrongly declared as clothing material.
“The nation was saved because of the vigilance and intelligence of our agency. If that huge number of unwholesome drug was allowed into the country, who knows who may have been endangered by the dishonest actions of a few businessmen?” she asked.
While the logjam continued, stakeholders on one side took sides.
A stakeholder told Daily Sun that many of his colleagues may not like his position but the presence of NAFDAC is important. “For instance, for sometime now, the nation has been inundated with tramadol and cannabis importation. If there was no regulatory agency to nip these items in the bud, many importers would have latched on the lax situation to import such drugs because tramadol is one of the fastest-selling drugs in the country” he submitted. But majority of the stakeholders strongly objected the re-entry of the agency into the ports.
Chairman of International Freight Forwarders Association (IFFA, Apapa chapter), Dr Patrick Chukwu argued that NAFDAC should not be allowed entry into the ports “The port is customs port. That is how it is practised all over the world. Nobody should share the ports with the customs. The Federal Government should not talk of NAFDAC coming back to the ports. Let NAFDAC collect the addresses of importers of the drugs and the premises of manufacturers of drugs and foods so that they can regulate them from outside the ports. If in the process of regulation and any of them is found wanting, he should be punished. NAFDAC should not assume the responsibilities of the Customs Service.
So, let them leave the ports. We are against NAFDAC operating in the ports” he said. Also, the founder, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr Boniface Aniebonam, preferred Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) rather than NAFDAC returning to the ports.
“If there is any agency that should be at the ports it should be the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON).
NAFDAC said it would get to the NICIS (the new Customs e-platform for processing of import/export documents). It is not enough. NICIS is through documentation process. It is what you declare you see in the nixes. If somebody had brought in an item that has to do with pharmaceutical products and it is concealed, it will not be seen in the bill of lading history” he said.
The President, National Council of Managing Directors of Customs Licensed Agents (NCMDLCA), Comrade Lucky Amiwero roundly condemned the re-entry of NAFDAC into the ports, saying that it is against Decree 61 of 1999. “I don’t see why they (NAFDAC) are coming back to the ports. Is it because of codeine and tramadol? Most of those things are seen by customs. Tramadol and codeine are not banned officially. If they don’t want them, they (government) should ban them officially and they should hand it over to customs to implement. If they start bringing in NAFDAC because of tramadol and codeine, I don’t think that is right because customs can do that work effectively. We don’t have to crowd our ports with NAFDAC and everybody when they have been removed.
When you want to bring them back to the ports you are creating a problem. We are trying to see how the port industry will be better for everybody. Is that what is done all over the world? No. It is because of tramadol and codeine that they are bringing everybody to the ports. The problem is that Decree 61 of 1999 removed all agencies from the ports.
There are agencies for products. So, I think the whole thing should be harmonized properly and done according to law” he said.