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Maritime industry stakeholders disagree over 100% physical exam

By Eguono Odjegba

THE immediate past President General of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, MWUN, Comrade Tony Emmanuel Nted, has described as primitive and unacceptable the Nigeria Customs Service’s, NCS, 100 per cent physical examination of imported goods.

He urged Customs management to key into globally accepted standard operational procedure in cargo clearance and deploy cargo scanners at the nation’s air and seaports.

Nted also blamed the Nigerian Immigration Service for the influx of foreign nationals from the sub-region and sub-Sahara Africa owing to the lack of efficient human control system.

“Why can’t the Nigerian Customs Service deploy scanners at seaports, airports and border stations to reduce the time-wasting and corruption associated with the physical examination?”, he wondered.

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However, the publisher of Business and Maritime West Africa newsmagazine, Mr. Okey Ibeke, has argued that if importers were honest and played by the rules, the agony of 100 percent physical examination would be far less than what presently happens, adding that there is no way customs can jettison 100 per cent physical examination since scanners lack the capacity to determine the quality of imports.

He said, “There’s a high level of fiscal compliance in other climes, where importers/exporters make an honest declaration on quality, quantity and value, which are factors of duty and allied taxes collection.

“Scanners can only at some level reveal quantity, but not quality and value. So, even if the most sophisticated scanner is mounted in our ports without high improvement in honest declarations, we’re just wasting our time and scarce resources, unless the government want to throw open the gates of our ports for the unchecked exit of cargoes.”

The Public Relations Officer of the Tin Can Island Customs Command, Mr Uche Ejesieme, argued that the NCS is doing all that is right to facilitate trade and to ensure that the customs inspection regime responsibility does not suffer.

His words, “Even though scanners are veritable tools for trade facilitation, you will also agree with us that scanners have limitations to what it can achieve, such as quality, quantity and value and so it becomes practically impossible to fully rely on scanners alone because of our peculiar clime. This is not to jettison the need for scanners.

“The Service is actually doing its best in the circumstance.

We do sanction non-compliance as appropriate either through blocking their licenses for non-access to NICIS 11 platform.

In the same vein, our operatives who are found wanting are also blocked from accessing the platform and appropriate disciplinary proceedings against such officers are applied. We are really not docile.

“It may interest us to know that through the process of risk profiling and cargo selectivity, we have discovered that a larger percentage of all declarations is false. Let’s not forget that advance electronic manifest is usually despatched ahead of the arrival of vessels and through the instrumentality of risk management, Customs commands are able to flag and track false declarations.

‘‘We have continued to sensitize stakeholders on the need for transparency to the extent of awarding honest and compliant traders with an expeditious clearance of their cargoes.

A typical example is a concession for fast track beneficiaries and others. We have also discovered that some others are hell-bent on circumventing the process and sanctions are usually applied to this category of declarants alongside any of our operatives who through their action or inaction are found culpable.”

Also commenting, a maritime public affairs analyst, Elder Asu Beks, advised that “Customs should fast track digital compliance. No excuse not to catch up. It should be a priority of the federal government which collects 93 per cent of customs revenue. Whatever the argument, analogue compliance belongs to the old era.’’

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