Prince Adeniyi Ajayi, Deputy President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents(NCMDLCA)
The Deputy President of the National Council for the Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents(NCMDLCA) , Prince Adeniyi Ajayi in this chat with SHOLA FADEYI states the rationale for the commencement of the Single Window Project while he also discussed the Gridlock at the Lagos Seaports Access Roads, congestion at the Terminals and the need to empower the Nigerian Shippers’ Council(NSC) among other issues. Excerpts:-
On the ongoing reconstruction of the Apapa- Oshodi – Mile 2 – Toll Gate Express way , since 2007 , the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA) has alerted the Federal Government and Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) on the deplorable condition of the road which has of course been contributing to the Gridlock in Apapa and Tin Can.
So if the NPA has been using part of the five per cent Seaport Development surcharge , it has been collecting, for the purpose of rehabilitating the infrastructure of the Ports including the access roads, the Expressway would not have degenerated to the state it was , which made it impassable for trucks and other vehicles , before government had to now award the contract for its construction at billions of naira.
An issue contributing to the congestion at the terminals is that of the ineffective way of handling the empty containers by the Terminal operators. The ideal thing is that when a particular ship brings say 100 teus of containers into the port , it should normally go with the same number of empties , but you discover, the ship captain dictating to the terminal operators and the NPA that he cannot take more than half of what he has brought just because of compromise .
A big issue which is contributing to the problem at the terminals is that of uncleared containers ,some of which have been at the ports for over 10 years .They are part of the goods congesting the port.What the Customs and Excise Management Act says originally on such goods is that they should be removed from the port in 14 days but later a circular increased it to 28 days.
Such goods are supposed to be removed from the ports once they reached the dwell time , but you discover that the Customs, terminal operators and shipping companies will still be keeping them there in the hope that the owners will surface and they can then collect some charges on the containers.
So also, is the trucks bringing export goods from all over the country to the Apapa Port and which owners would not have completed the customs processing before putting the trucks on the road .You then discover that the ships that would carry the goods would have left while the trucks are still inside the traffic congestion and they will continue to be on the access roads , until they can book for another vessel that would convey the cargo.
The problem really is that about 10 out of the 100 containers that are coming into the country are actually not cleared due to one discrepancy or the other , but what the Customs should do is to move such goods to the Ikorodu Government Warehouse once they enter overtime so that fresh goods coming into the port can be stored pending their clearance , but this has not been done as it should.
In fact for customs to be keeping overtime cargo at the ports amount to encouraging congestion. Under normal circumstance, the Customs has a list of containers in the terminals on their computer and they know the ones that have entered overtime and should be transferred out of the port .
Holding Bays for Trucks
Also the lack of an holding bay for trucks has been a big problem in the maritime sector adding to the congestion of trucks and that of containers at the port.The truck owners should be sincere enough to build holding bays for their trucks because it is a private business. It is a good development that the one at Tin Can First Gate is now being used .
Beyond this , the shipping companies should also have holding bays for empty containers, where importers and agents would drop the items and where they would be taken in the midnight by trucks inside the port straight into the vessels that will convey them out of the country.This will check a situation where trucks conveying empties into the port would be congesting the roads.
Really, most of the truckers instigate this issue of bribes particularly when they don’t t want to stay on the queue, and they want to go into the port and load before their colleagues who are rightly on queue or those of them who do not have the call card issued under the call up system.Apart from this , the operatives of the Presidential Task Team on Restoration of Law and Order at the Lagos Port Access Roads have also not helped matters.The leader should do more to check corrupt activities within its personnel.
Single Window Project
I belief that the commencement of the Single Window Project will make Ease of Doing Business at the Seaports possible while it will further accelerate clearing of goods at the Nigerian Ports.Once government is ready to implement the scheme , we the licensed Customs Brokers are also willing to go along because we have confidence that the programme will facilitate clearing of goods.
This is because , I have not really seen any positive impact of the Ease of Doing Business Policy measure as it concerns smooth operations at the ports and fast tracking of the release of cargoes in anyway. Involvement of human personnel has really not allowed computer to have the desired positive impact on the quick removal of goods at the ports.
The Nigerian Custom Information Service (NICIS) II that ought to have had a positive impact on the Ease of Doing Business (EODB) has not been allowed to because you discover that goods that have been duly released at the terminals are still subjected to all sorts of double checks by customs Units , Federal Operations , the Police among others thus frustrating the essence of the policy.
As it concerns the ongoing case against the other faction of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, at our end we have won a major case against them in Court in the past , where one of the key facilitators of that criminal act was committed to prison but they were able to challenge the verdict in the Appeal Court ,but there have been various adjournments since then.
On the issue of illegal and arbitrary increase in charges , the problem is with the shipping companies and terminal operators that are just imposing charges every now and then as they like because they are only interested in the gains they can make in Nigeria .You would not believe it that even about 16 years after the concession , most of them still don’t have adequate number of cargo handling equipment .
This is why after they must have issued so many TDOs to agents, they still fail to position the empty containers for customs and other agencies to examine thus causing unnecessary delays to goods clearing at the detriment of the importers and clearing agents.
Why the terminal operators behave the way they like is because , they have the backings of powerful people in government.We know that the Nigerian Shippers’ Council which is the Economic Regulator of the Seaport sector has been trying its best , but it requires the Federal Government to give it the power of enforcement that it really needs, through a Legislation of the National Assembly so that it can enforce its regulations on the providers of shipping services.
Though Customs is now trying its best , but some of its Units , like Strike Force and other agencies still engage in double checking of goods. 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.
Refund on Empty Containers
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.
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.
Practitioner Operating Fee
Under the Act establishing the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria(CRFFN) , there is nothing like the collection of the POF.This is why we have since gone to court to challenge the collection of the Fees and we have also reminded the Minister of Transportation through a letter , we wrote to his Ministry that we have a case in Court against t Fee and that it would be illegal for him to commence the collection of the money.This is just why the POF cannot see the light of the day .
. Duties of Licensed Customs Agents
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.