Babatunde Mukaila Abdulazeez

‘I can comfortably sit in my office and perfect seventy-five percent of my cargo delivery process’

Babatunde Mukaila Abdulazeez, who doubles as the Chairman Association Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) Association Electoral Commission (ASECO) and its Biometric Project’s head, in this interview with Uju Ozoeze speaks on issues surrounding operations at the ports.

How would you analyse operations in the ports?
I will say we’ve never had it so good at the same time I will say the challenges are becoming very enormous. Gone are the days that you have to go to a lot of stress to get a single container position. I will say the service has improved quite comfortably but with the improvement comes the cost. So if we put it side by side, we keep on building more cost which is, in my own perspective, not commensurate with the service delivery we enjoy presently. Actually the service delivery has improved but the cost of delivery does not match the service delivery so I would say conclusively that the service delivery is not at par with the cost we pay, we are paying too much. I am of the opinion that people should pay for service but when you are paying for service you should demand for the service as well. We are better off in the case of service delivery; there is no question about that. I can comfortably sit in my office and perfect seventy-five percent of my cargo delivery process without going to see any customs or any concessionaire. I get debit note, pay on line, do release of cargo on line from shipping companies these days so more than seventy percent is done if you are very well packaged and you are ready for the service that is, transacting on line. So, it is the advent of concessionaires that brought all this development. In those days with NPA you need to be present to get a single paper signed but these days I get assessment online from customs, get my debit note on line from shipping company, pick my debit note online from the terminal operator, make all these payments on line, get release online but when you need to get to the critical factor of getting the cargo out then you need to have human contact. So, generally, there is a service delivery improvement but at what cost?

It is good to hear that you are able to get customs assessment online, so can one say that customs encourages agents to fully embrace customs computerised clearance procedures?
They are doing that! I happen to be one of the first three licensed agents that were granted that permission about four years ago and I have never looked back since then.

If so, why then do customs insist on sighting and endorsing hardcopy SGD forms even after declaration have been done online? 
The Single Goods Declaration (SGD) forms in the spirit of the design of the ASYCUDA project is not supposed to be in use. Since last year, I remember I was part of the meeting in Abuja where the ACG ASYCUDA made a case that SGDs will be out of use in the moment. Right from December, it will be of note to you to know that no single agents have direct access to customs to obtain SGDs. And customs, because of human elements and problems still encountered, make sure that every declaration must have SGD form. In truth, every SGD you see that is running through customs is printed outside. Customs cannot take responsibility for the SGD you see every agent is using to process payment of duties. Unscrupulous people have capitalised on it and some custom officers are involved in printing these documents…the crux of the matter is this once they print a document, the document need to be serialized. A printer in Ajegunle, contracted to print the forms can use any serial number he deem fit; another printer in Oshodi can do the same thing. By the time two different customs agents use same serialized numbers, the same customs who refuse to print SGDs will now block the agents and ask: how come the two of you are using the same number? Thereby extorting and intimidating those agents to part with money or write a letter which will land the agents in trouble that only God knows how they will come out of, whereas customs has stopped sales of SGD, officially, since December and you cannot process a single good without SGD. In fact, it goes beyond SGD! For instance, when you pay a duty for a car there is something called customs duty certificate, that is a certificate to show that duty was paid but for close to two years the Nigeria Customs Service don’t provide certificate of duty paid. So, every single agent is under pressure from consignee who actually paid duty because without that certificate local government will not register your car. So, you have to fall back to buying fake duty certificates at exorbitant cost to get your car registered. Customs can’t say they don’t know about this.

Am aware you hold very significant positions in the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, one as Chairman of the association’s Electoral Commission and another as the chairman of the association’s Biometric Project, why were you entrusted with?
Well, I wouldn’t know why I was chosen but I believe every assignment is a challenge and I like to put in my best and I believe by the end of the day my best will be good enough for those who have deemed it fit to entrust that capacity in me. You mentioned Association Electoral Commission (ASECO). If you remember the present national president was the chairman of ASECO and he resigned his appointment to vie for presidency so having been given that opportunity, I see it as a big challenge and I believe if I cannot do more than what Prince Olayiwola Shittu has put on the table I need to maintain that standard…I have been the chairman of ASECO for close to three years now. I conducted the election that ushered in the present national executives, I’ve conducted election in the eastern zone, northern zone and hopefully by October this year, because the tenure of most of the executives in the West is winding up, we hope to conduct elections and we hope to deliver as well. This is an opportunity to tell you that forthcoming elections is going to be open, if anybody is disqualified they have the right to know why. ASECO guideline is on the web and is open to everyone to see. Whoever does not meet the criteria should not bother to contest. Coming to Biometrics… You remember sometime ago, the Nigeria Customs Service and the Nigeria Police moved into Tin-Can port and raided close to four hundred people and bounded them in jail. We went through hell trying to get through to our members. At that point how do we distinguish the genuine ANLCA member who have come to the port to transact business and were arrested? So, the national president took it as a challenge to start this biometrics idea just to know who the real licensed agents are, to separate the real members of the association from impostors. One or two things we have done in the interval of space is to know how many valid licenses are there, how many licenses customs has been issued since its existence. So that we can know the current list and know who our members are currently, and that is what we’ve been doing.

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