Stories by Isaac Anumihe
Over N9.2 billion worth of scanners are rusting away in Nigerian ports without being put to use, a situation that makes it easy for importers to smuggle all manner of contraband goods and cargoes into the country.
Daily Sun gathered that the scanners which were mounted at all the 36 commands of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) were initially managed by Cotecna on contract basis. Cotecna is a leading testing, inspection and certification company with over 40 years experience. So following a grand plan to take over the job of Cotecna, NCS alleged that the contract sum was huge and would not be able to continue to pay the contract sum. As a result, the contract was terminated.
However, the customs officials who have no skill to operate the machine, opted for physical examination of goods as against scanning by machine. Daily Sun gathered that Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), obtained one unit of the machine for N270 million and 36 of them were obtained for all the customs commands in Nigeria.
According to maritime experts, the lack of scanning machines in the ports has led to so many malpractices in the ports including kick-backs and corruption in the ports. The markets are also flooded with all manner of illicit drugs, expired foods and inferior materials. National co-ordinator, Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders, Chief Patrick Uzodimma acknowledged that discarding of the machines has brought a lot of corrupt activities in the ports.
“As long as I know, customs is not trained to manage the scanner. But this scanner issue was imposed on customs and that explains the epileptic way the scanner is being managed. That has brought about a tremendous reduction of checkmating the movement of contraband and illicit drugs coming into Nigeria. Only NAFDAC and other agencies cannot physically check all these excesses.
“But with scan, efficiency will be improved. So, the question is, a few weeks after Cotecna stopped managing the scanners, why were they packed up?
I think there is a deliberate plan to destroy the system so that those people who want to bring fake and contraband goods and cargoes will have their way. By mere physical examination you cannot identify certain drugs like cannabis and some illicit drugs. The only way out is to revert to scanner. Scanner can discover things the physical eyes cannot find out. That is the job of scanner. Customs concentrates on containerised cargo, so neglecting the cargo that comes in bulk. What of if some drugs are put inside some bags of rice? Scanners are very important to a nation that needs growth. Scanner will bring about sanity in the system and reduce bribery in the terminals. Over 300 or 400 containers go through the scanner every day. It brings about less fatigue on the job. It will cut cost on the importers as a result of the demurrage they will pay. Manual checking lasts up to three weeks or four weeks.
If there is scanner, NAFDAC and SON will have less job to do because the containers will have yellow tag” he said.
Maritime watchers lament that since the physical examination came into place, it takes an average of between two weeks and two months to clear cargo in the ports, thus making nonsense of the 48-hour cargo clearance.
“The manual check nullifies the 48 hours clearance. In fact, now even two weeks is not feasible in the clearance of Nigerian cargo” another stakeholder, noted.
The stakeholders claimed that apart from incurring demurrage, importers also face high clearing costs and this is why shipping operators divert their cargo to other neighbouring countries. The terminal operators incur cargo debt in other countries and load it on Nigeria. Nigeria rates one of the highest in port charges in the whole world.
Terminal charges of selected ports per 20ft container as at 2012, were: Nigeria, N62,683; Benin, N24,000 and Ghana, N9,653. On demurrage free period, Nigeria 5; Benin, 10; Ghana 7; Cameroun 10; Shanghai, 10. Demurrage free period refers to the number of days allowed before demurrage charge on container will commence.
This is, according to industry watchers, is a setback to national economy. They said that the former president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan was very sensitive to the ports and that was the reason he created the position of senior special adviser on maritime.
As a result of the mismanagement of the ports by the authorities, the national co-ordinator, Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders, called for a state of emergency in ports.
“The situation is critical. In fact the ports need a state of emergency now and a commission should be set up to monitor the activities in the ports. Virtually, everybody wants to be at the ports—National Food, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Department of Security Service (DSS), Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), police” he said.
According to him, the only legal operating body in the ports should be the customs, immigrations, and captains .
When Daily Sun contacted the Public Relations Officer of Apapa Customs, Mr Emmanuel Ekpa, he denied that customs abandoned the scanners. According to him, the organization has been well trained as to manage and operate the scanners effectively. “There is nothing like that Customs has been fully trained. When the scanners got spoilt, it was the customs officers that repaired them. They brought in experts from outside and they couldn’t fix those scanners. As I am talking to you now the officers are the ones manning the scanners.
They are perfect. They (customs officers) are the technicians. So, no scanner has been abandoned by customs because we don’t have the know-how. They (customs officials) have been fully trained. They are the ones manning scanners. So, such information is not correct,” he stated.
Seme Customs generates over N1bn in September
Nigerian Customs Service, Seme Command, said that it generated N1, 129, 115, 213.23 as revenue for the month of September, 2016.
It also said that it made a total of 76 seizures with Duty Paid Value (DPV) of N67,729,225.18 for the period under review adding that the upsurge in the revenue figure for the period under review is said to be unprecedented in recent times.
In a statement, the customs Public Relations Officer, Taupyen Selchang said that although, previous months were characterized by a lot of challenges that militated against the smooth collection of revenue in the command, it is heartwarming to note that efforts put in place to address the challenges yielded the expected result far above the preceding months.
It noted that the amount generated surpassed the sum of N883, 791,678.88 that was collected within the same period under review in 2015 with over N245, 323, 534, 35.
On the revenue figure generated, the Customs Area Controller Dimka Victor David, disclosed that the previous challenge of revenue in the command has been overcome, pointing out that there will be a boost in revenue if the Memorandum of Understanding signed with our counterpart (Republic of Benin) translates into handing over of all transit vehicles to Seme Command.
He restated that with the compliance in the general unification of values across border Commands, the implementation of the complete 17 digits declaration of VIN and the strict adherence to clearance procedure of general goods, he was hopeful that this feat will be recorded and sustained once the principle of compliance, transparency and integrity while discharging the core mandates of the Service is strictly adhered to.
In the same vein, the anti-smuggling unit of the Command intercepted and arrested three bullet proof vehicles smuggled into the country at different entry locations.The three arrested bullet proof vehicles with a Duty Paid Value (DPV) of N58,797,969.00 have the following particulars:-A black Jeep Escalade with Lagos Registration number GGE 225 BM. A black Toyota Land Cruiser (VKR) with Lagos Registration number LSR 906 AG and a black Mercedes Benz Bus with a foreign number. ENDS