Between the Presidential Committee on Port Reforms and Customs agents, who is lying?

For a couple of weeks now, the issue of the purported return of evicted agencies from the nation’s ports has occupied the front burner, drawing the ire of notable freight forwarding practitioners in the country.
These agencies, according to these practitioners, have fully come back to the seaports, participating in cargo examination and devising others means to inhibit the smooth clearance and delivery of cargoes.
The agencies then included the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Directorate of Naval Intelligence (DNI), and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), National Quarantine Service (NQS), and National Environmental Standards Regulatory and Enforcement Agency, amongst others.

These returnee-agencies, via a Presidential order, had been directed to close down their offices in the ports, with clear-cut instructions to only appear at these facilities, at the invitation of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), to participate in examination of regulated cargoes that may require the presence of the agencies during these inspection exercises.
According to the aggrieved freight forwarding practitioners, these agencies have returned without any counter-order from the Presidency, and have re-established permanent posts at the ports, and are more rapacious than ever in their extortionists’ tendencies of demanding unreceipted payments from consignees in order to endorse consignments for release.
Raising the alarm over their return in a chat with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY penultimate Thursday, Chairman, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Freight Forwarders Trade Group, Madam Julie Ogboru, lamented that the evicted agencies are back in the ports full-time, inhibiting the smooth clearance of cargoes.

In her words: “When the Minister (of Finance) came, she said all the agencies should leave the port, and, when necessary, the Nigeria Customs Service should invite them for examination, if it connects to what the government asked them to do at the port. But now you discover that all the agencies are back in the port.
“The delay is so much that you cannot bring out a container within two or three days. It takes between two to three days to run round the agencies to see that they endorse before you go out. Normally, after the examination, since Customs is the chief security officer, after the examination, like the Minister said, everybody should endorse at the point of examination and don’t go back to your office and expect the agents to come to your office and come and start asking for gratification. The gratification ranges from N10, 000.00 toN20, 000.00. How much is the duty? Is it receipted? This money that these agencies are asking of, is it receipted? Is that what the government asked them to come and do? If that is what the government asked them to come and do, let them give us receipt and we will pay them for whatever gratification they have. All the agencies are now back, except NAFDAC and SON. Even NAFDAC is still showing their presence in some of the terminals.”
In the same vein, Founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, has also complained that operatives of these agencies are bent on impeding the smooth clearance of cargoes from the nation’s ports.

In his words: “I am very much aware that pronouncement of the government does not out rightly ask these people not to operate in the ports, but, then, they need to be invited as at when due by the Nigeria Customs Service, and that the issue becomes a forum of convenience. Where do we invite them? Some of these agencies are not located within the port environment, and, if that is the case, we have a very big problem on our hands! Right now, these agencies, name them all, they write letters to Customs, port concessionaires stopping cargo! These are serious issues! The Copyright Commission is stopping containers, the environmental protection agency is stopping containers, Quarantine, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, NAFDAC, name them! But the port is not supposed to be a warehouse or storage facility for any of the agencies of the government. So, I think that the Presidential Port Reforms Committee needs to really live up to expectations, because what is going on in the ports makes nonsense of its relevance.”
It would be recalled that the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, late last year in her maiden on-the-spot assessment of Nigeria’s seaports, said that the Federal Government has ordered no fewer than 10 government agencies out of the seaports.
And to ensure strict compliance, the government set up a Presidential Committee on Port Reforms.

The Presidential Port Reforms Committee led by the Senior Adviser on Project Monitoring and Evaluation to the President, Prof. Sylvester Monye, was subsequently inaugurated.
This committee at every forum through its Chairman had insisted that it has ensured strict compliance on the eviction of these agencies by the Federal Government. The committee has been counting this as one of its achievements since being inaugurated.
When these agencies were asked to leave the ports, a number of stakeholders were skeptical about the move by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, saying that it will not work, since, according to them, certain other regimes have made such moves and these agencies make a return at the end of the day.

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