Prince Shittu: NIgeria Customs is introducing e-customs, a system not known to any freight forwarders or even Customs Officers

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Prince Olayiwole Shittu is a household name in the Maritime industry. He is not only a Colossus in the Maritime and allied industries, he is a key stakeholder in the Nigeria project. It was therefore not a surprise that he was the pioneer guest to the League of Maritime Editors and Publishers round table parley where issues concerning the Maritime sector were x-rayed with a view to identifying the problems and finding lasting solutions to the nation’s economic challenges.

In this part one interview, Prince Olayiwole Shittu, immediate past President of ANLCA spoke on a wide range of issues.

By Ovie Edomi

How do you see the Apapa endless gridlock which has made Lagos port a laughing stock and what do we do to make the on-going scheme a success?

Eto has become a tool of political maneuvering within the maritime industry. Except we are not being sincere with ourselves, NPA sees itself as an authority that heads the port and other agencies within the transport sector must bow to NPA. We contributed to Eto via the opportunity I had with Hadiza. I know there are some top agencies of government that made presentations to Hadiza about Eto too.
But we all know the reasons we have congestion. First, nobody has considered the fact that Customs operations add to congestion and these are the facts Hadiza should have taken note of including tanker operations. Do you know that those who go to the tank farms to load, some of them come all the way from North east and spend one week stationery waiting to load. Other come from the western corridor of Badagry and so on
Eto was not designed intentionally not to succeed but it was not packaged enough and there is no way even the new acting MD of NPA will be able to do much if he doesn’t take Eto back to the drawing board. Even if he choose to fine tune it, it will still remain the same. Let NPA adopt multi modal form of transportation. The barges were neglected because of lack of supervision and regulation. Also the fact that NPA doesn’t want NSC to serve as the economic regulator, even NPA needs to be regulated. On the part of Customs, there are some expenses that needs not to be paid but because there’s no opportunity of seeking a redress people are forced to pay. All these are things that need to be regulated but nobody wants to be regulated.

Eto needs to go back to the drawing board like l said earlier. There is even need to device movement into the port according to need because of the closeness of the tank farms to port operations. Already NNPC has said, that tank farms can never be relocated. We have done some research, the cost of dismantling and putting up a tank farm is the same as building a brand new one. And in a country where nobody pays for the consequences of his actions, the people who did the approval for those tank farms would not be prosecuted. The congestion at the port is less than 20 years but l must add that those we were giving the approval to build tank farms close to other serious commercial activities have done this country no service. Right now the port should have been expanding to build up area, build up in the sense that they will demolish building to expand the port and they will pay compensations for the demolished buildings and I’m sure many owners of building in Apapa would be happy to do that but right now that can’t be done because the port is surrounded by tank farms.
Another thing they can do is to take their goods to outer port. NPA needs to encourage people to patronise other ports. I can tell you other ports in the country are functioning.
As I talk to you now, we’re taking delivery of barges with my company in Warri port. The Warri port is functioning. We have 385 truck load of cargoes on the berth in Calabar so if people say that the ports are not working then it’s because they’re not ready. NPA needs to diversify and make other ports attractive and ensure security too. The security challenges we’re facing today for ships coming into our channel is not as much as 200 km outside our shores. Other government agencies need to make inputs also to make it work.

