The National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents,(ANLCA) , Prince Olayiwola Shittu’s executive is said to have delivered the dividends of democracy to the members in various ways, namely welfare, insurance , introduction of biometrics, provision of a befitting temporary and permanent secretariat and the global projection of the association’s image among others.
However, in this interview with SHOLA FADEYI , he says as a matter of fact that it is unfair for the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) to block the licences of Customs agents on account of the fact that their Direct Trader Inputs (DTIs) passwords were hacked by dubious people.He also spoke on various burning issues in the maritime sector ranging from the gridlock on the Lagos Ports access roads, Ease of Doing Business, tank farms, unlicensed DTIs, 2018 budget among others. Excerpts:-
The Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) licensing system is such that each licence is attached to a Direct Trader Input (DTI) platform.When the importer has paid his money based on the Pre- Arrival Assessment Report(PAAR) ,the duty of the agent is to capture on his own platform where he has the DTI Code and the Password which he uses to input the Data on the Platform which is the exclusive use of each of the agency that has the DTI.
What happens is that when customs gives licence to people they are given default password while you can change the password on your system later.For those who have regular works they change their password regularly to make it impossible for anybody to use it to gain access. But there are those who have the default password and have not changed it.
The giving of the password is between the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and the master operator of the system . In the first instance, the hackers who recently hacked into agents passwords succeeded because those owners of the passwords have not changed their default password. So the criminals use the password for declaration when they take them to any cybercafé without the knowledge of the rightful owners of the password.
Really, no customs officer will want to release his password to anybody because he knows he will be the first suspect. But for the hackers to have succeeded it could have been with the connivance of those who work in Customs or with the master operator, though investigation is still progressing on the matter.
But for those who have changed their default passwords, some of them are targeted through the obtaining of those passwords from customs platform and using them illegally.
So part of the investigation is to find out , how come you have an office where you have a DTI and somebody take your code or your password and go to another person’s system and utilize it for declaration. You know that once you have paid, you trigger, it enters the customs system , where the customs now goes to do examination and exit the cargo .The question then is how cargoes would be released without the relevant officers seeing the goods physically.
What we don’t understand that these cargoes which other people’s passwords were used to release were not the ones that come through the seaports but rather are the vehicles that have been brought into the country through the bush parts and are already being used even for upward of two to three years .So , this people are doing this so that they can have the means of paying duty on them since the federal government has banned importation of vehicles through the borders.This is really how this particular hacking came about.
The situation is such that no duties were paid on some of these goods while with some others they pay a token, but the problem is with the use of another person’s password and the fact that government is losing money.In fact the hackers are so smart , that when they get the password, they open it and change it , to the extent that the owners cannot even have assess to it .But after they are through , they return the password to the owner.
However, one thing is clear , no agents who are now suffering the hacking of their passwords through the blocking of their licence has the capability of creating an inspection act , which says that payment has been confirmed , cargo has been examined and found to be correct. This is only possible with the involvement of officers.
It is after the officers have carried out this due diligence that the release will be authorized and exit would be done .Even when you consider the long nature of the clearing procedure, you will discover that customs agents should not be blamed for the issue of hacking.
The process is such that an importer has a bill of lading, parking list and other documents hands them over to his bank, which forwards them to customs .The customs then issues PAAR to the Importer through his bank following which the importer will now give the agent a copy of the PAAR.It is from that PAAR that the agent does his necessary calculation for payment of duty, surcharge and print out an assessment which the importer will use to go and pay the appropriate duty to the bank.
It is when payment has been made and the receipt has come that the agent will now use that payment confirmation to trigger, following which it appears on customs platform , before an officer will now create and inspection Act which finally leads to the exit of the cargo.
The issue is that can cargo be made to exit without its being inspected and that is what should form part of the investigation.This is because , the activities of the hackers where they illegally use the passwords of agents and the connivance of some officers that seems to be taking place are leaving the agents with a burden and a guilt, when customs will now say , you have paid N200,000 on this car instead of N1 million, then come and pay the balance.
How can you be paying for what you do not know about .So we customs agents are saying that we cannot be held responsible for hacking of our passwords , because customs is also suppose to take precautions to ensure that it is ahead of these hackers on a daily basis especially when hacking has become a global affair.
