By Kenneth Jukpor
The Africa Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria (APFFLON) has frowned at the secrecy with which the federal government to concession the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) via a $3.1 billion contract
Recall that the Federal Government had on Wednesday last week announced the concessioning of the Customs Service to Messrs E-Customs HC Project Limited at an approved sum of $3.1 billion for a period of 20 years.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed who disclosed this after the virtual Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari explained that the approval for the e-customs modernization project followed a memo she presented to the Council.
Ahmed stated that the purpose of the memo was she presented to the Council was for a project that would enable the complete automation of the Nigeria Customs Service processes and procedures using the application and information and technology in all aspects of customs administration.
However, speaking on the development, the President of APFFLON, Otunba Frank Ogunojemite wondered why the process leading to the concession was not made public adding that the announcement was shocking to all the stakeholders especially as the concession was for a 20 year period.
Ogunojemite recalled that when this issue was first initiated last year, the association made a press conference in one of the hotels in Ikeja noting that following the dust it generated then, the Minister of Finance announced that they had suspended it.
“This is the aftermath of the suspension. When the announcement was made I summoned meetings here and I was not comfortable with the development because if you look at what is going on in the media, who are behind the concession? What is the intention of the concession? Why are we concessioning? I think the government owes us an explanation and they need to tell us how the company was selected, who are behind the company and what has been their past record.”
“The government should explain to us the justification for this concession. It is so bad and I tell you, this will take the country back because I don’t see anything good coming out of this concession because what is the result of those businesses concessioned in the country in the past. Tell me any business that has been concessioned in this country that we can beat our chest and say boldly that the government has taken a positive decision on. Why is it that the process leading to the concession was not made public? It was shocking news to all of us and look at the tenure, 20 years for that matter. Is that not too much for test running an institution? And is this the first time the customs is being concessioned? So, what is wrong with us in this country?” he queried.
He also argued that Customs was gradually inching towards automation of its processes by itself via the Nigerian Integrated Customs Information System II (NICIS II) as port users don’t go around with cash anymore for Customs transactions.
“We do most of the transactions electronically. These companies that customs automation is being concessioned to; are they going to bring personnel from their own country? How many indigenous companies are beneficiaries of this concession? Can government come out and tell us the reason behind it and why the people were not engaged during the process leading to the concession”, he queried.