By Yusuf Odejobi
Information technology has become an essential part of the rapid and accurate transfer and processing of enormous volumes of data processed across several sectors; from banking to aviation, education to politics, and the maritime sector isn’t an exception. There should be proper management of systems, which process this information and communicate it to those who manage ports and easy access to vital for efficiency in port operations.
This explains why the Nigeria Custom Service (NSC) have been applauded with the Customs Modernisation Project with high expectations that trade facilitation will not only receive a boost but also rub off positively on the country’s economy.
However, NCS recently announced that it is returning to the use of Vehicle log books as a mandatory requirement for the clearance of used vehicles imported into Nigeria.
The circular signed by the Deputy Comptroller-General Tariff and Trade, T.M. Isa, reads, “I am directed to refer to the above subject matter and to convey that log-book is now a mandatory requirement for the importation of any used motor vehicle into the country. This is in consonance with the provisions of Customs & Excise Notice No. 30 of 6th December, 1971.”
Since this announcement, reactions have continued to trail Customs’ decision to return to the use of the 1971 Mode of Vehicle Clearance in this 21st era of technological advancements and innovation.
Questions begging for answers are being asked; why spend so much money on modernization then reverse back to a document of 1971 in this modern era? Most of the used vehicles imported most have been previously used by 3 to 5 people, what’s the certainty that the vehicle log book is still available when vehicle identification number (VIN) can be used to obtain the same data? How many of the used cars are being bought from the manufacturers? In a case where the vehicle comes without a logbook, what happens next? Won’t the freight forwarders resort to forging of log books in desperation to comply with the policy? Won’t this increase corruption and extortion among the customs officers?
V5C (formerly known as the log book) is used to prove the ownership of the vehicle and is a vital document when shipping a car from Europe to other nations.
It shows all vehicle information required to book shipment, such as the date of first registration, current registered keeper, the previous registered keeper, vehicle registration number, engine number, the correct make and model of the vehicle, the colour and the vin/chassis number. The logbook also has sections to complete if the car is scrapped. All this information, however, are usually transferred on to the bill of lading instructions.
Speaking with journalist recently, the founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) Dr. Boniface Aniebonam lamented that Customs has decided to back to use of analogue systems, adding that the use of VIN also serves the same purpose as the logbook.
VIN is a unique code, including a serial number, used by the automotive industry to identify individual motor vehicles and it could reveal the year of manufacturing and model of vehicles which are vital data for Customs.
His words: “Logbook provides you detailed information of a particular vehicle but the VIN number also does the same. Once you type in the vin code of any vehicle it gives you necessary information needed, so why are we going back? Is that our problem now?”
“The current regime of the custom administration is destination inspection. Destination inspection is customs examination, make a declaration for customs purpose, present your cargo for physical examination or automation, take inventory, assess the cargo then release it.
“Pre-arrival notice is advisory and not sacrosanct. So what’s the big deal? Issues of concealment, false declaration as contained in section 46, 47 is null and void, it’s of no relevance as long as you have voluntarily presented your cargo for examination at the physical examination bay.
He, however, advised the Federal Government to listen to the yearning of the people and also the people should also be able to speak the truth to those in authority.
In the same vein, the Vice President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Dr. Kayode Farinto described the move as unrealistic, adding that logbook is obsolete as most used vehicles no longer come with the document.
According to Farinto, the relevant data NCS intends to get from the log book could also be obtained from VIN when entered into a VIN decoder.
Dr. Farinto posited that the relevance of having the logbook in the past was to ascertain the model of the vehicle, year of manufacture and repair history but noted that over the years technological advancement has seen VIN replace the need for log books.
Farinto opined that the directive will further encourage corruption, as freight agents may be forced to begin to forge log books, while Customs officers could also use the absence of log books to extort importers and freight agents.
His words: “This directive of Customs that it is mandatory for any vehicle that must be cleared at the nation’s ports to have a logbook is wrong. It looks like the management of Customs is taking us backward, and we are not in the medieval period. I know that the relevant section of the law quoted by the DCG was enacted in 1971 and it says if you are going to clear any vehicle in seaport, you must have what is called a logbook.”
“The relevance of having the logbook then was to ascertain the model of the vehicle and year of manufacture. However, over the years in Customs operations viz-aviz; WCO procedure, a lot of things have been put in place to ascertain the manufacturer, the year of manufacture and the body of the vehicle and that thing is called VIN.”
He lamented that over 70 percent of the logbook are not even written in English because they are usually from vehicles coming from Europe; meanwhile, most of the imports of used vehicles today arrive from the United States of America (USA).
On his part, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Mr. Stanley Ezenga, maintained that the use of logbook could still be relevant as it is still utilized in neighbouring seaports like Cotonou Port.
Explaining the difference between VIN and logbook, he said “Using the VIN requires the use of the internet to search for it online but with the logbook, the information needed is already filled in, all the importer needs is to present it to the customer agents.”
However, speaking with our correspondence, the spokesman for Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) Tin Can Island Port, Mr. Uche Ejesieme argued that logbooks are still found in imported used vehicles.
According to him, the insinuation that the document is obsolete isn’t tenable as the used vehicles usually arrive with logbooks.
With the ninety days grace period yet to elapse, it remains unclear whether NCS would stick to logbooks as a prerequisite for clearing used vehicles.
Nevertheless, it is expected that Customs continues leading the nation’s innovative port development and quit approaches that tilts towards regression.