Who should control the scanner in the ports

The scanner issue was politicized. Everybody sees it as an opportunity to make money.
Even when you’re a political figure you contribute to make policy, you’ll still want to implement and at the same time enforced the policy. What do I mean by that? There was a presentation we made at the National Assembly, where we made them understood that at the end of the day it will not work because nobody would like to indict himself. Remember it was Cotecna that was handling it before Customs took over. Even with the scanners in use now because of the quality, we are still made to go and do 100% examination sometimes. So what is the advantage of the scanners. Now the Nigeria Customs is introducing e-customs. The system is not known to us, I’ve not seen any freight forwarders come out to explain how the e-customs that is being packaged now is going to work. Now look at government policies, you’re bringing in a new system of clearance under custom and the customs agents and freight forwarders that are supposed to utilized this system are not told what they’re supposed to face. They should have done some sensitisation and tutorials. What you don’t know you don’t know but when somebody now takes your ignorance as an advantage, that’s extortion and it is the bane of the problems we’re facing. We visited other ports for example South Africa to see how port operation works, we realized that there was no much people in the port compared to Nigeria.
Again, l don’t know how Ghana can be building new ports but here we’re making politics out of the proposed inland dry ports, painting mountain when we cannot even maintain the ones we have. Anyone who has the opportunity to visit the Ghana port can testify that it’s a standard port.
And talking about scanners it’s the terminals that made provisions for the scanners. We had the opportunity to meet the Customs CG of Ghana, he said their law is tailored like Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA), it’s that every terminal should provide the needs of Customs, housing, offices, scanners and everything. The only time a custom broker is needed in Ghana port is when a consignment is suspected and liable to seizure or additional payment. And being liable to additional duties does not also need the presence of the agent. What is done is that the details will be sent online with reasons to the agent.That way there is sanity in the port. On my laptop I can know what is happening to my consignments if l am operating in Ghana. In Nigeria, if you go to the customs office and you stand too close to them the custom official will turn the system/computer away so that you don’t see the screen Probably that’s how they ‘re trained. Anyone who hides what’s for public information definitely is hiding something. Until we change our orientation things won’t work.
In Ghana every consignment that arrives at the port goes through the scanner, automatically contents are analyzed and sent to the central store where all agencies can pick information needed to work on that particular container. Regulatory agencies at the port don’t need to be physically present before they can work. Physical presence in the port is the reason extortion and corruption is on the high in sub Sahara Africa because we must see ourselves before we can discus bribe and extortion, you know everything can’t be said on phone. The system relating to presence of officials in the port was created for enrichment and that’s why many people would pay any amount to be posted to the port on official duty of government and they turned round to say customs brokers are the influencers of corruption.

Let me give a simple example: You bring in a car from US, they tied it down with wood so that it won’t roll, the man in quarantine is telling you that wood is liable to bring in pest and all that so go to our office and pay N40,000 for using that wood. Once that money is paid you are allowed to go with the wood. So has that solve the problem of the pest the wood is carrying? On the other hand, the official tells you: if you don’t want to go to the office give me N10, 000. You probably take to this second option and the wood still goes into Nigeria. I can tell you from experience that Quarantine service abroad is the first line of action. If you travel abroad you will see them at the airport but here in Nigeria it’s an environment for enrichment.
The CG just said recently that 100% examination of containers must continue and you know our type of trade, we deal on homogeneous goods, our goods are always mixed. No scanner is perfect enough to give you the number of packages like air conditioner and TV together in a container. In some countries it’s illegal to put multi dimension cargoes in a container, so in such countries, they are easy to be scanned because it’s one set of products. But here, you scanned mixed items and the scanner can’t give accurate image then we will end up doing 100% examination to confirm.
Lack of independent body to over ride the Inspectionary power of Customs is the bane of the problem of trade facilitation in Nigeria. Because customs is the accuser, they’ll abdicate you and there’s no other body that can arbitrate for you Even if you have homogeneous goods can’t you do examination by sampling, by presenting 6 out of the 10 items? If they are okay with 6 there is a possibility that they could agree with random sampling. Unfortunately, it’s being eliminated which means all cargo must be examined 100% either the agent likes it or not, and that is what they have adopted. So sad

On Nigerian Ports Process Manual (NPPM) in line with the easy of doing business. What do you make of the scheme?

