Stakeholders in the Nigerian imports trade ecosystem are up in arms against the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, over its recent decision to send its ‘Strike Force’ into the ports. The ‘Strike Force’ is a special unit created by the NCS with the aim of dealing with malpractices in the import chain.
In an order reference NCS/ENF/ABJ/058/S.23 and contained in E11/2019/CIRCULAR NO.002 with the subject matter: ‘‘100% EXAMINATION OF CARGO AT THE SEAPORTS,’’ the NCS, had last week, authorized the Strike Force to henceforth intervene in all matters suspected to be inimical to proper Customs due processes and documentation, including entering the ports and making seizures even after the cargo has been cleared by its men on ground.
The circular which was signed by the Deputy Comptroller General in charge of Enforcement, Investigation and Inspection, DCG A. Chidi, on behalf of the Customs Comptroller General, Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd), was addressed to all Area Controllers and heads of various Customs formations.
But port stakeholders including the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), clearing agents and freight forwarders have, however, condemned the decision saying it would create a further burden on trade facilitation while worsening the already congested ports.
LCCI kicks The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, has said the circular issued by the Customs Headquarters, deploying its ‘Strike Force’ to all ports with the powers to intercept and effect seizures of cargo will be detrimental to investment and further complicate the already difficult cargo clearing process. A statement by the Director General of LCCI, Mr Muda Yusuf, said the measure would undermine the Ease of Doing Business Policy of the Buhari administration while constituting an obstruction to the Presidential Executive order on the streamlining of ports processes. According to him, some of the implications include a duplication of functions of the Customs resident officers at the ports which have statutory responsibilities to examine and release cargoes to importers, adding that, this move would slow down the cargo clearing process as it amounts to creation of another layer of authority to intercept and seize cargoes that have been duly released by all agencies involved in the examination of the cargoes. .
‘‘The directive confers vast discretionary powers on the Strike Force which makes the cargo clearing process vulnerable to arbitrariness and coercion which could undermine the integrity and credibility of the process” he said. He further said the deployment of the ‘Force’ to the ports suggests a distrust and lack of confidence in the resident customs officers who were deployed to the various commands including the ports by the Comptroller General, CG, of NCS in the first place, saying that, the appropriate thing to do in the circumstance is for the CG to replace these officers with trusted ones rather than superimpose another set of customs operatives on the system. “This new deployment would make the entire process chaotic, cumbersome, costly and inefficient. It could also create an additional credibility problem. LCCI is concerned that over the past two years, the scanners at the Lagos Ports Complex have not worked. The persistent dependence on physical examination for cargo releases has not only been laborious and arduous, it is time wasting,” Yusuf stressed.
He noted that the Lagos Ports are the largest ports in the country handling over 1.5 million twenty-foot containers equivalent (TEUs) annually and that this underscores the enormity of the consequences of physical examination of containers for the efficacy of cargo clearing. “It is incredibly detrimental to the cargo release process and the economy. It is imperative for the Federal government to expedite actions on the procurement of scanners for the ports in order to put an end to the physical examination of cargo and make the system technology driven. “The LCCI submits that the deployment of the Strike Force to the ports should be reversed forthwith. Where the Comptroller-General does not trust the resident officers, they should be replaced with trusted ones rather than creating overlapping responsibilities and authorities which would further muddle an already arduous cargo clearing process.
Delays in the cargo clearing often result in high and avoidable demurrage to importers; high-interest cost on funds used for import transactions, disruption of business processes including manufacturing activities, and many more” he stated. Yusuf stressed that the Customs high command should ensure that there are corresponding authorities for the discharge of assigned responsibilities in order to achieve desired outcomes, as there is often a risk of creating a confusing system where responsibilities are assigned without corresponding authority. Clearing agents petition CG Speaking to Vanguard Maritime Report on the development, National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Mr Tony Iju Nwabunike, said that the group has written a letter protesting the directive and hoping to have a meeting with the management of the Customs as soon as possible. Nwabunike said that the group considers the directive to be sensitive adding that they have decided not to be confrontational in their reaction to the development. He stated: “My reaction is quite different from others. I have chosen not to be confrontational on issues like this because I consider the issue to be sensitive. When issues are sensitive, you do not go with a fight to resolve the problem. You have to sit down with the Customs to resolve the issue.