Calls for the merger of these two Lagos-based commands, Apapa and Lilypond area commands of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), is a major issue thrown up by importers and licensed Customs agents of late.
Raising the issue of the merger of the two commands first was a nascent group called Nigerian Importers Advocacy and Support Group (NIASG), which posited that merging both commands would ensure seamless transactions at the Lagos Port Complex (LPC), Apapa.
The NIASG Executive Secretary, Mr. Adebayo Famoroti, had argued that : “If you look at Lilypond now, you see that containers are not going there again because people now prefer to receive their containers from the main terminal but the main problem for us importers is that when you make any payment at Apapa Port and your container is transferred to Lilypond, it becomes almost impossible to clear your consignment from Lilypond because until that payment is received at Lilypond, you won’t be able to clear your container. We believe that if Lilypond is under Apapa Command then this kind of problem will not arise.”
And backing Famoroti‘s call was the Lilypond Chapter of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), which Secretary General, Chief Lawrence Uba, told SHIPS & PORTS DAILY said that the merger has become necessary to revamp activities at the Lilypond Terminal, which, acciording to him, is now at its lowest ebb.
“Activities here (Lilypond) are very low and I agree that if Lilypond comes under Apapa Command, we will see changes. In fact before, Lilypond used to be under Apapa with a DC (Deputy Comptoller of Customs) posted to head it and the DC used to report to the CAC at Apapa. Lilypond used to boom with activities at the time unlike now. So I agree that we should return to the days when the CAC Apapa oversees Lilypond because as you can see, our businesses are suffering with many of us having no jobs to do,” Uba stated.
He said that merging both area commands will eliminate “enormous” transfer charges usually imposed on containers transferred from the LPC to Lilypond Terminal, and, which, according to him, is a disincentive for importers and agents.
And reacting to the call, Customs Area Controller (CAC),Lilypond Area Command, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Comptroller Willy Egbudin, said that the reason given by those calling for the merger of the two commands, which was hinged on alleged delay in transfer of duty payments, is not the fault of the Customs, but largely that of the shipping companies.
According to him: “It is the management decision to decide whether the command should be merged or not. The problem is not with customs but the shipping companies who are expected to notify importers that a vessel will be stemmed to a particular ICD (inland container depot). Even the importers should know what they are doing. There are ways they can get to know where a vessel is to be stemmed before arrival.”
Each of the party concerned has indeed provided logical arguments for and against the merger of the two commands, but we need to implore the management of the NCS to look at this issue and come up with what will be good for the system.
We think that nothing is wrong with the merger of the two commands, since stakeholders of the commands, who are mainly importers and freight forwarders, are the ones calling for the merger.
To a large extent the importers and the freight forwarders may not be far from the truth, because Apapa Area 1 Command may not be willing to stem containers to Lilypond since each of the commands will want to meet the respective own revenue target given by the Customs Headquarters, Abuja.
As we have said repeatedly, it is high time we looked beyond revenue collection by the NCS to trade facilitation. It will not do the nation any good if cargoes are delayed just because a particular command wants to meet its revenue target.
The merger of the two commands may not be out of place if the sole purpose is to ensure seamless cargo clearance. It will not be of any economic benefit to the nation if we create offices that will the end of the day hamper the smooth clearance of goods from the country’s ports.
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