By Kenneth Jukpor
One of the biggest challenges facing Nigerian ports is the absence of a Single Window platform. Nigeria is the only country without this single-window platform in Africa. This has made cargo clearing process at Nigerian ports more strenuous and complicated both to importers and regulators, when compared to the practice at other ports, even in the West and Central African sub-region.
Single Window is a trade facilitation tool that can significantly reduce the time and cost associated with cross-border trade.
The importance of a Single Window process at the ports was re-emphasised recently by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during a tour of Nigerian ports as part of compilation and publication of the IMF Economic Outlook Review for 2020.
IMF Mission Chief and Senior Resident, Representative for Nigeria African Department, Mr. Amine Mati stressed that the team identified absence of the National Single Window platform, absence of scanning machines for customs operations as well as poor logistics and road infrastructures as the bane of Nigerian ports.
Over the years, the Nigerian Ports Authority has been exploring the best options for a Single Window environment that would meet the needs of the ports and all their stakeholders. The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has equally taken up this mandate at it has invested massively in a Single Window system.
On NPA’s platform, the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) has been added while Customs platform has the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) and the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). However, Customs recently upgraded its operating system to Nigerian Integrated Customs Information System II (NICIS II) and neither SON nor NAFDAC has been included on the new platform.
Nevertheless, the nation’s port sector still lacks a comprehensive functional Single Window and nation at large suffers grossly as the problem leads to undue delays in dealing separately which each of the agencies at the ports.
The Minister of Transportation, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi and other top stakeholders in the port sector including, the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Mr. Hassan Bello; the Managing Director, NPA, Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman, among others have also emphasised the need for a Single Window platform in the country.
Speaking with MMS Plus newspaper during an exclusive chat recently, the Managing Director of NPA, Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman, observed that the conflict between NPA and Customs over Single Window is being addressed by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.
According to her, the Vice President was chairing a committee saddled with the onus of harmonizing the Single Window platforms of both agencies.
‘On Single Window, Customs believe that what they have is the Single Window. However, there is a committee that is chaired by the Vice President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and the committee is working on implementing the Single Windows. At NPA, we are going to proceed with developing the Port Community system.”
“At the point where the Single Window has been concluded in terms of the framework, we would plug in to have the total Single Window deployment. Right now, the VP is chairing the committee which has the Customs, Ministries of Transportation and Finance, sitting to develop that framework”, the NPA boss said.
Recall that the Deputy National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Custom Agents (ANLCA) Dr. Kayode Farinto recently stated that freight agents have lost over N6billion daily to demurrage for two weeks following inability to access the portal and process Standard Organisation of Nigeria Conformity Assessment Programme (SONCAP).
According to Farinto, the failure of the server of the SON to link importers to the Customs server for the clearance of goods has reportedly cost the port industry N84billion in 14 days.
“Importers have been trying for two weeks to upload their SON Conformity Assessment Programme code into the system to get their Pre-Arrival Assessment Report out without success. The loss to the port is estimated at N6bn daily,” Farinto said.
Although these claims were refuted by the leadership of SON, SON was unable to disclose how much revenue freight forwarders actually lost while there was a hitch in the agency’s online portal at it explained that it upgraded its system and importers were having challenges migrating to the new system.
Speaking with MMS Plus recently, the President, African Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics in Nigeria (APFFLON), Mr. Frank Ogunjemite reiterated that the loss by freight forwarders was far beyond the N6billion quoted by Farinto.
According to the APFFLON President, this fiscal quagmire which resulted to the colossal demurrage for terminal handling companies and shipping companies could have been avoided if the port sector had one functional Single Window platform.
Ogunjemite also asserts that the availability of an ideal Single Window would also curb the multiplicity of agencies at the ports and the consequent activities such as corruption and other vices.
“Single Window would limit the call for more agencies to be at the ports. It is bad enough that we don’t have functional scanners at the ports but things can be better with a Single Window. The delay in SON CAP Process is real. It is erroneous that SON thinks its platform is a Single Window just as Customs and NPA also claim to have theirs. A freight forwarding veteran said Nigeria lost N6billion to SON CAP issues and I say it has been more than this figure.”
“I would advise SON to do a robust stakeholders’ engagement and make it a regular exercise. The objective of this exercise should be to genuinely seek stakeholders’ feedback on their activities and not sing praises of services that they don’t render. We just don’t want to debunk their claims. We genuinely want SON to be relevant. They should fix their challenges because it is costing the nation huge revenue. People are paying huge sums as demurrage arising from delays as a result of SON” he said.
He expressed worry that the absence of Single Window has seen the shortcomings of SON, Customs and other port sector agencies enrich terminal operators and shipping companies that are mostly foreign owned.
According to the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hammed Ali (Rtd), after a recent meeting with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, it was agreed that the E-Customs would be the main platform for the single window, which would be a warehouse for everybody to key into for information and for transacting business in Nigeria.
His words: “What is required from all other agencies to develop their own technological platform and then key into the E-Customs platform. All those already in our platform will be integrated into this, but it will require a lot of technology; it will require robust platforms for agencies to key into that system and use it successfully.”
Ali promised to fast-track the MoU between the NCS and the NSC, adding that NCS would up its game to ensure every container being transported in the country was duly protected and all containers brought into the country taken out accordingly.
As the Vice President thrives to actualize a Single Window for the port industry, there is no doubt that the sector and the nation at large would benefit from a one-stop shop online platform where all payments can be made. Port processes would be simplified with transparency and clear Standards Operating Procedures (SOPs) with Single Window.
If the Federal Government intends to boost revenue from the non-oil sector the facilitating of trade for improved turnaround time for goods must be taken seriously and the availability of a Single Window platform would be key to achieving this and subsequent economic diversification efforts of the President Mohammadu Buhari’s administration.
The implementation of a Single Window system enables international (cross-border) traders submit regulatory documents at a single location and/or single entity. Such documents are typically customs declarations, applications for import/export permits, and other supporting documents, such as certificates of origin and trading invoices.
Beyond the benefits of Single Window, the question is – Can Nigeria’s Vice President, Osinbajo achieve this arduous task of harmonizing fragmented platforms into a unified Single Window for port operations?