The Nigerian port industry has during the past few years recorded some impressive changes in the areas of dwell time of cargo, turnaround time of vessels and berth occupancy. These changes indeed have improved the image of the industry and as well brought relief to importers. Notwithstanding these successes, the major challenge remains how to achieve speedy cargo clearance at the ports. For example, the Organized Private Sector, obsessed by the jumbled clearing procedures, has been vociferous in criticising the Nigeria Customs Service.
Like a festering fore, this problem has rattled the Nigerian government and its agencies. On its part, the management of the Nigeria Customs Service has risen to the challenge by introducing a novel development, tagged Pre Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) to accelerate cargo clearance procedure. This revolutionary idea received encomium from all stakeholders because they believed PAAR would address most of the problems of cargo clearance in the port.
At various for a preceding the introduction of PAAR, Customs chief, Dikko Abdullahi, and his top management team enlisted the support and cooperation of all stakeholders – the importers, shipping companies, terminal operators, banks and clearing agents. This was to ensure the success of the PAAR regime aimed at bringing succour to importers and as well allow Nigeria attain world standards in cargo clearance.
Furthermore, the Customs management appealed to all concerned to exhibit high level of honesty in their declarations to avoid delays. It equally pledged that the Service would not delay any consignment with genuine documents. The service also warned its men and officers to carry out their assignment with patriotism and desist from any act that will create problems for good clearance.
It is pertinent to note that if no synergy is built among all stakeholders and they decided to allow human element to rear its ugly head, all efforts to attain speedy cargo clearance in Nigeria will crumble.
This brings us to the ongoing bickering between customs officials and clearing agents, one of the major consumers of the services of the Nigeria Customs Service. A classic example of this squabble was the hot exchange of words between the two critical stakeholders at a stakeholders meeting comprising the Customs, clearing agents and the operators of Lilypond Terminal held at Ijora in the Terminal, Ijora, Lagos.
At that important meeting, clearing agents made some accusatory remarks against customs officials of the Lilypond Command. These remarks were laden with issues already crippling smooth cargo clearance. The agents also accused the Customs officers of the Command of delaying cargo at the terminal for several days. Furthermore, they accused Customs officers of delaying cargo at the gate without any justification.
On their part, the customs accused clearing agents for not ensuring that all documents relating to the release of their cargo are perfected before rushing to the terminal gate. This, according to customs, is responsible for the delay of goods at the facility.
These accusations and counter accusations between the clearing agents and customs officials are not peculiar to the Lilypond terminal. The altercation also goes on in other terminals, resulting in shameful scenario between these two groups
To any discerning mind, the root cause of this avoidable quarrel bother on both groups not treading the path of honesty. This is a moral challenge the Customs authority has to handle with all seriousness.
Trade must be facilitated and not frustrated. The agents on their path should also do the right thing if they really want prompt release of their consignment.
Both parties should be reminded that this is a serious economic issue that affects the national economy including international interests. The Customs revolution is meant to reposition Nigeria’s economy for improved fortunes. What is needed now is cooperation among all stakeholders involved in cargo clearance procedure in the port. Importers demand a seamless port operations and not unnecessary polemics.