Businesses groan over cargo clearance, Customs reject blame

Businesses groan over cargo clearance, Customs reject blame

As businesses continue to lament the challenges faced during cargo clearing at the ports, the Nigerian Customs Service has said it is not to blame for the delays importers suffer in clearing their goods.

Private sector operators, including foreign and local investors, have for many years decried the inefficiency at the Apapa ports in Lagos as one of the major setbacks to doing business successfully in the country.

At this year’s Lagos International Trade Fair hosted by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Managing Director, FEDAN Investment Limited, Mr Stephen Amaechi, said the processes at the Lagos ports and the state of the access roads required urgent attention.

Amaechi, who was represented by the company’s General Manager, Administration, Mr Joel Agba, “We are seriously bothered about the bottlenecks created by officers and men of the NCS who have made clearing of goods at the port a hard nut to crack.

“As businessmen, we are worried about reliable and credible dispute resolution system between the Nigerian business community and the customs authority. We cannot but lament over the challenges around classification and valuation with profound implications for variations in the cost of imports.”

Amaechi called on the Federal Government to put in place processes of modernising the port management systems.

The Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Centre for Promotion of Private Enterprise, Dr Muda Yusuf, in a statement to our correspondent, said the challenges faced by importers at the Apapa port included “long and laborious documentation processes and too many agencies of government involved in cargo clearing processes”.

The immediate director-general of LCCI said, “There are also too many units of Customs involved in the process. The traffic gridlock has resulted in importers resorting to the use of badges to move cargo outside the Lagos ports.

“There are concerns about the interception of containers that have been duly cleared by the Nigerian Customs Service at the ports. These interceptions are undertaken by another arm of the customs service.”

Yusuf said the private sector operators in the economy were extremely worried about the difficulty in registering companies, saying the process had become “extremely bureaucratic,” making it extremely difficult for businesses.

“Investors have expressed serious frustrations as a result of this repeated and overlapping process of cargo clearing and release processes,” he added.

When contacted, the spokesman for NCS, Tin Can Command, Uche Ejesieme, told our correspondent that the trade facilitation at the ports “is not a responsibility of the customs alone”.

According to him, the NSC only handles the processing aspect, while other agents handles the infrastructure and logistics aspects.

He said, “For us in Customs, our processes are automated, and from the comfort of your home, you can make declarations and process your cargo.

“For the infrastructure aspect, how equipped are the terminal operators? I want to believe that some of them are not well equipped. Also, the rickety nature of the trucks is slowing down logistics.”

Describing the problem as multifaceted, Ejesieme said, “Some people just like blaming Customs as if we are the only ones in the system. We have developed a template as standard operating procedure that as a compliant trader, we can assure that your consignment will get expedited action. The major challenge we still have at Customs is compliance.

“We have a fast-tracked procedure that once your consignment comes, Customs will not examine the port, just to save you the inconvenience. You will take it to your facility and the responsible units will go to your facility to do it.”

According to him, the NCS has a dispute resolution committee in Tin Can and other commands.

“If you have any issue as a compliant trader, it will be reviewed and action will be taken. And this committee, in line with our concept of trade facilitation and measures put in place by Comptroller Muhammed Musa, sits at any time, unlike before when it was only three times weekly,” Ejesieme added.

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