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More facts are merging on the recent seizure of a 40 feet container of pump-action guns numbering about 661 in Lagos even as the two officers declared wanted by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) have turned in themselves.
In a random interview with several agents at the Apapa and Tincan Ports, they in unison attributed the non-dictation and eventual smooth passage of items on Absolute Prohibition List (APL) and other cases of wrong declaration to the absence of functioning scanning machines.
They argued that corruption coupled with complacency are the major reasons for the passage of the recent pump action guns from the port before the container was arrested on Sunday near Mile 2 interchange.
One of the agents who gave a more detailed analysis of how to banned items at the ports said “before you will think of clearing any banned item, you must be sure of your connections with top Customs officers so that you can pay your into facilitating what we ‘Flying Container passage’, otherwise, you will be nabbed.”
“Again, if the agent talks too much to the extent that other top or junior officers get the plan, even if the container may pass, it must be finally be arrested on the way because the aggrieved officers who were shut out of the deal will report to surveillance and enforcement that will effect the arrest on the highway.
“But the most cause of the passage of several contra banned items is because of the collapse of the scanners which were handed over to Customs after the expiration of the tenure of the pioneer concessionaire on destination inspection.
He said “It is very easy to bribe your way out during physical examination of banned items at ports knowing full well the content of your container”.
Many of them called on the leadership of the Customs to do everything possible to repair of retool the failed scanners at ports to discourage physical examinations on imported items.
However, addressing the media during the announcement and display of the seized guns at FOU Unit, Ikeja on Monday, the Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali, has said that NCS will endeavour to replace faulty scanners at the seaports before the end of March 2017.
Many experts believe that the container load of arms and other contrabands find their way out of the port due to the dearth of functional scanners.
Another agent also pointed out that several importers of steel doors are culprits in importing metallic weapons as even if when scanners were working, they can only show as steel without exposing the structures.
According to some agents, Ali indicted his poor understanding of the workings of the Customs considering that when he was appointed, he observed that scanners were not working and failed to fix them before now.
The CG had agreed on Monday that most of the scanners at the ports are not working and that due to lack of funds, Customs has not been able to replace them.
In his views, “We have problems with the scanners because most of them are not working. We are working diligently to replace them. By God’s grace by the end of this first quarter, we will have scanners at our ports”.
“With the ones we have now, we have done scrutiny on them and two of them can be repaired and put back but we need to replace most of them.
“Paucity of fund has been part of our problem but we are working diligently to ensure that we get scanners into the ports and the borders. We are working on that,” he said.
Ali said due to the poor conditions of the scanners, Customs officers have resorted to physical examination of goods but admitted that this has made 48 hours cargo clearance of goods impossible as it does not help in facilitating trade.
“Customs has pride itself on clearance of goods under 48 hours in the past but because of the unavailability of scanners, we have now propelled our officers to ensure proper examination although it is not going to facilitate trade as we want it but for security of this country, we would rather go through the pains of painstakingly conducting examination on every container at the port.
“We have instructed our officers that no matter what, even if it is only three containers they can examine in a day, they must make sure that any container that gets out of the port is properly screened,” he said.
Business Hilights recalls that scanners at the nation’s seaports and border posts were installed in 2007 by three service providers namely Cotecna, SGS and GlobalScan. The service providers operated and maintained the scanners for years before transferring to the Nigeria Customs Service.
Giving more insights on the issue of collapsed scanners at ports, leading Maritime industry expert and President of the National Council of Managing Directors Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero linked the degradation of the scanning systems to Customs complacency and poor knowledge how scanners work after the duration of the core investor, Destination Inspection Group.
He said “Today, our scanners are not working,” because Customs failed to maintain the scanners transferred to them on the expiration of the Destination Inspection contractor in 2013”.
According to him, the major challenge that collapsed the scanning systems was lack of maintenance on the side of Customs because when the contractor was handling the same scanners, they were all working.
Amiwero lamented poor conditions of the scanners and further expressed worry on the danger to facilitation of trade at seaports now which is one of the core duties of Nigerian Customs.
Explaining more on how the problem started, the leader of managing directors of clearing agents groups said “When the scanners were bought by the Destination Inspection firms under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, it was to be operated under a Build, Operate, Own and Transfer basis (BOOT)”.
“The scanners were to be transferred to government at the expiration of the Destination Inspection contract which came to an end in 2013. The scanners were supposed to be transferred to the Customs through the Ministry of Finance because it was that ministry that oversaw the scanners contract with the Destination Inspection firms.”
“By virtue of this contract entered into by the Federal Government and the Destination Inspection firms in 2006, there is an expired six months contract after transfer which ought to cover maintenance and labour. What this six months clause after transfer of the scanners means is that the Destination Inspection firms will be around for another six months to provide labour for the maintenance of the scanners.
“However, that was not implemented. The scanners were hurriedly taken over by the Customs in 2013. The transfer of the scanners from the Destination Inspection firms to Customs was not handled professionally but politically.
“The six months clause states that if there is a software error on the scanners, the Destination Inspection firms will replace it. It also states that if there is any maintenance, the Destination Inspection firms will also do it. All of this was in the six months clause of that contract.
“There is need for government to investigate how our scanners got mismanaged. Government should set up a committee to look into this. Without scanners, there can never be trade facilitation at the ports. Scanners are one of the components of trade facilitation. This was stated at the World Customs Organisation (WCO).”
“The Customs took over the scanners politically and not professionally. The initial contract signed by the Federal Government and the Destination Inspection firms in 2006 says that after seven years, the scanners will be handed over to the Customs.
Amiwero disclosed further that there was a clause in that contract which says that the Destination Inspection firms will stay around for another six months to provide labour for the maintenance of those machines. According to him, “That was not done and that is why the scanners, which Nigeria bough for billions of tax payers money have broken down at the seaports”.
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