Managing The Return Of SON To Seaports
The Director General, Standards Organisation of Nigeria(SON), Mallam Farouk A. Salim recently revealed that the agency has received provisional approval of the Federal Government to return to the seaports and participate in cargo examination.
This was 11 years after the organisation alongside National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and others were sacked in 2011 from entering into the port to reduce the cost of doing business . Likewise in 2017, an Executive Order signed by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo in absence of President Mohammadu Buhari who was abroad for medical treatment, emphasized the need to keep these agencies sacked and refrain them from entry into the ports. With the Executive Order, only seven agencies retained their involvement in the process of cargo clearance. They are: Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigeria Customs Service, Nigerian Maritime Administration of Safety Agency, Department of State Security, Nigeria Police Force, Nigerian Immigration Service and Port Health Services.
However, in reassuring the port stakeholders on the essence of having SON presence in the ports across the country, Salim, voiced out that: ‘’We are supposed to ensure that the borders and the ports are monitored properly and in doing this we protect the country from substandard goods. One of such ways is to make sure that employees of SON are in the port of entries in the country, especially the Lagos port where the majority of goods come into this country”. The DG believed that SON would be more efficient in living up to its responsibilities, bearing in mind that their move to get into the ports is in line with the agency’s 2015 Act Section 7 (30b). He said: “Our people can be efficient if we are allowed to work at the point of entry of these goods but right now we are not allowed at the ports. They allow us once in a while to check goods but that should not be the way because SON as an organization should not depend on the kindness of other organizations to do its work. The 2015 Act Section 7(30b) says the SON must be at the port of entry into this country”.
In an exclusive chat with Head of Media, SON, Mrs Maryam Samson, she affirmed the return of the agency to the ports and revealed that SON had already returned to the ports since the month of August.
She said : “SON got provisional approval from the Federal Government in August. It was in August , the office of the Vice President said we should go back because of how important SON is and there have been several complaints of substandard products . We are going to work hand in hand with Nigeria Customs Service and the Nigerian Ports Authority, that’s why because immediately we got that approval, we swung into action. We are drafting modalities for this and there is this campaign for joint inspection so that we don’t delay clearance of goods at the port”.
Samson stressed that since the return of SON to the port, the outfit has not witnessed any challenges but if such crops up, it would be arrested.
“I don’t think there are any hitches because if there is I think by now we would have known but there is that commitment right now that we are going to work hand in hand to ensure fast clearance of goods because that was the initial complaint, that SON was slowing down the clearance of goods. Regardless, some goods actually take a while because aside from the port testing, we sometimes have to take some goods back to the laboratory for testing and this can take a month or more than that. This laboratory testing is to see if we are getting good products into the country but there was a complaint that it consumes time”, explained Samson.
However she pledged that the agency has devised a solution to address the time challenge.
She uttered: “But SON has assured all the stakeholders involved that we would just do the initial checking at the port and if there is any need we would go to the test laboratory but it would not stop any goods being cleared. We have already worked out modalities for how we would do it . I am sure with batch numbers taken; whenever they are being cleared they would be traced anywhere’’.
When asked what the agency is doing to address the complaint of Freight Forwarders on the unreturned product samples by SON after the laboratory testing
She retorted : “The news was read online. We cannot be based on assumptions, so we had to do investigations, and that is being handled by a department. I am sure once they are done with their investigations in conjunction with the Department of State Services (DSS), and others, we would have that information and the public would get to know”.
The agency’s newest triumph was scrutinized by an industry stakeholder, founder, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, who applauded SON for its stride. According to Aniebonam , SON return back to the ports is based on demand and would facilitate the operations of clearing agents and freight forwarders .
“It’s based on a popular request. Their coming back is based on demand; it’s on the quest of the freight forwarders. I don’t think their sack from the port by the Federal Government is fair looking at the scope of their jobs on matters of quality assurance. So, it is in order for the Federal Government to call them back. Operationally, it is better for those of us who are involved in cargo clearance because sometimes we finance such transactions. If you understand the principles of our business, you would see one of it is to deliver or forward to the owner’s house after clearance but if you did not forward the goods to the owner, you have not concluded your assignment and so your money would be hanging. Thus, we want SON to be in the port; so that if nothing contrary, then the goods can be cleared out of the port and taken to the owner’s warehouse under their escorts. As well, it would provide SON the opportunity to meet with the owner of the consignments – just as the banking world says -Know Your Customer. It is an opportunity for SON to meet with the importers and be able to help them and guide them on matters of quality assurance”.
