Lucky Amiwero is the Managing Director of Eyis Resources Limited. He is also the President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agent (NCMDLCA). In this interview, he speaks on some impediment to achieving prompt cargo clearance at the port and makes recommendation on measures to adopt to boost cargo delivery at the nation’s gateway.
It has been said at several forum that the procedure of cargo clearance at Nigerian ports is archaic. What do you think about that?
As a member of the Presidential Committee on customs reform and having served in 167 government agencies, I think I have a better view of the port. Ports cannot run without conventions. We are talking about problems but we have not talked about and looked at the laws. The ports actually have three components, we have the operational process, the port procedure process and the legislative frame work but most of these aspects are missing in our ports. Most of the laws are not followed and that is why we are having all these problems. Looking at cargo clearance in Nigerian port for instance, we have high cost in clearance of goods, cumbersome and lengthy port procedures, delay in scanning and physical examination, gridlock on the port access roads, lack of holding bays, and rickety trucks with the government not doing much to solve the problems.
What do you think can be done to improve time of cargo clearance at the port?
My recommendation is that we comply with international convention. World Customs Organisation (WCO) is a convention that was signed by the Nigeria Customs Service and every other customs in the world after the 911 incident in the United State of America. What that convention is talking about is that you must pre-inspect your outbound and inbound cargo and you must supply your information before you load that ship which we are not doing.
The quantum of ammunition in this country can destroy Africa as a whole. But when you go to America you find out that it is not like that over there because they monitor everything. The conventions are there; if we comply with them it will reduce time, cost and reduce a number of ammunition and weapons of mass destruction that may find their way into the country.
Are you advocating for the return of pre-shipment inspection of imports?
We are not talking about pre-shipment inspection but pre-screening, the language is pre-screening. It simply means you are not doing normal examination but using a tool like what they call non-intrinsic inspection (NII) which is scanning. For instance, talking about the Nigeria Customs Service Pre-Arrival Assessment Result (PAAR), which simply means your goods are assessed before they arrive but when you go the port now you find out that the problem there is worse than when we had the RAR.
Are you saying PAAR has not facilitated trade?
PAAR is not a transaction tool but a security tool for assessing risks that has to do with ammunition and the likes but our system today is not in line with global practice.This is because all our import are supposed to have been pre-inspected before coming into this country and that is where the pre-arrival assessment information is required for but it is very clear that we have not got it right there because we have not complied with international conventions. Ours is that we bring in things without knowing what is coming in. As a result, PAAR has created a lot of concerns. It has created a lot of discrepancies because it has not complied with any of the conventions and protocols.
How feasible is 48 hours cargo clearance?
In all honesty, it is not achievable. Our procedures are still archaic and not meeting up with international best practices. So you don’t for any reason talk about 48 cargo clearances when our system does not have a process. Import trade is not only about transportation. It has three components; procedure, process and other logistics part and in all these parts, there are conventions guiding them which we are not implementing. We have not complied with the conventions. If you look at our access roads, going to any ports within the western area is blocked. You spend an average of four to five hours accessing the port and this is a minus. We are talking about the single window but we have not achieved it because it is a one stop shop approach. For instance, why do you clear goods from the port and when the goods are going out the FOU still arrest the goods on the road, those are contraventions of all the procedures of international principles. Now people have abandoned their cargoes at the port because there are no procedures.
What would you say about the perennial traffic gridlock on the port access road?
The traffic gridlock is critical and the Nigerian Ports Authority has a lot of role to play there because by the law setting up NPA under section 32 sub section A, they are supposed to regulate traffic that is moving in and the one that is approaching. But when you go round the port, what you see is pot holes all around and a lot of time is spent on the road. So NPA should be responsible because they are collecting from the seven per cent surcharge so they should use some amount there to put the access road in order because it is their responsibility to do that according to the law.
What do you think is the best approach to addressing all of these challenges?
The way forward is to bring in experts that will change the way we do things. You don’t just come to a forum and talk and talk. We have the market, we have the trade but we have the wrong people at the helms of affairs so you don’t for any reason talk about 48 hours cargo clearance when your system does not have a process. One of the core elements of trade facilitation is that you must have a dispute resolution mechanism, which must be independent of customs and that is what is done globally. If it is not there you can’t facilitate trade. Under article 8 and 11 of the WTO, it is very clear that the customs administration should not be a judge and the prosecutor by themselves. Internationally, there is a convention that has been approved that these things must take a new dimension.
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