When too many Customs units/desks litter Nigerian ports system

In recent days, a list of 21 units of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) was accused by port users of impeding free flow of cargo evacuation inside the ports. In this report, TOLA ADENUBI x-rays the various Customs desks, and why they abound inside the ports. Excerpts;

A major reason corruption thrives in Nigerian ports system has been narrowed down to human-to-human contact during cargo clearance processes. For many observers, the Single Window system where the ports become fully automated is the way to go. Allegation of arm twisting of cargo owners by port officials have dominated Nigerian ports scene in recent years, making some to label Nigeria’s ports as the most expensive to do business in. With information of cargoes having to pass through 21 Customs desks/units at the Apapa and Tin-Can ports surfacing recently, and leaving many shocked, a cursory look at the various Customs units operating inside the ports shows some are merely duplicating what others might have done.

 

21 CUSTOMS UNITS/DESKS

The long list of Customs units/desks operating inside the ports which was obtained by the Nigerian Tribune are: Form M unit, PAAR unit, Unblocking unit, Abandoned unit, Examination/report unit, DC Report unit, Releasing unit, DC Stamping unit, Gate/Exiting unit, Valuation unit, CPC q and a unit, APM unit, DC Admin unit, DC Compliance unit, CAC monitoring unit, CIU unit, Enforcement unit, OC gate unit, Gate officers unit,  Clearance unit and Post Clearance Audit (PCA) unit.

However, for some port users, these units/desks are separate from those outside the ports. In the words of the Managing Director of Wealthy Honey, a clearing and forwarding firm, Mr. Kayode Farinto, “There is another four or five units of Customs team waiting for cargoes outside the ports after the 21 units inside the ports allow such cargo to exit the port.

“These various units/desks both inside and outside the ports are the major reason we have corruption inside the ports. These units arm-twist cargo owners all because they need to meet with their revenue target set by the Customs headquarters. The revenue target set by the NCS is the major problem. Cargo owners are being arm twisted all in the name of meeting up with revenue targets. Some Customs Area Controllers (CAC) of some of these seaport Customs command have stayed two to three years in their current role all because they are delivering revenue target at the expense of cargo owners.”

 

DUPLICATION OF FUNCTIONS

A cursory look at the various Customs units and desks shows that some are merely duplicating what others have done on cargoes. For units like OC Gate, Gate officers, and Gate/Exiting, like the name implies, these are units that could have been collapsed into one due to similarities in what they do. Also, for units like Examination/report and DC Report, they could have also been merged into one to reduce the number of Customs desks/units that litter the ports.

In the words of Anozie Ugochukwu, a clearing agent, “Most of these units ask you for same document during cargo clearance. They vet the same thing, and this leaves one to wonder why they should be inside the ports.

“In the process of demanding for these documents, whether money exchange hands or not is not what can be guaranteed. If the Customs alone can have 21 units/desks inside the ports, then cargo owners are in trouble because we cannot rule out extortionist tendency.

“It is true that people call the ports a ‘Customs ports’, but that is not a justification for flooding the ports with various units and desks all in the name of ensuring compliance to trade rules.”

 

WHY THESE UNITS

When contacted on this issue, Spokesman of Nigeria’s second busiest Customs port command, Tin-Can Island Port Customs Command, Uche Ejesieme explained that some of the 21 interference units of the Customs are statutory while others are for checks and balancing.

According to the Tin-Can Customs Spokesman, “First, it will be pertinent to acquaint us with the role of the Nigeria Customs Service in the trade value chain and even go further to point out the processes and procedures for a compliant trader.

“For the first, it may interest you to know that the role of customs is just limited to examination and release of cargoes. This is because the automated system allows for self assessment/ declaration by the importer or his agent. Therefore whatever you declare would be captured and treated as such except when physical examination proves otherwise.

“For the import procedure, any eligible importer is expected to fill a Form M with the designated bank, attaching all relevant import documents, which will be processed by the bank and uploaded to Customs portal for issuance of Pre Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR). We must note that PAAR will be issued based on the information from the importer. Once issued, the importer proceeds to the port for clearance of cargo.

“Once the importer makes the declaration on Customs NICIS 2 platform, selectivity engine is triggered to the appropriate lane and the importer’s SGD is automatically assigned to a particular Releasing officer for examination and release of cargo.

“However, the interference of any other Customs unit is usually on the outcome of physical examination or privileged intelligence report. it is instructive that of the alleged 21 steps/units, some are statutory requirements for documentation, some for checks and balances, while the rest are actually nonexistent.

“For the purpose of this response, its imperative to reiterate that in the course of sensitization exercise with our stakeholders, we have identified three categories of traders namely: Compliant traders, Fairly compliant traders and full non-compliant traders.

“For the first category, it comprises of mostly multinational companies. For the second category, it comprises of those who you must prod to be compliant. While the third category are those that believe   that processes must be circumvented despite how simple you might want to make the procedure look.

“However, the good news is that we are embarking on continuous stakeholder engagement, with a view to making the non-compliant traders see reasons to conform with extant laws.”

 

ROLES OF SOME UNITS

On what some of these units do, Ejesieme added that, “for Examination, like the name implies, they examine the contents of the cargoes. CIU units provides additional intelligence on the cargoes. Valuation unit check value of the cargoes, and also appraise the value when infractions are noticed.

“CPC/Q&A unit modifies HS code.

“Post Clearance Audit (PCA) is a unit that does follow up on cargoes belonging to Fast track beneficiaries. The Monitoring and compliance unit is a statutory requirements of the World Customs Organisation (WCO), wherein all Customs administrations are required to put modalities in place to ensure compliance. DC Terminals and OC gates are for final documentary checks.

“In all of this, compliance is the key word. By our standards, a compliant trader will always get expeditious attention and other incentives. Beyond this, the NCS headquarters had mandated the commands to create a Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC) for the resolution of all trade disputes with the speed of light in line with the concept of legitimate trade facilitation.

“Additionally, the PR Units/ Help desk have been trained to mediate in genuine cases and above all, the office of the Area Controllers in all the customs formation are always accessible for complaints.”

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