When Nigeria Customs’ operations became tech-savvy

There were sighs of relief and applause from all over the country by stakeholders as the Federal Executive Council, presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, ratified the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) modernisation scheme at the cost of $3.1 billion.

Minister of finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, had, on Friday, presented the memo approving the e-Custom project for the complete automation of the NCS processes and procedures using the application of information and communication technology (ICT) in all aspects of the agency’s administration.

Ahmed explained that the project was awarded in favour of Messrs E. Customs HC Projects Nigeria Limited for a concessionary period of 20 years. It is projected that government will earn about $176 billion during the period.

The minister further revealed that the objective of the project was: “to completely automate every aspect of the Customs’ business and to institutionalise the use of smart and emerging technologies that will enhance the statutory function of the Nigerian Customs Service in the areas of revenue generation, trade facilitation and enhancement of security.

Significally, much more than the amount the government would earn is the ease that will attend the businesses that the agency controls. Business owners and investors have not hidden their excitement about what is certain to improve their ease of doing business in the country, especially when it comes to the import and export of goods and commodities.

Before the ratification of the e-project, many had lamented the huge load of paperwork and the slow processes of getting through NCS protocols, revealing that the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic only added to their woes.

The reactions that have met with the digital development suggest that the headaches of many businesses will soon be allayed.

 

What government, stakeholders and public stand to gain from e-Customs project.

Explaining how the e-project wikll be of immense benefit to public an private stake holders. Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed, disclosed that it will be of no burden to the purse of the government.

“The investors are providing all of the financing and this revenue will be deployed in three phases and they will look over the investment in the concessionary period of 20 years,” the minister stated.

Findings by Sunday Tribune revealed that the e-Customs project will facilitate the much needed optimisation of the NCS systems which will enable trade facilitation and efficient revenue collection. The government stands to benefit in terms of increased internally generated revenue (IGR).

Digitalising the responsibilities of the agency means that the condition of security will be enhanced as the development of systems and networks is expectedsuppress smuggling activities.

Given that there had been complaints about the process of getting Custom’s clearance, the e-Customs Project, Sunday Tribune gathered, will improve Customs’ clearance efficiency to facilitate trade, support end user satisfaction and foster mutually beneficial relationships between consumers and the NCS, as required to improve the confidence of all stakeholders in the NCS.

Comptroller-General of Customs, Colonel Hameed Ali (retd), disclosed that when fully deployed, the entire processes,  including local administration, clearing of goods and services will be done electronically.

“Export and import processing will be paperless. We need to up our game in our knowledge of computer because in the next one and a half years, if you don’t have knowledge in computer, you cannot function in customs,”Ali stated.

It was also discovered that upon the project take-off, there will be minimised government spending and allocation to NCS for tasks already contemplated such as digitization of Customs processes, integration of ICT and intelligence facilities, among others. This in turn would minimise government borrowing and spending whilst diverting funds that could have been used to facilitate this project to address other pressing needs of the government.

The e-Customs Project will also introduce advanced and faster X-ray scanners at airports, seaports and land borders to assist NCS in improving clearance efficiency in order to meet trade facilitation needs.

It will also eradicate tax and duties’ evasion towards increasing revenue generation with the introduction and interplay of the Unified Customs Management System, e-Port, Logistic Monitoring, electronic-Cargo Tracking and Mobile Enforcement Systems, which all imports and exports would go through.

Sunday Tribune also gathered the quality of service delivery of the NCS will be improved as a result of the effective infrastructure that will be put in place and consumers’confidence in NCS officials and processes is expected to be boostedas a result.

Analysts and experts have also expressed some foreknowledge that there will be reduction in crime, unemployment rate  thus stimulating of economic growth and development in the country. The e-Customs project will support and build the local economy of the host communities through direct or indirect participation of small and medium sized companies by affording them the opportunity to serve as service providers.

 

How the battle for the e-project was won

The strategic plan for the e-Customs Project began in 2016, Sunday Tribune learnt, when 94 companies responded to a bid request by the NCS. Fifteen companies were pre-qualified and were all invited to make presentations on their solutions to enable Nigeria realise its vision of attaining complete automation of its customs operations and enthroning best practice methods as obtained in advanced countries.

Bionica Technologies W.A. Limited was the preferred bidder after evaluation processes. Bionica presented its bid together with a consortium namely, Huawei, Smiths Detection, Nuctech of China, Larsen & Toubro Group, and Paramout Group, Huawei Technology. The Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) is both an equity investor and the Mandated Lead Arranger (MLA) which will facilitate loan syndication with foreign and local banks.

Speaking on the choice of the contractors, Ahmed said: “Bionica Technologies West Africa Limited, Bargain Securities and Supplies Nigeria Limited are the lead sponsor and co-sponsor. We also have The Africa Finance Corporation as the lead financier and Huawei Technology as a technical service provider.”

“So, council today ratified Mr. President’s approval for the PPP concession for a 20-year period to Messrs E. Customs HC Project Limited as a concessionaire for the delivery of customs modernization project.

To finance and implement the e-Customs Project, a project company was set up to partner with NCS under a PPP (public-private partnership) arrangement, to develop and implement Customs modernisation through establishment of a digital/paperless customs administration (e-Customs Project).

The e-Customs Project shall encompass, among other things, the deployment of e-Customs production applications. These production applications include e-Clearance, e-Port System, Risk Control Centre (RCC), Logistics Management System (LMS), Electric Cargo Tracking System (ECTS), Intelligent Gate (i -Gate) and Mobile Enforcement (ME).

A key feature of the e-Customs Project includes an integrated and robust infrastructure for Customs Supervision which will ensure the stability and efficiency of Customs operations at its Headquarters and Branches. The infrastructure includes Cloud Data Centre, All Connected Customs Network, Video Surveillance System, among others.

Embedded in the e-Customs Project is the design and deployment of a digital/paperless NCS with the following advanced functionalities: Office Automation Application; Human Resources Management (HRM); Documents Management System (DMS); and Asset Management System (AMS). In addition, Advanced Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) equipment will be deployed in all NCS operational locations with complete technical support and maintenance.

 

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