By Kenneth Jukpor
As part of efforts to address the bottlenecks leading to delays in clearing charitable items at Nigerian ports, the Nigerian Senate and port stakeholders have initiated plans to develop a simple and efficient Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to ensure ease of shipping and clearing of charitable items in the country.
This position was taken at a summit organised by the office of the Deputy Senate President in collaboration with the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) on the theme: “Ease of Shipping and Clearing Charitable Items In Nigeria”
The committee set up to constitute the SOPs include representatives from the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, NSC, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Customs, Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Shipping Association of Nigeria (SAN), Special Security Unit Against Money Laundering (SCUML), Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) Nigerian INGO Forum, the SA to Deputy Senate President on NGOs and thee Director-General, African Centre for Supply Chain, Dr. Obiora Madu.
In his welcome address, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege noted that there were problems in classifying items for the purposes of waivers, rebates, exemptions and other privileges for charitable items.
“There is often the confusion at the point of clearing between charitable items and other categories or items, especially the commercial ones, as they all, sometimes, go through the same processes. The result is that often, charitable items get entangled in high demurrage charges sometimes caused by delays in clearing due to denial of import duty waivers by relevant government ministries/agencies, late application of necessary documents by non-profit organizations, among others. These often cause undue loss of items and financial losses” the Deputy Senate President said.
Omo-Agege, who was represented by the his Special Adviser, Non Governmental Organisation (NGO), Princess Modupe Ozolua lamented that this challenge also extends to the denial of some life-saving relief materials to places they are needed, particularly disease-ravaged areas and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) settlements.
“All stakeholders including Civil Society Organizations, other not-for-profit organizations, in concert with the government, must comply with necessary application processes and ensure charitable items are not used for commercial purposes. Rather they should always get to the targeted beneficiaries” he said.
However, the Executive Secretary of NSC, Mr. Hassan Bello expressed delight in the wide participation of port stakeholders and the legislative chambers in the conference.
He stressed that charitable cargoes must have some protocol or SOPs because most of these cargoes have expiry dates and shouldn’t be subjected to undue delays.
“We have to come together to facilitate the clearance of these cargoes for Nigerians and other nations who use Nigerian ports for transit trade. Going by the delegation here, I am sure that the technical session would come with quality information and the National Assembly is here to make it legislation” Bello said.
He described stakeholders’ consultation as a very important opportunity to address industry problems.
Commending the 9th National Assembly, Bello said; “At the National Assembly, we are looking at bills that not just political but also seek to address economic issues and improve the wellbeing of the citizens.”
At the event, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development called for the establishment of new specialized laws to ensure ease of shipping and clearing of charitable items in Nigeria.
According to the Assistant Director, Humanitarian Affairs, Mr. Femi Alaka, the Ministry which was established in August 2019, has received numerous complaints from NGOs on challenges facing import of charitable items leading to high demurrages and abandonment of cargoes in some cases.
Alaka revealed that over 17.5million Nigerians were orphans, asserting that most of these orphans were depending on orphanage homes which survive by charitable imports.
Besides the SOPs, he recommended that non-Customs processes be streamlined and enhanced awareness on the processes. He also admonished all government agencies involved in the process to collaborate and show seriousness in expeditious handling of such cargoes.
Meanwhile, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Health and Deputy Chairman Senate Committee on Diaspora and NGOs, Senator Ibrahim Yahaya said; “We want to see how we can better implement the existing protocols and laws as it relates to clearing charitable items at Nigerian ports. We want to deploy technology to make things faster and we also want to review areas that require legislative intervention in terms of new laws.”
He asserted that the most important and immediate approach would be to have SOPs that would put together the best processes and create ease in the procedure.
“We need to create an interim alternative to address the current emergencies we have in the country to get charitable items swiftly delivered to areas of conflict in the North East and the North West,” he said.
He also called for an attitudinal change by all operators and business persons in the supply chain as it affects import of charitable items, admonishing them to ensure that the trend of delays in charitable items is corrected.
Speaking on behalf of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the Zonal Coordinator Zone A, ACG Kaycee Ekekezie stressed that the issue was critical because import waivers on charitable items have been misused and abused not just by businessmen but also by some non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations.
According to her, the Customs have been shocked to find business persons hide under NGOs to import high duty accessories for sale, yet disguised as charitable items.
“Improper documentation has also been a major problem. NGOs must get the required documents outlined by the Ministry of Finance before they approach the Customs. Corrupt practices by importers and various port officials have also affected this process”, she said.
She stressed that there must be more awareness on the procedures to bring in charitable items so that genuine NGOs don’t run into frivolous challenges that lead to delays.
Whilst stressing that Customs is very insistent on documentation, she said that the challenges associated with import of charitable items would be easily eradicated if all hands are on deck to address the bottlenecks.
“The NGOs as well as the government agencies should all know what is expected of them at every level,” she added.