Stakeholders in the maritime sector have backed the Federal Government’s low ranking of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), as the least compliant agency in the ease of doing business.
They noted that the service, rather than facilitate trade, which is its core mandate, focuses on enforcement, seizures, arrests and revenue generation – a contradiction of international conventions.
According to them, its actions have killed several businesses, discouraged investors and made the country’s ports the most expensive in Africa.
A new Executive Order 001 (EO1) compliance report by the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) identified NCS and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council as agencies in the maritime sector that performed poorly in transparency and efficiency in the country’s 2022 business environment rating.
NSC scored 13.97 per cent while the Nigerian Shippers’ Council was assigned 19.28 per cent.
The Special Adviser to the President, Ease of Doing Business and PEBEC Secretary, Jumoke Oduwole, said the overall EO1 performance score was based on efficiency (70 per cent) and transparency (30 per cent).
President Muhammadu Buhari, in 2017, issued the EO1 on the Promotion of Transparency and Efficiency, which was aimed at removing bureaucratic constraints to doing business and making the country a progressively easier place to start and grow a business.
According to Oduwole, efficiency measures Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) compliance with service delivery timelines, as well as compliance with the default approval and government directives of the EO1.
She said transparency is measured based on the existence of an updated website, interactive online service portal, detailed timelines, costs, statutory requirements and customer service contact details.
Former member of the Presidential Committee on Destination Inspection and Ministerial Committee on Fiscal Policy and Import Clearance Procedure, Lucky Amiwero, lamented that NCS has been militarised, such that it focused on enforcement and arrests of cargoes instead of trade facilitation procedures.
“Ninety per cent of Customs work today is enforcement and arrest, which is not its obligations. All NCS activities contravene the Kyoto convention. The Africa continental free trade agreement area, which is talking about a process that is going to be seamless is not what the Nigeria Customs Service is doing at ports, it is arresting and seizing cargoes,” he lamented.
Amiwero warned that if Customs is not reformed, it will kill the economy, just as it has destroyed many industries and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the country with its revenue generation drive through the imposition of high tariffs and duties.
The Managing Director of Widescope International Logistics Limited, Dr. Segun Musa, said Customs must be streamlined into a single department that will have an interface with cargoes and stakeholders and should probably be an online and not even physical contact. He said the service has multiple departments that duplicate functions, thereby making cargo clearance processes and doing business in the country frustrating. Musa also said the Shippers’ council has lost its relevance in the maritime industry.
“We used to know the council through activities of cargo owners, shipping lines and stakeholders within the shipping sector, in terms of protecting their interest. But these days, they have lost focus and are tending to more irrelevance than their major responsibilities,” he said.