The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) has advised against planned deployment of Customs ‘Strike Force’ to all ports with the powers to intercept and effect seizures of cargo.
Reacting to this measure, the director general, DG of the Chamber, Muda Yusuf warned that the move by the Nigeria Customs Service will be detrimental to investment and will further complicate the already difficult cargo clearing process and further undermine the Ease of Doing Business Policy of the Buhari administration and a negation of the Presidential Executive order on the streamlining of ports processes.
Yusuf noted that the action would be a duplication of functions of the customs resident officers at the ports which have statutory responsibilities to examine and release cargoes to importers and that the move would slowdown the cargo clearing process as it amounts to creation of another layer of authority to intercept and seize cargoes that have been duly released by all agencies involved in the examination of the cargoes. These agencies include Resident Customs officers of the command, NDLEA. DSS, Ports Police, Nigeria Immigration Service, NPA, NIMASA and Port Health.
The directive confers vast discretionary powers on the Strike Force which makes the cargo clearing process vulnerable to arbitrariness and coercion which could undermine the integrity and credibility of the process, he observed.
The DG pointed out that the deployment of the strike force to the ports suggests a distrust and lack of confidence in the resident customs officers who were deployed to the various commands by the Comptroller General, CG in the first place and advised that the appropriate thing to do in the circumstance is for the CG to replace these officers with trusted ones rather superimpose another set of customs operatives on the system. This new deployment would make the entire process chaotic, cumbersome, costly and inefficient and could also create an additional credibility problem, he reasoned.
He said the LCCI is concerned that over the past two years, the scanners at the Lagos Ports Complex have not worked while the persistent dependence on physical examination for cargo releases has not only been laborious and arduous, it is time wasting.
“The Lagos Ports are the largest ports in the country handling over 1.5 million twenty-foot containers equivalent [TEUs] annually. This underscores the enormity of the consequences of physical examination of containers for the efficacy of cargo clearing. It is incredibly detrimental to the cargo release process and the economy. It is imperative for the Federal government to expedite actions on the procurement of scanners for the ports in order to put an end to the physical examination of cargo and make the system technology driven.
The LCCI submits that the deployment of the Strike Force to the ports should be reversed forthwith. Where the Comptroller-General does not trust the resident officers, they should be replaced with trusted ones rather than creating overlapping responsibilities and authorities which would further muddle an already arduous cargo clearing process. Delays in the cargo clearing often results in high and avoidable demurrage to importers; high interest cost on funds used for import transactions, disruption of business processes including manufacturing activities, and many more.
The customs high command should ensure that there are corresponding authorities for the discharge of assigned responsibilities in order to achieve desired outcomes. There is often a risk of creating a confused system where responsibilities are assigned without corresponding authority.”, Yusuf stated.