BY FRANCIS UGWOKE
At such a time of dwindling oil fortunes and resultant effect on the economy, the nation’s maritime industry is considered as key in filling some gaps. This is even moreso with the sector being adjudged
as next to oil in contribution to the
In the past few years, the sector has been generating at least about N3trillion each year. And this is formally. Informally, the sector could be raking over N4trillion every year or more. This is if all the fraudulent practices in terms of underdeclarations or under-invoicing
and outright concealment being
perpetrated by importers, customs agents and shipping agents are addressed. Capacity of the law
enforcement agents to address issues of smuggling will also lead to increase in revenue generation from the sector. The current scenario is that what is lost by the government goes to private pockets of individual personnel working with agen- cies of the state. Last year, the Customs posted a revenue generation
This was despite all the economic difficulties suffered worldwide as a result of the ravages of coronavirus pandemic. Observers argue that the Cus- toms could rake more revenue than
it has done over the years if all the
loopholes to fraudulent practices in
the system are plugged. On the oth- er hand, there is the strong belief
that if the potentials in the industry
are developed, the sector could be
raising as much as more than half of
the nation’s annual budget.
The nation’s ports are haven to trade malpractices. What has been at stake is the national economy that is being shortchanged on daily basis for the past decades. Everyone appears out to work out his/her own way of benefitting from
what is seen as national cake. At some point in the past, some im- porters were even evading payment of duties and were allegedly ‘flying containers’. Now that era appears to be gone, but other forms of trade malpractices have remained in the
The ugly scenario benefits the importers, their customs agents/freight forwarders and most importantly the key elements among the agencies of government, particularly some unscrupulous Customs personnel.
The importer underpays, conceals or under-declares and settles it out with those who are supposed to check him. Incidentally, settling with the customs and others at the ports has never been enough to save such importers as they are again confronted some meters away from the ports gate and along the highways where their goods are intercepted over what the resident of- ficers at the ports had ignored for
obvious reasons. Like the resident
customs officers, this set of operatives engage in another round of
extortion which is capped with a
demand notice (DN) to fulfill all
righteousness as the reason for the
Other issues at ports
Beyond the above scenario, the na- tion’s ports industry is suffering a
lot of other issues. The multination- al shipping agents and indeed the
terminal operators are not left alone.
The shipping lines and their agents
are engaged in under-declaration of
gross registered tonnage (GRT) of
vessels in a bid to pay less duties.
The nation loses so much revenue
as a result. Clearing in the nation’s
ports is usually a herculean task be- cause most times some processes
are done physically instead of online. Even as the importer pays his
duties online and carries out oth- er processes online, he is still confronted with queries that will force
him to appear physically before the
government personnel. He has to
respond to several alerts, some of
which are designed purposefully to
extort him. There are some of the
alerts he expects knowing fully he
may have been involved in some
trade malpractices listed above.
Yet there are many that are sim- ply frivolous and deliberately to extort him. The importers and their
agents also suffer congestion and
other bureaucratic bottleneck s in
the system which affect easy clearance of goods. Some could be infrastructure related, including the Lagos ports gridlock that has slowed
down movement of goods.
Achieving ports efficiency
Apparently worried about the situa- tion in the ports and its negative im- pact on trade facilitation, the federal
government in the middle of December 2020 appointed the Nigeri- an Shippers Council (NSC) as lead
agency for the implementation of
the Nigerian Ports Process Manual
(NPPM). The appointment places
Thursday February 11, 2021
on the shoulders of the Council the
responsibility of overseeing ports
operations on daily basis.
Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo while launching the NPPM said its implementation will improve the anti-corruption ranking of the country before the interna- tional community.
Osinbajo said apart from achieving efficiency in ports operations,
there was the need for an effective
implementation of ideas that will
change the perception and ranking
of Nigeria in the Corruption Per- ception Index (CPI) of Transpar- ency International.
The process manual is aimed at addressing vulnerabilities in the
port system with emphasis on creating an enabling environment for port users. To observers, the choice of the ports economic regulator for the job is therefore for obvious reasons. The Council has been dear to all in terms of the efforts to improve on trade facilitation at the ports.
The Council had confronted shipping service providers as well as consumers of shipping services over issues affecting trade. The target has been to enthrone efficient service delivery in the nation’s seaports. This will give Ni- geria a pride of place as the hub of shipping in the West African subregion. As a government agency,
the Council has been using its of- fices to champion the interest of shippers and other stakeholders for an enviable infrastructural development that will enhance trade. It has also been in the forefront of ensur- ing that service providers are well equipped with modern technology for efficient cargo handling operations. Government and indeed oth- er stakeholders are aware of this.
It was therefore in recognition that
the Council was given this national assignment.
Observers believe that the state- ment credited to the VP clearly shows how much the Council is held in high esteem. In the maritime circle, the appointment is in- deed interpreted as one of trust on
the Council having shown dedica- tion to achieving an efficient service delivery over the years.
Resolve of NSCIn the past few years, the execu- tive secretary of the Council, Mr
Hassan Bello has been in the fore- front of speaking out the expectations of all stakeholders for an enduring efficient port system.
He had been pointing out the responsibilities of the government in in- frastructure provisions. Bello had at different times pointed out the
consequences of poor ports infra- structure to the national economy.
He does not want Nigeria’s neighbouring countries to take advantage of this by cornering cargoes meant for Nigerian ports. Often times this had been the case
as some shipping lines and importers had at critical times di- verted cargoes to neighbouring ports. Some of these goods are smuggled into the country, particularly automobiles and other
goods. The NSC in a bid to check
this had championed for a lasting
solution to the poor access roads.
– Ugwoke, journalist, wrote