By Steve Agbota [email protected]
Nigeria does not need policies that hamper its economy, but ones that can encourage trade facilitation.
Unfortunately several unfavourable government policies are rather pushing the nation’s maritime sector to collapse.
Everything is going down in the ports while neigbouring ports like Ghana, Cotonou and Togo are taking advantage of Nigeria’s shortcomings to build their ports for inbound cargoes.
These were the words of Chairman of Association of Registered Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (AREFFN) PTML chapter, Emmanuel Ohambele.
In this interview with Daily Sun, Ohambele discussed several issues affecting the maritime sector. He also lamented drastic reduction in importation into Nigerian ports, saying importation into some of the nation’s ports and western zone ports have gone down to below 50 per cent in recent.
He said something must be done to address the challenges facing the port before it collapse completely.
Current happenings in maritime sector
Maritime sector has really evolved overtime. What the sector used to be before, is no longer what it is now. If you observe, Nigeria Customs Service was established between 1958 to 1959 and that was when maritime associations started.
Recently, due to development in the industry, government now deemed fit to have a body that regulates the industry, because it is a professional industry and that is why council regulating freight forwarding in Nigeria, known as CRFFN in short form, was established to regulate the activities of freight forwarders.
The Council was established in 2007 under an Act. The Council is under ministry of transport and is being managed by the ministry. The governing body is made of some members of the ministry and some members from the freight forwarding industry . Yes, we are moving, things are changing day by day and policies are coming up regularly from the government and that made the industry to change. Sometime, last year December , Nigerian Customs presented a bill to the National Assembly to repeal the current Customs Excise and Management Act (CEMA), that is bill the that was passed to the president recently. President looked at bill and pinpoint some loopholes even we when we had a meeting with the lawmakers and they presented the bill, we look at it holistically and pinpoint some certain loopholes. There are some obnoxious laws in that bill that will hamper trade facilitation in the industry, which will not augur well with the citizen of Nigeria. I was there at the house of representatives last year December to look at the bill , there we discovered that there are somethings they did’nt factor in before the bill was passed to the government. If the bill is being factored in a way that will create trade facilitation, it will thrive and for the betterment of Nigeria. We are not rejecting the bill, but we are saying let it be done the way it supposed to be done. They shouldn’t let the bill be a one-sided bill. They should allow the bill to work for trade facilitation in Nigerian. And the bill shouldn’t allow to empower Customs alone. The bill should have a restriction to Customs.
Use of scanners at Lagos Ports
I want to thank you for your last publication. The Sun Newspaper has been doing a very good job, I must commend that. You people have been at the frontline of looking into the problems of this industry. I saw the publication last month and I was very impressed. That your publication has made a very good impact because today, Apapa and Tin Can Ports have started using scanners. Yes, it may not be perfect for now, and let’s assume that this may be the teeting period. But as time goes on, i believe Customs will perfect the use of the scanners. We have to thank God, at least, they have hearken to the voice of the masses, the importers and the agents because scanners have been used all over the world for cargo examination. The use of scanner is just like a policy because it promotes the ease of doing business. The job the scanner will do cannot be equate with a job a physical examination officer can do. Within one hour, a scanner will scan so many cargoes but physical examination can take the whole day with so many avalanche of agencies coming to examine the container but a single scanner detects whatever things that is wrong. We thank God that publication has made impact by making Customs and government to listen to us. The scanner is working, let us observe it and there is nothing to complain about now. Though, there are some hiccups but at time goes on, they will improve.
Improving challenges facing maritime sector
One of the ways to improve maritime sector is through government policies. For instance, this VIN valuation caused a very big problem in the industry. Yes, we asked for VIN valuation with the hope it would be done the way it supposed to be done, as it been done in other maritime nations around the world.
I know that Customs are looking for revenue but revenue should not be gotten with a wrong policy . Go to PTML now, everything is down and most of the officers are no longer coming to work regularly because goods are not coming in. Likewise, Tin Can and other ports and agents are not left out.
Our importation basically are vehicles and the duty on each vehicle is very high, which they transcent to general market, which a common man cannot buy. The importers cannot even import. Like I said before, if this VIN valuation is not properly factored, it will create a kind of enabling environment for our neighbouring country and that is what they are capitalising on now. Most of our goods have been diverted to Cotonou and Togo and those goods will still come back to Nigeria either through smugling or approved routes, which is very wrong.
I’m on the opinion that if the Federal Government can reduce the duty on these vehicles, let it encourage importers and also entirely wipe away the 15 per cent levy for now. Let us base on that 20 per cent duty alone because the 15 per cent levy is causing problem. Now you will see a duty of N400,000, when you add levy and other things, you will be ask to pay about N1 million plus. The situation has not been helping matters.
Federal Government implement this to generate revenue, now they are not generating the revenue again. Let government bring policies that can facilitate trade even in terms of general goods. Benchmarking of a consignment sometimes doesn’t work.
People go to open market to buy and the price maybe not be the same thing here. Let them find a way to factor those things even in the pre-Arrival Assessment Risk (PAAR) by making it something that is affordable not that this container must pay this while other are paying that. You don’t know where I bought my own because we have an open market where different people go to buy. All those things are making maritime industry to collapse. Again, our exchange rate. Today, a dollar is about N700 in the black market and government cannot even supply enough dollars again. You can’t go to bank and buy or get a letter of credit again. You have to go and buy from the black market.
By the time you go and buy at that high rate, when you bring in goods, you find out that the cost of clearing goods here in Nigeria, you will see that you cannot break even in the market. That is why some importers are abandoning their containers and importation. We have containers littering all over, which importers cannot even pay.