Dr. Aniebonam stated that SON has been very mindful of trade and they are doing everything to ensure trade facilitation. In his words: ‘’They are putting in mechanism, for instance at the moment, there is a Provisional Release because people bring in consignment without following due the process but SON provided the opportunity for such goods to be cleared out of the port with a sign, prelude to their assignment, so they are doing their best”
Meanwhile, the National President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Mr. Lucky Amiwero opined that the return of SON to the nations ports is a breach of Decree 61 of 1999, Port Related Offences Act and if they long to get into the ports and participate in cargo inspections, they should speak to the National Assembly to amend the law.
He declared : “There is a Decree 61 of 1999 of the Ports (Related Offences) Act signed by Former Military Head of State Gen. Abdulsalami Abubukar , which allows agencies to be in the port or not. You don’t just go and get a letter from the government. There are some agencies that are supposed to be in the port, it’s a law and if they want to go into the port, they should amend the Act. What are they coming to do in the port? Is there anywhere we have this organization in the world? Why would Standards Organisation of Nigeria reside in the port? They should go and organize themselves and be focused”.
Amiwero maintained that there are certain agencies whose right is to be in the port and participate in cargo examinations of which SON is not included. He said: “ If they want to go into the port, they should amend the Decree 61 of 1999 because SON was not part of those who are supposed to be in the port. According to the Decree, Customs is the lead agency in cargo inspection, if SON needs anything, they should go to Customs but to enter into the port and behave like a Customs officer, is not the law. It’s a contravention of the law. The government should look at the law, before they issue those letters to them”.
He argued that it is unfathomable that the government consented to SON demands to return to the seaport.
In his words: ‘’They are issuing this approval when there is no cargo in the port, the port is going down, cargo clearing is becoming too extensive and expensive and you are bringing in more agency in the port. If the government likes they should give them papers, it’s left for them because what the law is trying to do is to reduce agencies that are supposed to be in the port because the more, they are coming into the port; the more they destroy business. Anyway, we are in concession dispensation and concession is not done by law. Everything we are doing is not legal, anybody can go and collect letters but that is why that law was there; to ensure that nobody comes into the port, unless it’s backed by that law”.
Amiwero also faulted the claim by Salim that SON 2015 Act section 7 (30b) gave the agency the right to be in the port of entry. ‘’The SON Act does not say that they are supposed to be in the port and go for examinations. They can have an office around the port but when it’s about inspection -they don’t have any business being in the port’’, highlighted, Amiwero.
According to our research, Ports ( Related Offences, Etc) Act, captured on General Prohibition that (1) notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any law or enactment including the Customs and Excise Management Act, the Nigeria Ports Authority Act and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria Act, it shall be unlawful for any persons, not being a duly authorized officer or agent of any of the following, namely- (a) the Nigerian Customs Service; (b) the Nigeria Ports Authority; (c) the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria; (d) the Nigerian Immigration Service; (e) the Port Police; (f) the Inspection agents; (g) an approved designated staff of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control.
However, the SON 2015 Act section 7 (30b) states: shall have a right of access at reasonable times at any premises including all Nigerian seaports, airports and land borders where an industrial or commercial undertaking is being carried on, and may use reasonable force, if need be to gain entry.
Lastly, the former National President of the Government Approved Freight Forwarders(NAGAFF),Dr.Eugene Nweke perceived the movement as government’s indecisiveness to say what they want for the port community. “You don’t blame the SON , they know that government attention is not focused towards good governance but revenue generation; so anybody pushes whatever he or she likes at this peak of time. In a stable administration, I don’t think any reasonable National Assembly focused on good governance would approve the return of the SON. It shows that our governments are confused. The government is bringing in another bottleneck and at the same time using one part of their mouth to shout ease of doing business and the other mouth- bottleneck for the port. It shows the type of government we have and that they have not been embracing the international directives of ease of doing business, as well as the United Nations plan for Sustainable Development Goals and World Trade Organisation emphasis that ease of doing business should be a priority’’, said Nweke.