In a bid to facilitate clearance and improve ease of doing business at the nation’s sea ports, shipping lines are to make manifest of their cargoes available to the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) seven days before the arrival of the vessel to the country. The new directive was recently issued by the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC).
Jumoke Oduwole, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Industry, Trade and Investment, said PEBEC will work with Customs and Shippers Council to address some of the challenges the shipping companies fear may arise from the new directive.“What we are asking for is global best practice and it is nothing beyond the shipping lines. They operate in other climes and they have committed to us that they will indeed be sending in the manifest as requested. We are going to work with Customs and the Shippers Council to make it easier for them. We know there will be hiccups but they have committed to doing that,” she said.
However, Val Osifor, Chairman, Shipping Association of Nigeria (SAN), identified a major challenge to the new policy. He said that delay in the issuance of rotation number by the Nigeria Customs Service is one of the bottlenecks that must be addressed by the authorities. He noted that the average time it takes for an importer to get his container once a ship arrives is 20 days, a situation he blamed on bureaucracies by government agencies at the port. “We have assured them (PEBEC) they will get the cooperation they need. Once the bottlenecks are addressed, these things can be done. The bottlenecks are created by many agencies in the port. Where you have people working for the same government and in competition, things don’t move,” he said.
Osifor said that the system needs to be fine-tuned. “When the ship comes, it needs a rotation number from Customs. So what has been agreed is that once the bulk of the manifest has been lodged and it has a rotation number, we are suggesting that the rotation number should be maintained for cargoes that are coming from way ports. For instance, if the ship passes through Cape Town, and we have a lot of cargoes being transmitted from Cape Town, you don’t need to give another rotation number, it is just adding to the manifest. Once it has rotation number, as the manifest is transmitted electronically, the importer knows he can start processing his documents while waiting for the cargo to arrive,” he said.
He added that shipping companies are not interested in demurrage, noting that if the system works well and the importer is able to get his cargo on arrival within three days, he does not need to pay demurrage.
Mr Hassan Bello, Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers’ Council, assured that the Council will continue to do its work of facilitating international trade at the ports. He said that the Council has been assigned to ensure and moderate the transmission of shipping lines manifest to NPA and Customs before arrival of vessels to Nigeria. Bello noted that it is the duty of the government to ensure conducive atmosphere for businesses to thrive in Nigeria, adding that the cooperation and support of stakeholders will help move the industry forward.
“The business of enabling business environment is very important and critical to the investment that we have. It is always the aspiration of the government to manage that conducive atmosphere so that the private sector will carry out its business squarely. And it is the responsibility of the government to not only protect the investors but guarantee return on investment and this could be done only by giving the private sector the leverage and good atmosphere,” he said.
By Pita Ochai