There are growing concerns about the deteriorating condition of Nigerian ports. Industry watchers are of the opinion that the port system needs to be upgraded if Nigeria still wants to become the maritime hub in West Africa as it has been postulated by many administrations.
At the moment, many things are begging for solution at these facilities. For instance, in the last two years, scanners, which are indispensable in efficient clearing of cargoes, have broken down at the ports, leaving the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) with no option than resorting to manual inspection. Apart from complicating the process sometimes, the use of physical examination is more cumbersome and time consuming.
The responsibility of deploying scanners at the ports was given to some concessionaires. But in 2013, when their contract with the government ended, the NCS inherited about $120 million scanner equipment from Cotecna, SGS Scanning Nigeria Limited and Global Scan Systems Nigeria Limited, the former service providers. The scanning machines were installed at various customs operational locations such as Tin Can Island Port, Port Harcourt Area One Command, Onne Port, Kano, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, Seme and Idi-Oroke borders, Port Harcourt and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Banki border, among others. However, by 2017, the various customs locations were littered with non-functioning scanners.
The three scanning companies or service providers had entered into contract with the Federal Ministry of Finance for the provision, installation, operation and management of X-Ray Scanning Machines and computerized management for examination of goods on Build, Own, Operate and Transfer (BOOT) for a period of seven years, from 2006 to 2012. At the expiration of the contract, it was extended for six months, which ended in June 2013.
Prior to when they were handed over, the scanners, according to port users, were not even in good working condition. Rather, they continued to rot away. The NCS, however, preferred to embark on a 100 per cent physical examination as virtually all the inherited scanners had broken down. Today, about 40 to 60 containers are physically examined at Apapa port daily, while between 50 and 70 are examined daily at Tin-can Island port. It needs be pointed out that one scanner can take up to about 150 containers daily.
The absence of functional scanners led to the recent deployment of another Customs unit, known as Customs Strike Force, to the ports. This followed suspicion by the Customs high command that the resident Customs officers were not carrying out satisfactory 100 per cent examination of containers. The circular that sent the strike force to the ports did not mince words on this, as it is titled: “100 per cent examination of cargo at the Seaports”.
Surely, the deployment of the strike force with its overwhelming powers to reexamine, seize or detain already examined containers without hindrance would have been unnecessary if the scanners at the ports were working. Also, the unease and controversy it has generated would have been avoided.
Stakeholders have repeatedly pointed out that for the Lagos Ports, the biggest ports in the country handling over 1.5 million 20-foot containers equivalent annually, the consequences of physical examination of containers for cargo clearing efficiency is detrimental to cargo release process and the economy. Dysfunctional scanners have induced manual clearing of over 1.5 million 20-foot containers equivalent (TEUs) at the Lagos Ports yearly. Consequently, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) recently expressed concern over the inefficient cargo handling system and deployment of additional barriers.
In our view, it is risky for a port system to operate without scanners in this modern age. Scanners are security and facilitating tools, and if our port system does not have them, then the country is exposed to influx of dangerous weapons and contraband goods. Absence of scanners at the ports is the reason why examination of containers take longer hours. Nigeria cannot meet good standards in terms of trade facilitation due to absence of facilities and equipment. Physical examination and inspection of goods lead to unnecessary demurrage and incurring of other charges by port users. This ultimately leads to higher cost of goods in the country, hence impacting negatively on trade facilitation.
This newspaper calls on the government to expedite action on the procurement of scanners for the nation’s ports. In doing so, Nigeria will put an end to the physical examination of cargo and make the system technology driven. This will facilitate trade and effective inspection of goods.
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