Stories by Isaac Anumihe
Incidences of abuse of the fast-track status given to some companies is now a cause for concern to the Federal Government. The government is tinkering with the idea of proscribing the policy to bring sanity to the ports. The fast-track policy was introduced into maritime operations to reduce congestion and facilitate the process of clearing goods from Nigerian ports.
Before the introduction of the policy, clearance of goods constituted a problem in the Nigerian ports to the extent that cargoes that would have been cleared within 24 hours took more than three weeks to clear. Importers were paying huge sums of money on demurrage accruing from the delay of their vessels and this invariably impacted on the prices of imported items in the market.
It is against this backdrop that most of the importers took their goods to neighbouring countries like Togo and Benin Republic to clear. Togo has less than 24 hours clearance schedule. Besides that, Nigeria was losing revenues that would have accrued from duties and taxes on goods. Worse still, these goods cleared in other neighbouring countries were smuggled into the Nigerian markets at very reduced costs, thus impairing the growth and development of local farmers. The result was that both the Nigerian farmers whose products compete with the foreign ones and the government whose revenues were being diverted to other countries were losing out.
So as part of measures to arrest this ugly trend, the Federal Government took some strategic steps towards boosting revenues in the ports.
These include reducing the number of government agencies operating in the ports and introducing a fast-track policy, which empowers some notable importers to bring in goods without going through the rigours of screening. But recent discoveries have shown that most of these companies who have fast-track status have grossly abused it. Some of them have been engaged in smuggling contraband, under-declaration of cargoes and false declarations of their imports, using their fast-track status as cover.
Recently, one of the beneficiaries of the policy, Nigerite Nigeria Plc, the leading manufacturers of FC roofing sheets, FC ceiling sheets and vinyl floor tiles, brought into the country, substances confirmed by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) as cocaine.
The items were discovered in eight bags (25 pieces per bag) of unidentified substance found in 1 x 20ft container No. CMAU 045195/0 and weighing 214.732kg. The seizure ranks among the highest in terms of volume.
According to Tincan Customs Area Controller, Bashar, Y. U., the level of seizure is unprecedented given the volume of the substance. “This is no doubt a spectacular and remarkable seizure considering the well articulated Intelligence Coordination Mechanism adopted and harnessed by the command in its resilience to achieve desired results.
“It is a highly-condensed substance. And the container is CMAU0451954/0. It is a one by 20-foot container belonging to Nigerite Nigeria Limited. It is processed by Elevation Transactions Limited, which is the clearing agent at NPA commercial building, Lagos. It is among other 17 by 20-foot containers. But we picked particular interest in this one because of the intelligence attached to it,” he said.
But Nigerite’s Procurement Manager, Mr. J. O. Amata, said that his company will find out how such an item was found among other consignments in the container.
However, Tincan Island Customs Relations Officer, Mr. Uche Ejesieme, confirmed to Daily Sun that any beneficiary of fast-track involved in such infraction risks withdrawal of its licence in addition to prosecution.
Recall that other beneficiaries of the policy have in the past abused their status, a situation that prompted the Federal Government to want to proscribe it.
During a recent meeting with key stakeholders in the maritime industry, the Controller charged them to continually educate and sensitise members of their various organisations on the need to support the Federal Government and the Nigeria Customs Service through honest declarations in all their documentation.
“A major constraint, which we have continued to address is the issue of false declaration, deliberate misapplication of harmonised system code on items, among other infractions. However, I am confident that with the measures we have put in place, it will be practically impossible for anybody to manipulate or circumvent the process without being caught,” Bashar said.
Speaking on the measures and plans to further enhance the capacity of the command to deal with some of the vices, the controller pointed out that he remained fully committed and determined to deliver on his mandate, promising to ensure that the various operations in the value chain are compelled to key into the change ideology of the Federal Government.
“We will continue the strategy of stakeholder engagement, training and re-training of our personnel as well as collaboration and synergy with the critical agencies in line with the vision and mission of the Comptroller General, Col. Hamed Ali (Rtd), and his management. We will continue to remain on top of our mandate through strict adherence with the extant laws for maximum revenue generation,” the Comptroller noted.
Customs threatens to prosecute importers of vegetable oil
Controller, TinCan Island Port, Bashar Yusuf, has threatened to facilitate the prosecution of importers of 20 containers of vegetable oil wrongly declared as sodium phosphate.