Hacking has now become so sophisticated that even the government of America’s mails is being hacked.So everybody is a victim. Government is losing revenue, while customs officers are being suspected. When an agent does a data capture and triggers to the system, it is done in such a way that the relevant officer needs to see the particular of that imports including its physical presence for him to say it is accepted.
So how do you release a cargo that is not feasible, so there could be insider officers that are working with a syndicate. We have already sent petition to the Customs headquarters and the ACG ICT is on top of the situation and investigation is ongoing. But the problem is the agents’ licences that are being blocked.
Meanwhile ANLCA is having a meeting with the Customs on the issue in the next couple of days or thereabout.By that time. some of the results of the investigations would have been out.
Another issue is that we have discovered that there are DTIs that are without licence.If it is only the Customs that can license a DTI operator , how come that there are some DTIs functioning without being licensed by the Customs.It is these types of DTIs that most of these hackers make use of.ANLCA also did its own investigation and found out that some of the DTIs they are talking about have no licence rather they assume the identities of other peoples’ licence to commit atrocities.
So in the real sense , DTIs that are not licensed should even not be allowed to operate and have access to the platform.
For instance I have a business which I register and it should be tied to my customs licence and tied to my password and so if anybody lays hands on my password, enters another system and put the name of my agency, the customs platform should reject that input.However, it is good that Customs is now thinking of ways to avoid this type of fraud.They now want to do biometrics , so that agents system can only have access to Customs when they put their finger print.
These are some of the foolproof security arrangements they should put in place , which they are actually working on and which we believe will protect the agents licence.
Where the freight forward without licence comes in is that , they go out and hustle for the job , presenting themselves as genuine customs agent .They know look for a customs agency that has no work , but has a DTI , they then use the DTI and do the declaration in the name of the owner of the licece for a fee.
But we also know that it is possible for the password of an officer to be hacked even by its junior officers or even the cleaner in the office who must have seen him when he is punching his password or if he has asked any of them to enter his password on his behalf due to his ignorance on how to operate the system.
Ownership of DTIs
Really, it was ANLCA that fought for the ownership of individuals DTI but the Customs use it as an opportunity for some of their retired staff to own licence which agents who do not have license and DTI have been making use of. But when the association clamoured for the ownership of individual DTIs , the Comptroller General of Customs , Colonel Hameed Ali(rtd) in March last year ordered that the operation of DTI without Customs licence should stop forthwith. This is for agents to be able to take responsibility for whatever happens to their license.
Already, ANLCA has given the Customs the names of such companies which we know operate The DTI without Customs licence.It is now left for the Service to be able to investigate and find out the names of officers who are in league with them, even if they have to use forensic experts to do the job so that they can stop the syndicate from operating.
That is why we think that the master operator of the DTI must by very innovative to ensure that they are always one step ahead of the hackers who are very smart, otherwise why would somebody just easily hack into another person’s password when the master operator would have attached the password to an IP address, a step that would have made this impossible.
Anyway , car dealers in a way could be the major beneficiaries of the atrocity of the hackers why they could also be behind it especially since Customs has said vehicles can be stopped anywhere on the road to verify if duties have been paid on them and since revenue has not been paid in most cases with these vehicles that are brought into the country illegally, they are desperate to pay duty on them to avoid a situation where customs will impound the automobiles.
But if there is a cargo in the port and an officer releases it without an inspection, he would be liable because that is what the inspection Act says. Examination must be carried out before cargoes can be released.So what is the role of those officers who were supposed to have done examination on such goods that they used hacked pass words to release.
The system is such that , cargoes are positioned for examination , CIU officers are involved, enforcement and other regular others are also there.The examiners write their report and an Assistant Comptroller of Customs gives his approval and the goods are released.
Ban on Vehicle via Borders
The issue of banning importation of vehicles through the border posts, is a federal government policy , but I do know that when there is such a ban on products , there is the urge for people to get them by all means and they thus resort to all sorts of tactics to achieve t
Ease of Doing Business
The Comptroller General said recently that ease of doing business cannot be realized on the altar of security breach.
What he has been saying is just a reflection of what other federal Government agencies are saying.You know the Ease of Doing Business is a federal government directive and there is no way a government pronouncement can subsume an Act of the National Assembly or the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA).
24 Hours Service
For now 24 hours service at the ports is a mirage.It will be difficult for it to have a positive impact , with all the security issues on the road , the extortion going on at the ports and the fact that the ports are not even well illuminated.
