Prince Adeniyi Ajayi , a prominent customs agent , Managing Director of Kaytosh Agencies Limited, a freight forwarding outfit and the Chairman , Registration Committee of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents(NCMDLCA) in this interview with shola fadeyi, he advised that thee enabling Act of the seaports Economic Regulator Should be amended to give it power of enforcement.. He also commented on other Germaine issues in the maritime sector.
There is a need for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to hearken to the view of generality of Nigerians to review its policy which restricted access to foreign exchange (FOREX) for the importation of some 41 items for the fact that there are some of the goods which can still not be produced in Nigeria and have to be imported because of their importance to the economy.
The negative effect of the policy has led to a sharp decline in the level of imports into the country and by extension the drastic fall in the revenue of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS).This is why the Service’s Comptroller General , Colonel Hameed Ali has appealed to the Apex Bank to review the policy .The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria(MAN) has also been clamouring for the review of the measure because of its impact on their businesses.
But I would still not advocate that all the items should be removed from the restriction because I would not understand why toothpicks and matches would still be imported, I consider it as a waste of FOREX since such item can be produced in the country but what I think should be done is that a better enabling environments should be created for the manufacturing of these products so that more investors can participate in their production locally..
On the issue of the security agencies at the seaports, I think some of them are acting outside the purview of their mandate and the personal experience I had with the National Agency for Food Drugs and Administration and Contro l(NAFDAC) on an item of a client which I normally clear for him will vividly explain what Ia m talking about in terms of impunity on the part of security agencies.
What happened was that an importer of mine which holds a certificate for the importation of dehydrated potato granules brought in a consignment of the product recently for repackaging and sale in Nigeria and the NAFDAC officials queried it on the basis of ‘labelling lapses’ and I had to meet the Acting Director General of the Agency over the matter.
Normally, NAFDAC has in its law an arrangement that such repackaged products can be imported but that the import document must contain the name and address of the importer, that of the manufacturer of the product abroad, the NAFDAC number allocated to the importer , the net weight of the product and some other information.
In the letter I wrote to NAFDAC , a copy which I also showed to the DG, and to which I attached the Act of the agency to show them where it is stated in the agency’s law that the NAFDAC registration number that has been issued for the product can be inscribed on it but I was shocked when the agency and even the DG insisted that the number was meant to be used when the product has been repackaged in Nigeria in its normal market sizes
What actually amazed me is that despite the fact that the importer abided by the requirement of the Nafdac Act, the DG was not moved by all my explanations judging by his response but demonstrated the high level of impunity which takes place among officers of federal government agencies.
Despite the fact that I also saw the legal officer of the agency on the matter, believing that he would exhibit more understanding he relied on the information of the officer who inspected the cargo at the port and neglected what the law of the agency says even as he told me that there was no way I could know the law of the agency more than them who are the personnel, as if the law was meant for them alone and not all Nigerians.
I had no choice other than to request for provisional release which the Act of the agency also covers, a request which was granted anyway for the goods to be cleared from the seaports and kept in the warehouse pending the resolution of the matter, but the issue is that the cargo had already accumulated a demurrage of about N530,000 as a result of the impunity of NAFDAC before the issue of provisional release was agreed upon.
One is also worried about the role played by security or government agencies through their act of impunity at causing delay to the clearing of goods at the ports and making such cargoes to accumulate demurrage as it has happened in the case of my client’s cargo which of course the importer will pass on to the final consumer and which invariably leads to high prices of goods in the markets.
I think the security agencies put up their act of impunity bearing in mind that most importers and agents do not really bother to fight for their right by ensuring that they go through the enabling laws of particular government agencies which infringe on their rights, but there is a need for this habit to be inculcated for the benefit of the economy.
The problem is that such attitude that is demonstrated by the officials of the security agencies are just for the purpose of extortion while those importers and freight forwarders who know their rights and are pursuing it are always labeled by the security agencies.
Also agents are having similar experience with the plant quarantine which officers have been examining
processed goods which in actual fact they don’t really have the right to inspect. The Single Goods Declaration inspection of goods that is being practiced states that once a particular item has been triggered on a particular lane and inspected, it should no longer be subjected to any other form of examination as it is being done now by some of the security agencies.
