By Steve Agbota
More than Over the years, all containers and general cargo imported through the country’s seaports and borders have gone through a manual inspection process, popularly known as 100% physical examination due to the lack of scanners functional.
In 2006, the Federal Government awarded a contract to certain service providers to supply and install scanners at Nigerian ports and land borders.
Twenty-two scanners were purchased at a cost of $120 million and handed over to Cotecna Destination Inspection Limited, Société Générale de Surveillance and Global Scan Systems on a build-operate-transfer basis, with a seven-year contract .
A few years later, all the port scanners have collapsed and lie fallow. Since then, the Nigerian government has been running the ports without scanners and all cargo is subject to 100% physical examination, which is so laborious, time-consuming and corrupt.
However, customs clearance agents and stakeholders in the country’s shipping industry have cited bribery, aiding and abetting the import of mind-altering drugs as some of the main reasons the scanners have remained inactive.
Recently, lawmakers in the House of Representatives said there was a need to investigate the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) over the abandonment of 22 cargo scanners worth $120 million at ports. maritime. Lawmakers have expressed concern over the NCS’s inability to service scanners purchased in 2006.
The Customs Directorate, under the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Colonel Hameed Ali (Retired), has opted to purchase a new set of three scanners delivered earlier this year, which are yet to be used, following the lamentation of the stakeholders. However, in July 2020, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved $18.12 million for the purchase of cargo scanners for Port Harcourt and Tin Can Island ports to facilitate port operations.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, announced this after the council meeting chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari. She said the FEC previously approved the contract in 2018 for the supply and installation of three Rapsican mobile cargo scanners.
“These are large cargo scanners that will be placed in Onne Port, Port Harcourt Port and Tin Can Port. These are scanners that can actually pass containers. This will speed up the inspection and help customs to open the containers and do the physical inspection as they currently do, which wastes a lot of time and revenue for us,” she said.
This contract has been awarded to a company named Messrs Airwave Limited and the contract is for $18.12 million foreign component, there is also a local component of N3.255 billion including 5% VAT.
There has been a respite as three new scanners were delivered last September to the ports of Apapa, Tin-Can Island and Onne. But, a year later, the scanners have not yet been put into service because the examination in these three ports is still done largely through 100% examination.
Currently, more than 10,000 containers litter various terminals and take up space at the port due to the low rate of physical examination by customs and other agencies involved in cargo examination.
Conversely, many clearing agents alleged that despite non-intrusive machinery being provided by foreign agencies, the NCS deliberately scuttled the process of using scanners to maintain a physical relationship with importers and agents at all times. customs clearance, a development that breeds corruption at ports and land borders.
Daily Sun learned that if the new scanners were used optimally, they would scan 20ft containers in 35 seconds while scanning 40ft containers in 45 seconds.
In one day, functional scanner can process 400+ containers, while physical examination can only process 80-100 containers.
Speaking to our reporter to explain why the scanners are not working, an importer, Mr. Amos Famuwagun, blamed corruption among government officials as the main reason why customs scanners are still inactive.
He further alleged that NCS officials value cargo screening 100% due to physical contact, which he says encourages corruption: “Customs values cargo screening 100% in because of physical contact and it encourages corruption. They sabotage every effort to make sure the scanners don’t work. They prefer the physical exam, where they know the hand should be rubbed.
“Manual examination of cargo is inefficient, inefficient, costly, encourages corruption and does not facilitate trade, especially in the area of export and import, as it causes delays and takes longer to clear cargo at ports.
“It is very sad that Nigeria does not have functioning scanners in its ports while neighboring countries like Ghana, Benin Republic and Ivory Coast have high level scanners in their various ports which is part of the reason why Nigerian cargoes are now going their.”
He said there were thousands of cargos littering the ports due to physical examination as there was no space in the various terminals to take them that is why there was congestion in ports today. He added that there was no political will to do things as they should be done in the ports.
He noted, for example, that 8.9 billion naira scanners donated by the European Union (EU) under the regional transport facilitation program and installed at the Seme border in 2018 had broken down and had been abandoned even before the borders were closed in 2019.
He said that before the EU brought that one, there were about two scanners rotting at the border; and all of this is happening due to corruption among the review officers.
Meanwhile, the President of the Association of Registered Freight Forwarders Nigeria (ARFFN), PTML Chapter, Emmanuel Ohambele said that 22 cargo scanners were purchased at a cost of $120 million from the Federal Government, which had been abandoned by customs to rot for reasons that were not convincing.
“Their reason was that there was no diesel to run the generator that powered the scanners. Can you believe such a thing? Seaports and land borders have been really affected. How can a federal government parastatal not have diesel to run a scanner, if that’s not sabotage?
“These are really hampering the seamless operation of seaports and also causing a setback for the evacuation of goods in the port, because the intention of the government was to evacuate the goods within 48 hours from the ports, which we, the importers and clearing agents, we are ready to respect. Customs has pushed us back with their intention to sabotage the use of scanners at the port,” he added.
According to him, there are no more countries in the world that perform 100% physical examination, saying that even Ghana no longer performs physical examination of goods as they now make full use of scanners in their ports.
“I don’t know what their excuses are. Should I say this was the result of incompetence or that the men in the Nigeria Customs Service are not well trained to handle these scanners? This worries us every day because we can’t move forward to discount the 48 hours customs clearance at the port.
“I don’t immediately understand why the Destination Inspection (DI) officer left, the scanners are not working. It was working well under DI custody and it was done alongside customs during this time. For seven years, the scanners worked and it was in collaboration with Customs. Immediately the contract expired, they handed over to customs.
“Until today, it’s one story and another that Customs has told officers and importers why scanners can’t work. Imagine 22 scanners bought with $120 million left to rot “, he lamented.
He said more than 10,000 containers litter the ports as there is no space in the terminals to accommodate them due to physical examination.
He said: “Let me tell you how it works: the manual review takes up to two or three days. You book for review today, they drop it as all port agencies will be ashore to increase the effort of 48 hour customs clearance.
“Importers are paying demurrage and customs agents are struggling to work. Sometimes when you book it takes three days. I don’t want to name any terminal names because there are terminals today, when you book it takes three days to place a container for physical examination. Can you imagine? Some take a week for lack of space.
“All of these things boil down to corruption because interfacing causes corruption and there is no country interfacing anywhere in the world anymore. If it’s not bribery, why would customs want to be involved in a physical examination that involves other people? »
However, the national chairman of the African Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics in Nigeria, Mr. Frank Ogunojemite, said that the purchase of the scanners without any attempt by the government to contact the equipment manufacturer of origin to ascertain whether the old ones could be salvaged proved that the problems facing modern cargo examination in Nigeria included the lack of maintenance culture.
He said buying a new set of scanners was not the solution, adding that the problem would most likely recur if no person or agency was held accountable for their upkeep.
He suggested that ensuring efficiency in cargo examination and better competitiveness would prevent the government from hiring the OEM to repair previous scanners and put them back into service alongside new ones that might be needed.
“As the NCS has proven incapable of handling something as sensitive as the operation and maintenance of multi-million naira scanners, to avoid a repeat of history, it should be left in the hands of contracted DI agents who will operate and maintain them,” he said.