Scanners: Will Customs repeat history?

With the purchase of three new scanners by the Federal Ministry of Finance for deployment at seaports and borders, concerns have continued to mount on how the Nigeria Customs Service intends to manage and maintain these scanners, judging by what happened to the five 2006 scanners, writes TOLA ADENUBI.

A major drawback to seamless cargo evacuation at the nation’s ports is the 100 per cent examination of all cargoes by men of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) due to lack of scanners. Since the scanners left behind by the Destination Inspection companies malfunctioned in 2013, every cargo that comes into the country has been subjected to physical examination by the Customs, thereby slowing down the cargo clearance process. Due to the slow cargo evacuation process, stakeholders have over the years called for the deployment of scanners at the ports in order to eradicate or reduce the manual examination of cargoes at the ports.

Another factor why the need for scanners is overdue at the ports is the corrupt tendencies that play out during physical examination of cargoes inside the port. For many cargo owners, physical examination of cargoes breeds corruption. During examination of cargoes, cargo owners who have ulterior motives or have falsely declared the content of their cargoes, tend to lure Customs officers with financial rewards just to ensure the containers are either exempted from examination or the examining officers turn a blind eye to the content of such containers.

With the three scanners purchased by the Federal Ministry of Finance expected to be deployed at the nation’s busiest entry points, stakeholders have continued to express divergent views on the utilization of the scanners, and who should be saddled with the management of the scanners.

 

Where are the 2006 scanners?

For the national president of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Mr. Increase Uche, if care is not taken, the newly purchased scanners will go the way of the 2006 scanners if Customs is allowed to manage them.

According to Uche, “This is not the first time that the Customs have acquired scanners at our ports. In 2006 during the port reform, scanners were acquired through the Destination Inspection service providers, and were deployed at the various entry points of the country.

“Those scanners were purchased then under a Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) arrangement between the Customs and the Destination Inspection firms. The Customs were expected to understudy the way and manner those scanners were being operated, and then take over their operation after the expiry of the service providers’ contract. But what happened at the end of the day? When the Destination Inspection contract ended in December 2013, Customs took over those scanners, and within some months, all of the scanners malfunctioned and they were all completely abandoned.

“Now, three new scanners have been purchased by the Federal Ministry of Finance, and another four are being expected from the CBN. This is a welcome development because the relevance of scanners at the ports is to reduce the number of containers that will go for 100 per cent examination. Right now, every cargo coming in is being inspected manually, and this does not bring out efficiency at our ports. Aside from the fact that manual examination of cargoes slows down cargo evacuation processes, it also breeds avenue for corrupt tendencies.

“When deployed, Customs will need to harmonise the Pre Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) and the NICIS 2 systems with the scanners, so that its deployment can add value to the cargo clearance process.”

 

Who should manage scanners

On the management and maintenance of the scanners, the NAGAFF President advocated that they should be handed over to experts to manage, stating that the Customs cannot manage them judging by past record of what happened to the scanners left behind by the Destination Inspection firms.

“The Customs should not be allowed to manage the scanners. The Customs cannot maintain the scanners. We were all living witnesses to what happened to the scanners brought in under the Destination Inspection service providers in 2006. The service providers were to train Customs to take over the management of those scanners, but the Customs officials were simply not interested in the training, and the moment the service providers left in 2013, all the scanners became faulty and were abandoned.

“Again, another pertinent issue is whether the scanners are new ones? The scanners brought in under the Destination Inspection regime were refurbished scanners, and that was why we always had issues with what was being scanned. Sometimes, the images displayed by the scanners are blurred and not clear enough, thus forcing many containers to be stepped down for manual examination. We hope the expected scanners will be new ones, and that they will add value to the clearance processes at the ports,” Uche told Nigerian Tribune exclusively.

 

Are scanners still relevant

On relevance of scanners, stakeholders are slightly divided over whether Nigeria should still be investing in scanners in this age or should have gone beyond them. Speaking on scanners relevance, the vice president of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Kayode Farinto explained that investing in scanners is long overdue at Nigerian ports.

In the words of the ANLCA vice president, “Scanners deployment at the ports will hasten the cargo clearance processes.”

“Right now, the ports are congested because of so many reasons, including the slow cargo examination processes. With scanners, the containers on trucks just drive in through the scanning system, and the contents are immediately captured as images on the scanners. In less than five minutes, the container is cleared and ready to leave the ports.

“What the government needs to do now is to get more scanners, particularly for export cargoes, not just import cargoes alone. This will reduce manual examination of our exports and imports, and hasten the cargo clearance processes.

“At times, during manual examination of export cargoes, which are mostly perishable items, delay and bottlenecks occasioned in the value chain lead to some of these export cargoes getting spoilt and damaged. If we can have scanners for export processes, it will save time and ensure our exports meet international standards when they get out there.”

In a contrary view, Uche believes Nigeria should not be investing in scanners in this age and time.

“The whole world is already departing from the deployment of scanners at their ports. If you go to leading ports in Rotterdam and Singapore, scanners have been replaced by Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID). This technology is more advanced in trying to cross check the integrity of any declaration. This technology involves the placement of chips on an import container. Once the chip has been placed on the container, all the content of that container is relayed on a screen to port officials in the port. That is how RFID works.

“Unlike the old scanners that were deployed under the Destination Inspection regime, where we had issues with blurred images that forced containers to be stemmed down for physical examination after unsatisfactory scanning processes the RFID is an advanced technology that shows content of a container without any hitch or hindrances. Unfortunately, we are still trying to perfect the scanner technology when the whole world has moved to the RFID technology.”

 

History of the 2006 scanners

Recall that as the destination inspection providers, Cotecna, SGS, and Global Scan were leaving the ports and border points in June 2013, it bequeathed five scanning machines to the Nigeria Customs Service. These scanners were located in Apapa Port, Tin-Can Island Port, Seme and Idiroko border posts. The three scanning companies or service providers had entered into contract with the Federal Ministry of Finance for the provision, installation, operation and management of X-Ray Scanning Machines and computerized management for examination of goods on Build, Own, Operate and Transfer (BOOT) for a period of seven years, from 2006 to 2012.

At the expiration of the contract, it was extended for six months, which ended in June 2013. By this period, the Federal Government had also entered into a transition contract agreement with the service providers for transfer of the scanners to the Nigeria Customs Service. The government at the same time had constituted the Transition Implementation Committee on Destination Inspection scheme with the specific mandate to ensure a seamless transfer of functional scanners from the Service providers to the Nigeria Customs Service.

However, all these efforts failed as no sooner had the service providers left than the five scanners develop faults and were abandoned at the ports and borders, leading to a return to physical examination of cargoes at Nigeria’s entry points.

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