Undermining the Effort
Abnormally long cargo dwell times and the cost of doing business in Nigeria’s seaports, amongst the highest in the world, led the federal government to set up a presidential ports reform committee to find ways of fast tracking the clearance of consignments at the ports.
Following the much desired need to reduce the abnormally long cargo dwell time and the cost of doing business at the nation’s seaports, which was said to be among the highest in the world, the federal government last year set up a presidential ports reform committee to orchestrate ways of fast tracking the clearance of consignments at the ports.
The committee headed by Prof. Sylvester Monye, special adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Performance Evaluation, working with the minister of finance and coordinating minister of the economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had set out a target of 48 hours for clearing of cargoes.
As part of the strategies for achieving the 48-hour cargo release target, the two forces of the federal government had therefore, on October 10, 2011 slashed down the multiple federal government agencies at the ports, which were blamed for delaying the cargo clearing process and breeding corruption at the ports.
The affected agencies would be called into the port by the Nigeria Customs Service, when their specific services are needed, rather than having all the agencies carrying out inspection on all imported goods. It was believed that this way, the process of clearing imports at the ports would be quickened.
Only six agencies were to have permanent presence at the ports and they included the Customs, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the Police, the State Security Service (SSS), the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Port Health.
Therefore, among agencies directed to leave the port were the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), NESREA and the Quarantine Department, among others.
But now, attainment of the two-day target for cargo clearance at Nigerian seaports may have become an illusion as the sacked government agencies have returned to the ports and their presence has begun to threaten the 48-hour target for clearing and releasing of cargoes by the customs.
The agencies have gradually and fully reestablished their presence at the ports collecting un-receipted fees from licensed customs agents in the name of “endorsement of examination forms.” Customs officers cannot release cargoes until such endorsements have been made by the agencies. The development, LEADESHIP gathered, has also made nonsense of the fast track system of cargo clearance designed for big and organisational importers.
A customs officer, who refused to be mentioned, however claimed that the agencies were only invited to inspect certain consignments.
But a veteran clearing agent, Julie Ogboru, who spoke with our correspondent on the matter said the agencies were fully back and were collecting fees from them, for which receipts were not being given, before endorsing their cargoes examination forms for release by the customs.
She said, “The agencies that were asked to leave the port are fully back. Now it takes more days for you to carry your goods out of the port. Customs will not release the goods to you, except the agencies sign the examination form and the agencies will not sign the
examination form unless you give them gratification. That is not what the government asked them to come and do.
The chairman of the freight forwarders arm of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce, Ogboru further said, “The payments are not receipted and when you tell them you cannot give them gratification, they will delay you and you can be there for several days more. Even though they must do examination, they are to endorse forms at the examination bay, not inviting agents to their offices for the purpose of endorsing the examination form.
“The police are to provide security and not to carry out examinations.
The NDLEA is to examine drugs and not conventional goods and even if it does, it is not supposed to collect money before endorsing examination forms.”
An organizational clearing agent, Martins Udeh said, “Some of them have been asked to vacate the port and wait for invitation to inspect consignments that concern them, but now they are performing all manner of inspections, whether it concerns them or not. Examinations are to be conducted only when necessary, but now they flood the examination bay. They want to perform all examinations and they make agents to give them money and when the agents refuse, they tell the customs not to allow them go out.”
The return of government agencies to the port is one of recent developments in the industry which has put a huge question mark on the efficiency of the presidential ports reform committee and the seriousness of the ministry of finance.
Despite the ugly development at the port the finance minister keeps saying to the whole world that the two-day target for cargo release at Nigerian ports is not bargainable, but her office had not been able to keep the unwanted guests out of the port.