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…As NPA, port users’ see act as anti ease of doing business
There are strong indications that the insistence of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) to continue mounting checkpoints at Nigerian seaports is further frustrating the presidential executive order on ease of doing business at the ports.
Otherwise, the observed multiple cargo clearance at seaports and mainly the exit gate checkpoint remains a big issue which the hierarchy of the NCS seems not ready to give up even though other government agencies including the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) have objected to it.
Stakeholders clearly described the action as contravention to the Ease of Doing Business policy of the Federal Government.
This was the consensus of other sister agencies and business operators at the ports at a recent port stakeholders forum in Apapa, Lagos.
The managing director of NPA, Hadiza Usman, represented by Executive Director Marine and Operations, Sekonte Davis, disclosed that stakeholders are complaining of the excesses of Customs at the ports adding that the Executive Order clearly explains Customs involvement in the examination of cargoes.
Usman noted that cross checking import documents at the point of exit after all the rigorous checks within the port complex, amount to delays and waste of time.
However, as part of ending the act, NPA urged Customs to appoint credible officers to the terminals to check the fraudulent freight forwarders and fraudulent importers so as to leave the exit gate.
However, in a swift reaction, the Customs Coordinator of Ease of Doing Business at Apapa Port, Yahaya O.A.I, immediately responded, stressing that “There is nowhere in the executive order where it is stated that Customs should move out of the port gate”.
“Nobody (Customs) examines containers at the gate. What we do is to cross check the document. Apapa port is not meant for examination alone; we have containers that are on fast track. We have some that go to hinterlands that are not being examined inside the ports. There are certain reasons why officers have to be at the gate and no agent will complain that Customs is obstructing his job, unless there are infractions.
Shortly after Yahaya’s outburst, representative of Corporate Fleet Association, Paul Alamah, queried what the Customs are still doing at the gate after a container has been examined, confirmed, released, loaded and moved.
In the same vein, head of Special Duty, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Emma Agunbanze, said that the Executive Order simplified cargo clearance and asked for the collapse of the multiple checks by the Customs and fast tracks leaves the port with seals which are not expected to be opened at the gates, even the containers of transit go with their seal after being examined by Customs officer at the examination bay and cleared by Customs officers to leave the port, hence they are not expected to be stopped at the gate.
According to him, “When the releasing officer who is properly mandated to lo look into these documents has finished his job, and said that this cargo is good to go. What are they still checking at the gate? It is unfortunate that these same containers are still subjected to multiple checks on the highway.
“These do not support the ease of doing business. The Customs are not doing well and they know it. We freight forwarders also know our own shortcomings and the importers are not doing well because they do false declaration, but we must tell ourselves the truth”.
Though the matter remained unresolved as Customs continues to mount surveillance at port exit gate, some of the port users told Business Hilights that they will take up the matter further to the Minister of Finance as it is only in Nigeria that such analogue practice is taking place amongst the comity of maritime nations.