Three calibre mobile scanning machines belonging to the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) worth millions of naira are currently rotting away at the Apapa port, a controller of customs, Mohammed Abba-Kura revealed on Wednesday.
He told the House Committee on Customs and Excise, that “Smiths Hiemann 2533 HCV machines which were and managed by a foreign company known as Cortena have not been put to use since 2015 when the contract involving the company was revoked”.
The Controller of the Apapa Area Command of the Nigeria Customs Service, Abba-Kura told the House of Representatives Committee on an oversight visit to the Command that “the contract involving Cotecna was revoked and re-awarded to a Nigerian company known as Global Scan owned by Sir Emeka Offor”.
He stressed that “the company lacked the technical capacity to manage the scanners, even the CIR issued by the company was the worst, the Customs, has ever worked with”.
Abba-Kura said “the issue of politics was brought into the scanning. Even the contract with the service providers, for so many years, Nigeria Customs Service was not part of it. If you want to do a project, you must bring stakeholders to be part of that project, because once they are part of it, it will be a success story and a win, win situation.
“These contracts are normally signed and brought down the throat of the Customs to implement. Before destination inspection, from 1978 when we were doing pre-shipment, we were never part of it. The contract will either be signed from the mother Ministry or somewhere in the Executive.
“Infact, the service fought seriously to even collect some of the aspects these service providers were handling such as taking over the scanning machines. Even in the agreement, the service providers need to train Customs officers on all aspects.
“Cotecna is one of the service providers that did very well. They were the ones that installed the fixed scanners and mobile scanners in both Tincan and Apapa ports and they did very well managing them and a lot of officers were trained. Many of us benefited from that training.
“But for political reasons, sometimes in 2015, the one in Apapa was taken away from Cotecna and given to a Nigerian, Global Scan owned by Sir Emeka Offor. He does not have the capacity to manage it. Even the CIR he was issuing at that time was the worst CIR we have worked with.
“Some of us were privileged to be taken abroad to visit some other ports. But the fixed scanners we have here were more advanced than the ones we have in the Port of Doha. If we are not going to call a spade, a spade, well just be running a service show.
“From what we have, you are able to scan the container very well and see what is inside it. But if the service does not have the money to procure the scanners, what do we do. A lot of bureaucracy comes into accessing these funds even when they are budgeted. You have to go to so many places to achieve what you want.
“We have some of the best officers trained in the use of these scanners. Some of us sent over one and a half years attending those training. So, if the scanners are functioning, we will reduce man-hour sent on examination, we will generate more revenue and we will discover so many things that are prohibited. But there is nothing that we can do right now because there are laws that must be followed.
“If money is budgeted and not released, you should be able to know why the money was not released and whoever is responsible should be sanctioned so that others should sit up and do things properly.”
Responding to questions on the cost of the machines, the Controller said “to be honest, I don’t know the cost. But I know it is really very expensive. But since it is going to secure the country and will lead to more generation of revenue which will equally translate to more development in the country, I think the government should go the whole hug and get scanning machines for us to work.
“The machines are meant to serve two purposes. One is to generate revenue and the other being security. If the consignment is examined non-intrusively, whatever is inside the container can be seen, the proper assessment will be done and more revenue will be generated.”
Members of the committee were displeased about the abandonment of the scanners, which have cost the country several millions of dollars to buy.
The committee regretted that due to political reasons, the country was losing huge revenue.
Vice-Chairman of the committee who led the technical committee on the visit, Rep. Leke Abejide, said the House will carry out a comprehensive investigation that will deepen its inquiry and advise the government on the best way forward.
He said, “We have just gone round to see both the mobile and fixed scanning machines. They are in a moribund stage. Nothing is happening there. From what we heard, there are three levels which there were supposed to be trained in but those that installed them trained them in only one level of maintenance.
“There is the need for us to investigate deeply into the activities of the era of scanning and see how we can come up with a solution to help the system so that their job can be easier and they can generate more revenue. As it is now, nothing is moving here in the port.
“Look at the access road to the port, a place the government is getting N40 billion per month. I don’t think the construction of this road will take N40 billion.
“Politics was allowed to come in when it was taken from Cotecna and given to Global Scan even when Cotecna is higher in terms of capacity, knowledge, and innovation. When those politics came in, it crippled the system.
“As a parliament, we will investigate it and come out with a solution. We will work with the Customs and all stakeholders to advice the government on the best way forward.”
A visit to the site by the committee revealed long years of abandonment of the facilities which are already decaying.