By Tanko Mohammed
The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has announced the reduction in the number of physical examination of cargoes at the ports.
The Deputy Comptroller of Customs, Anthony Anyalogu, said that it was part of measures to ensure physical distancing and enhance cargo clearance operations at the port during COVID-19 pandemic.
Anyalogu, who is also the representative of the NCS at the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), made this known at a virtual dialogue organised by Ships and Ports.
He spoke on the theme, ‘Enhancing Cargo Clearance Operation in Nigeria during COVID-19.’
Anyalogu noted that while customs cannot completely stop physical examination of cargoes because of high risks imports, it was planning to introduce the use of endoscopic cameras for inspection of cargoes that requires physical examination.
The inspection camera, he said, would help reduce physical contact and increase the speed of examination.
“During this COVID-19 period, we were advised to do our processes with less contact to prevent spread of the virus, and that means that we should increase the number and percentage of goods that go into scanning and green lane, which means no customs examination.
“So presently, what we are doing is to decrease the number of containers that will go into physical examination while we try to increase the percentage of goods that go into green and blue lanes.
“Because we cannot stop physical examination, we also have to look for what will replace it because it is mostly goods that are more susceptible to non compliance that are physically examined.
“We are planning to procure endoscopic cameras that can be used to inspect the containers to reduce offloading, physical contact and increase speed apart from scanners that take a long time to procure,” he said.
The customs boss added that the number of alerts placed on cargoes have also reduced to as low as 10 per cent of all the total customs transactions at the ports.
He noted that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the customs processes had been automated with the deployment of the NICIS 11 platform, which allow importers and agents to make declaration and pay import duty online without interfacing with customs.
“We have the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) that is done through the bank and comes in before the shipment arrives, also most processes are now delivered at the trader zone, which means one do not have visit Customs to do them.
“Before now, if you want to do declaration, payment and assessment of duty you come to customs, but with the NICIS platform, all of that can be done by the trader without coming to customs and this has allowed importers and agents to carry out their declaration in the comfort of their offices,” he said.
Anyalogu noted that human interface still exist at the port because other relevant government agencies involved in cargo clearance are yet to integrate into the platform even with customs achievement of automation of its processes through its single window platform.
The Vice President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Mr Kayode Farinto, however, dismissed the claims by customs, saying that physical examination of cargoes, which breeds human contact was still happening at the port.
Farinto suggested that customs should invoke Sections 28 and 29 of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA), which gives the service power to implement the Bill of Sight and reduce the number of alerts placed on cargoes to lessen physical contact at the port.
“The problem is that customs is not ready to change and they do not believe in Coronavirus pandemic because if they do, they would have streamlined human contact.
“Just recently, customs sent another unit to be part of the examination at the port. We have advised that they invoke Sections 28 and 29 of CEMA because this is an abnormal situation.
“We still have more than five units that put intervention on cargo, which requires you visit all the units. If there is going to be an outbreak of the virus at the port, it is going to be caused by customs because they are only protecting their officers and not interested in the stakeholders welfare,” he said.
In his own contribution, President, Africa Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria (AFFLON), Mr Frank Ogunojemite, urged the government to put in place necessary port infrastructures including scanners, develop the single window platform for all agencies to improve cargo clearance at the port.