When NPPM was unfolded, I personally queried it because the first Presidential order of ease of doing business was not well thought of. They were thinking that we were like the whites who know how to manage their lives. They didn’t know that there’s this peculiarities with Nigerians who see new policy/process of doing things as a way of hindering their livelihood and as such the first they do is to resist it.
How can we be talking of ease of doing business in an environment where there is Customs’ 100% examination. Again how do you implement easy of doing business with multiplicity of check points?. We should be able to address how Customs officers stationed at the port for physical examination and satisfactorily signed that a container be released from the port only for another groups of Customs officers outside the port to find that same container faulty and unsatisfactory for release and nothing is done to the set of Officers that release in the first place as a consequence for their negligence and you want to do ease if doing business?.
Second, how can you ask people to bring you their standard operating procedure (SOP)? It is the government that’s supposed to do that. They’re supposed to set up time study committee to go into all agencies operations to see how they work and write it down then they can eliminate and improve on some areas to come out with the best SOP. But in a situation where each agencies write their own SOP and then now bonded together into one, it won’t work. For me the SOP is just like a self appraisal, can you see anyone fail himself in a self appraisal? NSC who is even asked to enforce the use of NPPM in line with government policy don’t have the capacity to do it, even if they continue to pretend they have the means to enforce. NSC is yet to be given that power to enforce even with the Executive order, rules are being flawed in the port even with the executive order of doing business, nobody is thinking of ease of doing business, people are concerned with doing business and making money and it starts from the low to the top. That’s the crises that is in the port alone.
Through the NPPM, we told them if you don’t make the NSC to be able to enforce, seal up some places, arrest some government officials for prosecution then it can’t work when it’s a situation where people do the wrong things and get away with it. Can you imagine that NSC wants to have meeting with terminal operators and they’re telling NSC they have to get permission from NPA to hold meeting. NPA as a technical operator can’t stop any government agency from carrying out their respective operations.
For NNPM to be successful or fail it rests on the government. Let the government seek professional advice and ask questions it’ll work. Let me shock you again: If you look at SOP for quarantine, it’s like 6 pages, it’s too much.

On joint boarding of vessel, what is your take?

Joint boarding they don’t need all that crowd. But I think they’ve made some arrest now and there’s sanity. However, there are still so many other areas we need to look at.

On Concessionaires. What is your reaction?

From the beginning it’s like building a house and you know you are going to have columns and you say you want to manage 2 bags of cement, are you not creating a problem for the future? That’s what is happening to port concession. Concession is good, many countries engaged in it because government can’t run enterprises compared to those running it for profit.
Concession was a political consideration. The sharing of the nation’s port into concession areas for political reason is the penalty we’re paying now because all the terminals from APM to ETML should have been one terminal so that they will be able to map out the terminal. When ship drops containers, the empties must go back to the countries they are coming from but what do we have? Government says you’re going to pay so much and there’s a minimum tonnage you must handle. Meanwhile, you want to make profit so it’s no longer their concern whether people carry goods or not because if they carry the goods you’re collecting your demurrage which makes it easier for you to make more money without cooperation. Again, because every little part of the port is now being utilized to receive containers, there’s no left over areas to keep empty containers. The failure of that concession is the reason every terminal operator wants to maximize profit, and not looking at the ease of doing business. If the truth must be told, the failure of Eto gave room for trailers to be parked on the road. Those who are supposed to bring ideas are now benefactors in Eto. Go and look at the people behind Transit Truck Park (TTP) it is another means of making money. People are not working in the port for the long term, they want to maximize what they can get because no one knows if the policy would be changed or not. The amount the Concessionaires pay to NPA is so much that they prefer to listen to NPA compared to other agency of government as far as the terminals operators are concerned. Shipping companies are another issue entirely but leave that for another day During my tenure as President of ANLCA, we were members of International Federation of Customs Broker Association and then Nigeria got two seats as board members. The idea was to use the platform to invite them to address the Nigerian government on the role of customs broker in the industry.
In America, the CG of Customs is a serving custom broker . The idea is for knowledge sharing. In our country the man in charge of the law does not want you to know the law so that he can capitalize on your ignorance.

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