Chief Lexy Nwangwu is the Vice President BOT (Board Of Trustees) Association Registered Freight Forwarders in Nigeria (AREFFN) in this exclusive chat with MMS Plus’ Ifeoma Oguamanam he features as this week’s Shippers’ Guide, and he highlights the necessary steps to efficient trade facilitation in Nigerian ports.
Report has it that the limitations of trade facilitation in Nigeria ports are largely caused by lack of compliance by customs brokers, do you agreed with this?
I disagree with that because the customs broker is not a shipper, he is not there when the shipper consigns his goods, he works based on information and documents given to him.
The allegation against customs brokers is so because those accusing them know that the hands of the customs brokers are tied, they are a collection of untrained people who can easily be victimized for speaking out. They can only know what exactly is in the container at the same time as the Customs, during examination.
So who would you say hampers trade facilitation in the Nigerian ports?
It is the shippers, that is the importers and the exporters, and government agencies that are the problem, in the area of substandard goods, it is the business of Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) , they should go into critical understanding and agreement with countries of origin of goods coming to Nigeria, sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), that they should conduct their own examination in their country before they allow the cargo to come to Nigeria and when the cargo comes to Nigeria and they discover the cargo to be substandard such countries should be blacklisted.
That is the way forward not attacking customs brokers they are not the importers. Because they need to solve the matter from the source and also go to the land borders and block passage of substandard cargo. If they cannot control cargo coming to Nigeria, Nigeria can stop cargo from coming in through their countries. They depend on Nigeria. If we are firm in our regulations they will also be firm because they will not want to loss trade with Nigeria. So agencies like SON and National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) needs to sit up.
What in your opinion can the Customs do to stop inefficiency in cargo clearance?
Customs should revisit their position in cargo clearance, since the visit of the Comtroller General of Customs Col. Hammed Ali (Rtd.) to Lagos State, Customs has stopped the criminal alert system, for some time now we have not heard of multiple alerts like before.
The next thing they should resolve is the querying of Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR). It is hard to understand that even when there is no inconsistency discovered during examination in Customs queries the value on the PAAR, so they should look into this and reduce the number of checks on a particular cargo. Most times it is not necessary to keep checking, they must learn to trust themselves and be disciplined in enforcing the law.
Enforcement should not be one sided. If Customs officers who are supposed to be experts in Customs examination after examining a cargo, reports wrongly and it is discovered you do not hold only shipper and customs agent responsible. You penalize across board. The man who did the examination signed some documents, so he cannot deny performing the examination. He should be dealt with also.
By the time Customs employs this check, all the leakages they are complaining about will stop. They perform the examination and someone else from amongst them will arrest the cargo, seize the cargo , the shipper suffers, they clamp down on the license of the customs agents who also suffers but the customs officers that did the job will go unpunished. This is wrong.
God fatherism in Customs is another trend that is affecting the ports. The issue of Customs posting to the ports being determined by how powerful and high placed your god father in the customs service is, needs to stop to sanitize the system.
In your opinion what can the government do to make Nigeria a trade hub in West Africa?
There should be a remarkable improvement on turnaround time of vessels and cargo dwell time in the ports. Reduce the cost of doing business in our ports, make the ports more friendly. There are so many agencies in the ports that should be removed, the State Security Service (SSS), Department of State Security (DSS), and so many others. They do not have businesses being there and even if they must be there, they must not be connected with the cargo, they should be there unnoticed.
Take someone in Customs Intelligence Unit(CIU), for instance, the moment he comes to the port fully dressed in his uniform instead of being on plain cloth, he identifies himself as being from the CIU to operators to show that he wants something. If they must be there they should not make undue contact with operators, they should go about their security duties and submit their reports to the appropriate quarters the minute they expose their identity they have failed in their job because they cannot catch anybody.
What do you say concerning our tariff system, there has been an outcry by shippers for reduced tariff rates to discourage Nigerian shippers from using the ports of neighboring countries?
When you say tariff that refers to the Customs External Tariff (CET), now there are reasons for the CET, it is pure trade tariff. For instance, for government to successfully improve the production of rice in Nigeria, since it cannot ban the importation of rice, what it can do is to increase the tariff and sometimes add levy, so that when an importer goes to developed countries that practice mechanized farming to import rice at a cheap price, he will have to pay the tariff. The price of this rice in the market will not be too competitive for the farmer who is producing locally.
The local farmer can remain in business, but if the tariff system is not used to control and regulate this, importers of rice from mechanized countries will get it cheaper into the Nigerian market and destroy the local rice production industry. So, as far as I can see, there is nothing wrong with our tariff system because the local industries must be protected and encouraged to grow because they create jobs.
What can be done to improve on what has so far been achieved in the industry?
If we want to get it right, the minister of transport should be a transport expert, but we do not have such people. Now Nigerians have started to understand what transport is all about. I am aware that today Nigeria has the highest number of students in the world maritime university in Sweden.
Nigeria has a lot of students studying transport and transport related courses all over the world. That is the level of awareness, government has picked interest in the industry because they have seen the importance of the transport industry.
America is rich because of their good transport system, without their transport system America cannot be said to be rich, so if we develop our transport system, Nigeria will equally be rich. Take for instance, the cost of a cow in Kano, between N30,000 to N40,000, compare that to the cost of the same cow in Lagos, it is between N100,000 to N150,000.
So, it is important that we develop our transport system because when we say transport it is all encompassing; The sea and everything in it , the vessels, the rigs, the road networks, the rails system, the aviation, balloons, outer space, pipes that transports liquids and gas, power as well as all the corporations that oversees them are captured in transport studies.
Roads should not be built to pacify political egos but should be designed to suit the area based on the population of people in that area. That is why the government needs professionals in the industry to manage the ministry of transport we have a lot of trained hands in the ministry, it is a critical sector to the growth of the economy.
Considering that the CG Customs does not have a Customs background, do you think he can make significant contribution to the ports systems in the next four years?
Yes, the Customs CG as a military man must have attended a lot of courses, as a trained mind he needs the occasional training and to read up on Customs operations system.
Everything he needs to know about Customs is in the books, more so, he is not alone, he is surrounded by Deputy Comptroller Generals (DCGs) Assistant Comptroller Generals (ACGs) and all the way down, at the headquarters, if they do not corporate with him he can remove them, if he fails they all failed together, he is there as an administrator on policy issues, he brings it to the DCGs and ACGs and they will go and work it out in line with Customs laws.
It is not compulsory that the head of Customs must be a Customs man because there are a lot of seasoned experts around him. Before they grow to the rank of a comptroller in Customs, it is assumed that they are an authority in customs matters, and those people are there. All he needs is to be a listening CG.