What the Customs and the others should do is to do the jobs online during the night and allow physical examination to take place during the day .The problem again is that of power, which makes the customs to switch off its system by 500 pm .
The 2017 Budget
Every year no budget of the country has been fair to the maritime sector despite that it is a cash cow.It has turned out to be like a dog owned by everybody which nobody takes care of.
indeed the compliant level in the payment of import duty is very low , and when you are sure that you are compliant , an officer somewhere who wants to extort money from you but who finds it difficult because of your compliant level will suddenly delay your work.
For example, there are many agents who are very compliant, but customs officers , government agencies among others will frustrate such agencies just to ensure that they obtain money from them.Eventually the agents may be tempted to join the bandwagon to avoid unnecessary delay to its cargoes or when he sees his colleague that he knows he is not even as compliant carrying his cargo with ease.
It will be good if importers and agents are compliant and are known to be so by customs , then they should be rewarded for such by having them clear on fastrack.
Under normal circumstance, once cargo is imported and paid for and it is to be cleared while it has been certified that duty has been paid, , so the cargo should be delivered to the owner once the content of the PAAR agrees with what is in the container .
However, because of the so called discretional powers by officers , they take a lot of decisions that are contrary to the spirit of their work and that are not helping the agents.
For instance, the issuance of a PAAR should be an attestation of the value that is put on the cargo.So the job of the officers in the field is to look at the cargo and attest that it tallies with what has been declared and once this is done , the cargo should be released.
But this is not so , because of the insistence to collect money.It is either they say that the classification is wrong or that the value is not correct and to avoid payment of demurrage due to delay some importers gi along with the officers .
So corruption really has become hydra headed, it is now our way of life in Nigeria and until this way is changed, things will continue to get bad.
There was a time textiles was contraband, but that was the time you see every big Nigerians wearing dresses that are sown from importer textiles , where did they get it ?.Same goes for the time when shoes were contraband , that was when every big person in the society was wearing imported shoes.
The unrealistic policy of government which approves for tank farms to be built so close to the ports is a factor that has been responsible for the gridlock on the ports access road.It means that tankers must patronize them and for each tanker loaded with 33, 000 litres of fuel and with 1000s of tankers visiting the tank farms , additional weight is added to the road which of course has its own capacity while traffic gridlock is created by the
So the access road to the port not only contend with the types of loads carried on trailers, trucks among others , it is also contending with that of the tankers.But if there is no need for all the tankers to be visiting the tank farms and also park on ends on the roads the cumulative weight that have been adding to the road would not happen.
Unfortunately, just about three weeks ago , another tank farm was added to the ones at the port , so one can see that the government is not thinking ahead.Some government officials gave the approval , knowing full well that the activities of the tank farms are already congesting the roads.There also ought to have been an expansion on the road.Now , the wound has been allowed to fester , gangrene has entered and we are talking about the amputation of the leg.
The palliatives being done on the road in terms of repairs and reconstruction can only work for some time as long as the tankers are still congesting the place because of their patronage of the tank farms apart from the weight being added by other articulated vehicles.
A solution is to allow the rail to take about 50 per cent of load of petroleum products that is being carried by the tankers off that Apapa port vicinity to an outskirt of Lagos where they can be re loaded.Abroad you can see about 1000 tankers being transported by rail.
The situation even becomes worse when it is realized that , Apapa is populated by people and considering the hazardous nature of the petroleum products , it is not right to have allowed the tank farms to be located in that place because of the issue of explosion.
The ongoing reconstruction of the road is good , but It will not last long .What will happen in 50 years time especially when you realize that construction of Nigerian roads are never completed, there are always variations to be done on the road by one government or the other so that contracts through which money can be realized can always be awarded.
During the Babangida administration, we suggested that all the roads in Nigeria can be handed over to Julius Berger for construction and the cost ammortised through allocation of some barrels of crude oil to them .We believe that through this method the road would have been well constructed .
ANLCA is in the process of continuity.The tenure of the present national Executive is ending .The new national executive will take over.There are things you cannot do overnight.Wheteher one likes it or not, the continuity of leadership will follow it through.There are some seeds that the present executive has planted that will continue to grow.
Take for example, ANLCA is a member of the World Customs Brokers Organisation .ANLCA is already the Chairman of the West African arm while the body has now offered it the Chairmanship of the African sub region,Somebody has to follow it through.It is not a process that happened overnight.