Speaking when he intercepted the contraband, Yusuf noted that the importation contravenes the import regulations, particularly Sections 46 & 47 of the Customs and Excise Management Act, CAP C 45, Laws of the Federation, as amended.
In a statement, Yusuf vowed to deal decisively with non-compliant importers or their agents, while assuring those who are compliant with the extant laws of his readiness to ensure facilitation of their legitimate trade.
The discovery is coming on the heels of the renewed vigour and enthusiasm of the Customs officials in blocking all flash points of revenue leakages. According to the controller, a certain clearing agent named Patwed Investment Company, presented three Single Goods Declarations (SGDs) with C-No. 102101, purporting to be having seven containers of 7588pk of disodium phosphate, while another seven containers and six other ones had different pkgs of the same consignment – disodium phosphate.
He stated that upon examination with other relevant agencies, it was discovered that none of the containers had disodium phosphate other than 25kg kegs of vegetable oil.
Answering questions on the implications of such infraction, the controller maintained that his command will stop at nothing in its resolve to ensure that 100 per cent examination is conducted on all cargoes to nip all manner of infractions in the bud in line with the change mantra of the Federal Government and the Comptroller General of Customs.
The Controller also pointed out that painstaking investigation will be conducted to identify those behind the illicit act for prosecution.
FG moves to dredge Calabar port to boost operation
Indications have emerged that normal business activities will soon resume in Calabar Port following the Federal Government’s plans to dredge the river to attract bigger vessels.
The indication was given by the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Mr. Emmanuel Olajide Adesoye, when he took other members of the board on a facility tour of the Calabar Ports in Calabar.
The Chairman who visited ECM Terminals in the port expressed dissatisfaction over the lull in business activities in the ports, saying that because of the shallow water level, which makes vessels dread the port, Calabar would have yielded more revenue to the government than what it is doing presently.
“It (Calabar Port) is a little bit shallow. It needs a lot of dredging. We need to make it accessible by big ships that can come here and do business with us. So these are the kinds of challenges we need to take on and try to resolve as we go on in this business,” he said, while acknowledging the business opportunities inherent in the port with better management.
“Most of these facilities are excellent facilities. They are opportunities waiting to be tapped. These are areas that can help Nigeria in terms of incomes, especially foreign currencies, if properly developed. But there are also challenges, especially the drought situation in the area,” he further explained.
Adesoye, however, did not give a timeline within which the dredging would commence but noted that it has to be budgeted for. He indicated that before work would commence on the dredging, a survey would be carried out first to know the areas to be dredged because not all areas of the water is shallow.
“I may need to talk to the management of NPA to find out how quickly they can do the survey so that we can know exactly what timeframe we are looking at. Definitely, we want it done as quickly as possible because everyday that we don’t do this thing, it is a loss of to the nation,” Adesoye, noted.
To ensure that shipping activities resume in the area as quickly as possible, the Chairman voted for a short term solution to the problem.
“I will vote for short term solution for this particular one depending on the nature of the project we need to carry out. In some projects, short term could be three months, six months, nine months. And even could be one year, one and a half years or 18 months, whereas medium term solutions could be 24 to 36 months. But I will offer short term in this matter,” he suggested.
On the incentives to prospective investors and importers to the port, he admitted that no incentive is greater than dredging the ports to attract businesses.
“One of the incentives is to make sure that the drought line is okay because when it is okay, there are business people that are ready to trade with us and we want to trade with the others. We are going to do a lot of information-sharing so that people will know that this place is ready for ships to come on board here. That is one of the things we are going to do. I think we are going to work on the security to make sure that this area is safe to transact business,” he said.
Earlier, the General Manager of ECM Terminals, Kingsley Iheanacho, highlighted the challenges concessionaires were having in the ports, which include shallow drought.
He stated that ECM bought state-of-the-art equipment when the Federal Government concessioned the terminal to it on August 1, 2007 but the equipment, he said, are rotting away because of lack of use.
“We incur costs in keeping the equipment we bought pending when the river will be dredged. We used to have gum arabic, sesame seed and cocoa but now they are no longer coming,” he lamented.
Iheanacho said the terminal is operating on drought of 5.1 meters, thus shutting out vessels that operate on over 600 metres. He told the board that there are huge investments that are being threatened because of the shallowness of the river.