What type of technologies have you deployed to facilitate trade in Nigeria?
We work exclusively with the Nigerian government and Nigerian Customs Service, but our role impacts every entity involved in the sector. We have brought every entity involved in trade onto a single digital platform – the Single Window System.
The single platform technology simplifies and streamlines the entire trade process, meaning all of the companies and government bodies involved can process the correct certifications, permissions and everything else via one easy to use and easy to access online platform rather than having to go through the time-consuming process of physically going from one office to another.
Everything required for the smooth operation of the entire Trade and Customs ecosystem is available and accessible online. The efficiency of this updated system means transactions take place at a greater speed and with increased regularity. Hence, there is much better turnover across the entire process. We are very proud of what we have been able to do in partnership with the Nigerian Customs Services, and they have been fantastic clients as well.
We are in the era of AI, digitization, big data, among others. Are you using all of these to improve your services?
We do not need to inspect every single container because artificial intelligence and technology uses algorithms and machine learning to processes data at an incredible speed to help identify any red flags. We use the latest technologies and, as a result, traders, agents and other stakeholders have been able to take advantage of the benefits this brings, such as being able to work remotely from wherever they need to be.
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, Customs operations were not negatively impacted thanks to the integration of technology. We were both prepared and confident about how our technology would perform. We have used the latest artificial intelligence (AI) systems and networks available to automate Customs processes for several years. Our commitment to tech really paid off during the pandemic and proved its worth.
Customs to date has achieved more than 40 per cent over last year, which was already a record year. We expect another record in 2021 because of the use of advanced technology. Last year, when countries and businesses were locked down, Customs agents and those involved in trade were able to work easily from home and process everything via their computer.
What mechanism have you introduced to reduce congestion at ports?
It is imperative to realize that Customs is not the only player at ports. There are numerous agents, port management officials and other groups involved day to day. With our Customs Single Window System, agents and other stakeholders, for the most part, do not have to physically go to the port, which means they are no longer contributing to congestion. However, we are willing to help with other issues related to port congestion.
We offer port management system software that can track containers and we use GPS to easily locate, manage and plot the route of cargo. The port management system oversees the interaction between port authorities, Customs and terminal operators to make the logistics processes as smooth as possible. We are happy to implement this system given the opportunity, but we are not using it in Nigeria presently.
Is Webb Fontaine carrying out any developmental projects at Nigeran ports?
One of our Nigerian port projects involves cargo tracking from the main terminal to its destination. There is a lot of data involved in this process, which once gathered and used effectively is of great benefit to the trade sector and the country’s economy overall. We are expanding this project so that we can access and analyze data in real time and make faster, more informed decisions. This is just one of several ongoing projects at Nigeria’s ports.
How will your plan to open an AI Research and Development Centre in Africa create efficiency in trade especially for a country like Nigeria?
We want Africa to have at least one or two world class Research and Development Centres. This will not only benefit our work; it will also lead to a surge in demand for highly skilled staff and the hiring of as many programmers from Africa as possible. We will train, work and help them to develop the Customs industry across the entire continent, especially in regions covered the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). We would like the first of these centres to be in Nigeria. One can imagine the job opportunities and the exposure it would create and we think Nigeria is the best place for this to happen.