Importers and clearing agents might have to brace up for more delays and additional costs in the clearance of their cargoes, as two federal government agencies – the Nigerian Navy and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) – kicked out from the seaport several years ago, are scheming to return.
The Nigerian Navy was kicked out of the port more than 30 years ago while SON was thrown out ten years ago by the Federal Government to reduce the cost of doing business at the ports. Notwithstanding the order sacking them from the port, most of the agencies device various plots to return.
Officials of government agencies see the seaports as lucrative places to make quick money. Many of such officials lobby for postings to the ports. However, their actions delay cargo clearance and add to the already bloated cost of doing business at the port.
The Managing Director Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Hadiza Bala-Usman, in 2018, blamed government agencies for delays in cargo clearance.
SON and the Nigerian Navy, however, anchor their argument for return to the seaports on the need to protect Nigerian consumers and on the need to curtail the proliferation of small arms respectively.
The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, said the navy will return to the ports 30 years after it left the task of monitoring incoming goods and persons for the officials of the Nigerian Customs and Immigration Services in order to correct the anomaly at the seaports and to effectively secure the county’s sea borders against influx of light weapons.
The naval chief, who made the disclosure during a webinar to mark the 100 days of service chiefs in office on Wednesday, said, “We have realised that arms are circulating indiscriminately and their effects are devastating. Our efforts in combating their proliferation must therefore be viewed as contributing to the good, rather than a zero-sum game.
“We are pushed by the fact that killing and neutralising of terrorists while these weapons still flow in will do us no good. This is because the right to life and the right to live in freedom and dignity are rights that all Nigerians must uphold in various fora.”
He said the navy is working with the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to establish port commandant at the seaports.
The Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) said its return to the seaports would help it check the influx of substandard products into the country.
SON Director General, Farouk Salim, said, “We are supposed to ensure that the borders and the ports are monitored properly, and in doing this we protect the country from substandard goods.
“One of such ways is to make sure that the employees of SON are in the port of entries in the country, especially the Lagos port where majority of goods comes into this country.
“Our people can be efficient if we are allowed to work at the point of entry of these goods, but right now we are not allowed at the ports.
“They allow us once in a while to check goods but that should not be the way, because SON as an organisation should not depend on the kindness of other organisations to do its work.”
Several stakeholders, who spoke with SHIPS & PORTS, however, condemned the plots by the two agencies to return to the nation’s gateway.
The immediate past National President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, said SON’s to return to the nation’s seaports would further increase the cost of doing business at the ports.
He said, “SON coming to the port will increase cost of clearance. Customs as the lead agency has been asked to invite any government agency whose operations involve clearance.
“Customs will not prepare your Pre Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR), which is the beginning of documentation for clearance, if you don’t have the SON’s certification and meanwhile the same SON is on the Customs platform where on their own they do intervention and when they see a cargo that is suppose to have a certificate and they have not issued it, they block it.
“So if they can block, which they have been doing, will being in the port affect their blocking or their staff will now insist partaking on all examination just to enrich themselves? There is no government agency who does any work free in the port.
“They have been in the port before and the same thing is still happening and the excuse will always be the importers are not complaint. Those who do proper declaration suffer more than those who do not comply.”
President, Shippers Association of Lagos State (SALS), Rev. Jonathan Nicol, also faulted the move by the Nigerian Navy to return to the port.
He said, “Nigeria Customs is paramilitary and saddled with the responsibility of opening up containers for examination and I am convinced they are up to the task.
“The Nigerian Navy should be concerned with our territorial waters and the Gulf of Guinea where we have so much security challenges bedevilling the country.
“Already, we have government agencies at the port doing almost the same thing such that it is difficult to exit cargoes from the seaports, so why will they want to add to the burden?
“They should concentrate on the coastal waters where piracy is expected to be combated. Also, I believe that the bulk of the small arms and ammunition are not coming in through the seaports but through the porous borders because of the hassles involved in 100 per cent examination.
“We don’t need an additional agency at the port because shippers that own cargoes coming to Nigerian seaports are already overburdened by the activities of government agencies at the port.”
The National President, Africa Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics in Nigeria, Frank Ogunojemite on his part said as far as he is concerned, Navy personnel at the seaports would not solve the proliferation of light and small arms into the country.
“Also, the government should collaborate with countries of origin because most containers busted are due to information from the country of origin.
“Also, what is wrong with the scanners at the seaports? The government should put them into work also. They should inform us about the purchase of scanners. We should put the scanners into use and they should function accordingly,” he said.