But the issue really is that all these double examinations are meant to extort money and that is why most of the officials of these agencies including the customs prefer to immediately treat documents of importers who they have known over time normally import prohibited and other questionable goods while they delay in attending to documents of genuine importers in most cases because they know they will not get money from such people.
So, to check this problem caused by the security agencies, I think government should put in place a monitoring unit to always monitor their activities to keep them in check as well as make it impossible for them to continue to be a clog in the wheel of smooth and fast cargo clearing.
The power of regulation of the seaport sector conferred on the Shippers’ Council unfortunately did not extend to the security agencies probably because the Council being also a government agency should not be regulating fellow agencies.
On the issue of the refund on empty containers, it still in most cases take the foreign shipping agents up to three weeks to make the refund even when the Shippers’ Council has said that the refund should not go beyond seven days.
I think the foreign shipping agents and the concessionaires are just interested in the money they would repatriate to their countries and not really about the development of Nigeria otherwise you would have expected that the concession programme would have contributed much more than it has done to the development of the seaports.
As it concerns the plan by the Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi to merge clearing and forwarding agencies, I think that arrangement will negate the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which talks about freedom of association.
What the Minister should rather do is to set up a machinery to monitor the activities of the associations and recommend for appropriate discipline anyone of them that is doing anything contrary to the purpose for which they are set up.
The associations should be well monitored to ensure that they adequately cater for the welfare of their members and contribute meaningfully to the development of the maritime sector not that they would be extorting money from importers and every customs agent at the ports.
My association only collects dues from its members through its chapter’s offices unlike some of the freight forwarding associations which go to the extent of colluding with shipping companies and concessionaires to add the tolls they want to collect from their members to their charges and even support the highhandedness of these providers of shipping services to the detriment of all the customs agents.
This is why we believe that there is a need for the enabling Act of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council to be amended by the National Assembly to give the council the power of enforcement to further deal with situations like this because without this vital power it would be difficult for the council to operate effectively.The National Agency for Food , Drug Administration and Control(NAFDAC) and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria(SON) have power of enforcement.The Federal Government should intensify its lobby of the National Assembly to ensure that the Council’s Act is amended so that stakeholders would not continue to disobey its directive at will and to enable it fulfill its mandate as an economic regulator out to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the sepaorts.
The Minister can only achieve such with dialogue and not by coercing the freight forwarding associations to fuse , because each of the associations has its own policy which differs from that of the other association so as such he cannot use force to make them to become one body.
To facilitate clearing of goods at the seaports, importers need to embrace the culture of genuine declaration and that is why shippers on getting their pro forma invoice from their suppliers, they need to quickly proceed to a qualified and knowledgeable customs agent who will guide them on the payment of the right duty on such goods.
Before the goods arrive the country , a competent agent would have assisted his importer to link up with the SON and NAFDAC for goods that require their attention so that they issue the necessary product certificate on it having inspected it in the country of origin while all they would need to do later is just issue to the importer the Conformity Assessment to confirm that the goods on which they issued the initial certificate is what was actually imported.
So all these documents would have been sent to the bank , which will later forward them to the Nigerian Customs Service for the issuance of the vital Pre Arrival Assessment Report which would be required to clear the goods even two weeks before the arrival of the vessels , making it possible for unnecessary demurrage to be incurred.
But again everything still bothers on security agencies also operating within the purview of their law that and trying as much as possible to avoid instances of impunity that we have been talking about that and not that they would be engaging in act that will make goods to incur demurrage at the ports just because they either want to prove that they are regulators or because they want to extort money from importers and customs agents.
This is to show that it is possible that the importer takes all the necessary precautions to avoid delays but it would turn out that it is either the customs or NAFDAC will pose a stumbling block in terms of jacking up the value of the PAAR or NAFDAC imposing unnecessary query on the goods like t he experience I had with the agency recently on the repackaged potatoe product.
The issue really is that the security agencies including the customs need to know that their laws are not meant for themselves alone to interpret but the general public who can do so correctly while the officers of the various agencies need to know that any impunity they exhibit which will make the importer to pay extra cost on the clearing of his goods will still be passed on to the final consumers in the market .