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The Nigerian Shippers Council, the Nigerian Customs Service and terminal operators in a joint effort, devise a new strategy for achieving the target of 48-hour cargo clearance in the Nigerian ports
By Pita Ochai
In a bid to tackle the challenges often encountered by freight forwarders and importers in clearing goods from the Lagos seaports, the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Apapa Area1 Command and terminal operators are working out modalities for simplifying the business.
At a meeting held at the NSC headquarters in Lagos, the Executive Secretary of the Council, Hassan Bello said that relevant agencies at the ports were making efforts to make the nation’s seaports more efficient. He noted that the ultimate aim of the NSC is to ensure that cargo clearance and delivery process at the seaports are automated so as to reduce human contact between consignees and officers of service providers.
Several issues including impediments to the implementation of 48 hours cargo clearance procedures top the agenda. The delay in carrying out examination of containers, transit trade and measures to adopt in order to reduce human contact in the clearing process were also discussed.
Bello, who extolled the Federal Government’s port transformation programmes, said automation remains a vital key in enthroning efficiency. “Our ultimate aim is automation, that is, to provide platforms for cargo clearance so that our ports can become efficient because we have the all important freight forwarders here in attendance who after this meeting will make meaningful input on the way out,” he said.
The 48-hour cargo clearance has been a major issue in the nation’s ports clearing chain as clearance could take weeks. There has been too much talk about achieving 48-hour cargo clearance time since the dawn of the current democratic dispensation. Despite the efforts made over the years, achieving the target seems uncertain.
Stakeholders believe that 48-hour cargo clearance will only be possible when the federal government sincerely deploys massive technological inputs, infrastructure and well trained operators.
During a one-day national discourse and commissioning of the NSC Direct Trader Input (DTI) café, hosted by the Nigerian Shippers Council with the theme, “48-hour Cargo Clearance target in Nigerian Ports: A reality or mirage”?, participants at the forum identified several factors militating against the Federal Government’s 48-hour Cargo Clearance policy, which is now more like a slogan recited by government functionaries at events.
Factors identified include poor infrastructure (work environments, roads, non-linkage of rail to ports, and unharnessed waterways), low deployment of technology, inconsistent policies, unmotivated work force, and unprofessional clearing agents and some dishonest importers.
Issues of multiple and irrelevant documentations by government agencies, particularly the NCS, were also blamed for delays in the cargo clearing process.
Although it is relatively accepted that there have been improvements in how businesses are being conducted at the ports, its progressive sustenance cast doubts on the ability to attain the 48-hour cargo clearance target.
It was suggested that operators in the ports need to be re-orientated, while working hard at ensuring lesser human interface in the cargo clearing processes in order to facilitate trade.
Representative of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) on the board of the Nigerian Shippers Council, John Aluya, said: “Customs forgot that when trade are facilitated, more revenue will be generated and that would have solved the problem.”
Aluya also accused the Customs Service of “wrong interpretation” of the Federal Government’s fiscal policy, leading to the trapping of over 2,000 containers inside the port. “If a circular is sent from the Ministry of Finance to the Customs on a particular issue, when it gets there they will give the circular another interpretation which will take several weeks before it is clarified,” he said.
Stakeholders in the maritime industry have been reacting to the decisions taken at the meeting on the issue of cargo clearance. Vice Chairman, Ecomarine International, Mahmud Tukur said the non-availability of the implementation procedures makes the attainment of 48-hour cargo clearance from Nigeria’s ports a mirage for now.
Tukur said that the initiative of 48-hour cargo clearance from the ports is laudable but decried the non-existence of the parameters for achieving it. “48-hour cargo clearance is a laudable target, it is achievable but there is a lot to be done for that target to be achieved. 48-hour cargo clearance requires Electronic Data Interface – a situation when your goods arrive at the port and you need to ensure that you can go online and track the bill of lading, log in to get your Customs ASYCUDA and make your payment. All these things need to happen before you can clear goods within 48 hours,” he said.
He added that when there is no power, it will be difficult to go online to do that. “How do you achieve 48-hour cargo clearance when there are still Customs bottlenecks? It is not that Customs do not want the process to succeed but there are certain guidelines and procedures. More so that the target requires reorganisation and a regeneration of many existing laws and procedures .No doubt all these will take time,” Tukur said.
A freight forwarding agent, Tony Anakebe blamed the terminal operators, the shipping companies that came with the containers and some fraudulent Customs officers for the delay in cargo clearance. “Some agents deliberately leave containers in the ports because some fraudulent Customs officers collect money and run away due to the fact that they don’t know what to do. So, all these things are major problems that cause delay in cargoes clearance at the ports,” he said.
While Nigeria is battling to achieve the 48-hour cargo clearance target, Benin Republic is targeting to achieve 24-hour cargo clearance in its Cotonou Port, which has seen increased volumes of goods import since 2011.
Director General, Roro Terminal Benin SA of Grimaldi, Benin Republic, Clement Godonou said that it currently takes at most seven days to clear containers from Cotonou Port, while cars take only a few hours. He said Benin Republic started central port system in 2011, following a port reforms which introduced single window for all payments concerning cargo which, he said, has been functioning well. “This has reduced the time to clear cargo in Cotonou among other benefits of the reforms. These include stoppage of car sales within the port to create more space for port terminal activities,” he added.
Nigeria had up to 12 security agencies that inspect cargoes before being cleared from the ports. This was reduced to five by government’s pronouncement three years ago, but quite a number of them still operate in the port.
For Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Abdulahi Inde Dikko, the lack of transparency and honesty in import and export declaration by importers and their clearing agents is one major factors militating against the facilitation of international trade.
Speaking at a stakeholders’ summit on ‘Enhancing Trade Facilitation through Sustainable Compliance’ organised by the African Centre for Supply Chain and Multimix Export Academy, Dikko said the main reason for delays in clearance of goods at the port is incomplete documentation by agents.
“Once your documentations are complete and accurate, there is no reason whatsoever for anybody to have delays at the port. In the case of the newly introduced PAAR, there are instances whereby documents are uploaded by the bank and when they are complete and accurate, PAAR is issued in less than 20 minutes,” he said.