By Remi Adebayo
A country’s economic survivallargely depends on innovations at revamping strategic sectors of the economy to drive efficiency and competition; to increase investment, reduce prices and expand the range of services. As such, the port, being a critical sector in revenue generation and window to any nation, is always at the forefront inengendering and advancing efforts to boost government revenue and national security.
Over the years, the port has experienced phases in the ownership, its management and regulation. In fact, as far back as 2005, when the Nigerian government proved disappointing in the face of competing demands, Nigerian Ports lacked the resources to fundsubstantialinnovations in the sector. Consequently, the government transferred the provision of needed infrastructure services to the private sector, with accompanied sector reform and re-structuring before concession.
Many Nigerians who had businesses at the seaports before the concession went through difficulties, experiencing various forms of shoddiness, lack of plants and equipment, pilferage, bribery and allied vices carried out by miscreants called ‘wharf rats’, populated by unscrupulous labour contractors who held ship masters and agents to ransom even after they have paid all official fees.
Some of these deplorable acts were then committed by seemingly over-bloated workforce of the seaports who collude with other despicable elements.
The Nigerian maritime Sector has underperformed, forcing the Government to accede to the proposal by the Federal Ministry of Transport to invite all interested international stakeholders in Nigerian seaborne trade to partake in a competitive bidding for private operators to run the ports purely as profit-oriented commercial ventures paying tax to the Federal Government. This was the basis of the seaport reform agenda adopted by the Federal Executive Council.
Fortunately, the government was able to achieve its goal and address some deficiencies with the concession of ports which made it to record impressive results. These notwithstanding, government and concessionaires realized the need to embracemodern customs’ practices and procedures to reduce the delays, bottlenecks and corruption within the ports.
In a bid to achieve this, Col. Hameed Ali, the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service, is keen in fast-tracking the e-custom strategic plan, an initiative which began in 2016 when 94 companies responded to a bid request by the Service. In the exercise, fifteen companies were pre-qualified and invited to make presentations on their solutions.
At the end, Bionica Technologies W.A. Limited came top after a rigorous evaluation process. The company has five technical partners, including Paramout Group, Huawei Technology, Smiths Detection, Larsen & Toubro Group and Nuctech of China. The partners are mobilising about $450 million in investment to attain the complete turnaround programme. The Africa/Finance Corporation has indicated its interest in supporting the Customs automation programme.
The consortium will partner with the Nigeria Customs Service by deploying direct capital investment, collaborating with original equipment manufacturers to develop and implement specific modernization programs.
Specifically, the consortium will implement full automation of all the Nigeria Custom’s business processes and procedures through the development and implementation of a robust and secured ICT platform. This entails complete systems integration with the current ICT platform; development and implementation of modern customs border stations, airports and marine posts. The marine posts would be utilized to develop the marine customs outfit.
Another part is to repair, upgrade and maintain the existing scanners; including installation of sophisticated fit-for-site new scanners suitable for site-type Customs operations in secured locations in class non-intrusive systems available all-year-round. The innovation will also focus on modernizing strategic Customs infrastructures as well as delivery on full capacity-building programs for officers with local and internationally recognised professional certification across cadres in line with international best practices.
Stakeholders have applauded this impactful vision; insisting that they hold benefits for strong partnership with 100 percent guarantee with external finance having no immediate cost to the Customs for all projects. Instead, will increase revenue for the government, create jobs, minimize smuggling and insecurity.
Similarly, the turnaround will ensure that the business of the Customs is fully automated using the latest smart technologies with Original Equipment Manufacturers. It will also guarantee the evolution of integrated border management module with Centralized Automated Customs Risk Management System through real-time, remote scanning operations.
Pundits also believe that through this measure, there will be drastic reduction in leakages and other trade malpractices; transparency, predictability and trade facilitation and address current national security challenges, through sharing of information data with other partner organizations.
The innovation will also upgrade the Nigeria Customs Service’s current ICT infrastructure, existing scanners and scanning operations and facilities.
On the long term, the direct capital investment through the proposed Public Private Partnership promises professional execution of the Nigerian Custom Service’s modernization programme; it will ensure that all collectable revenues are accounted for in-line with the Treasury Single Account policy of the Federal Government which in turn will shore up the pedigree of the Service amongst the best organized worldwide as it targets to reducing incentive to leakages and discouragecorrupt practices.
This innovation is neither new or peculiar to Nigeria.Checks on the website of the Port of Singapore, the busiest container transshipment hub in the world, indicated a remarkable success of the solution proposed for the NCS. Similarly, Shanghai Customs is using the container image centralized analysis system; Shanghai Yangshan Port for its Mega Ports initiative.
The Turkish Customs use it for Centralized Supervision System; Singapore Custom Inspection Smart Clearance System; Qatar Customs deployed it for Container Image Centralized Analysis System while the Venezuelan Customs has deployed same for its National Inspection Centralized Supervision System.
At this time the Nigerian Government is enforcing the temporary border closure policy to curb economic and security lapses, including sabotage the economic and safety of the people, the implementation of new e-customs policy is long overdue.