By Stephen Ubanna
Until the suspension of the Vehicle Identification Number, VIN, policy, on Thursday, March 3, 2022, Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel, and Comptroller Geneal, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, and his Management Team, had made several efforts over the last two weeks, to restore normalcy at Tin-can Island Port, Port Multi-services Terminal Limited, PTML and Port & Cargo terminal, all located in Lagos, the nation’s commercial nerve centre.
Comptroller Adekunle Oloyede, Area Controller, Tin-can Island Command and Felix Okun, his Counterpart, at PTML, who have facilities , for RORO vessels to discharge vehicles, in their respective ports and terminals , at the instance , of Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, were said to have held several meetings with stakeholder in their different Commands to explain about the workings of VIN and discourage them from further agitations for a return to the status quo.
The search for a truce with the agents may have continued with the Town hall meeting at the Customs Training College , Ikeja, Lagos ON Tuesday, March 1, 2022 . The meeting which was chaired by Dupe Aremu, an Assistant Comptroller General, ACG, of Customs, and Coordinator, Customs Zone A, Lagos, may have provided opportunity for the agents to speak out.The Customs Authorities may have come out with public Notices on the operation of the VIN, by agents to avoid running into trouble after the Town hall meeting.
They had made the agents to understand that ‘’ the VIN, Valuation system is driven from the World Customs Organisation, Data model Standard in which all the 17 digits Numbers give features of the value of the vehicle , for example, Color, make, model, engine capacity. The Notice further indicates that for fairly used vehicles ‘’it shows the history of ownership, owner transfer and service history’’.
The Customs Authorities may have gone a step further to explain their public Notice pasted in strategic locations at the ports and terminals including the Customs Commands and bonded terminals all over Lagos that ‘’the VIN is a system deployed by the NCS, to use artificial intelligence , AI, for the Valuation of all used and new vehicles entering the Nigeria approved borders.’’
The Customs Authorities were said to also explained in their public Notice, cited by The Value News Magazine at Tin can island Command Wall, that ‘’the system uses the AI’ ‘’to allocate the appropriate value s and taxes using the VIN/chasis number as well as using the databases compiled from accepted transactions and filtered. This database was said to have been aggregated from the regions of the world without any form of human interference. It noted that accidented vehicles entering the Nigerian ports, based on the VIN will be assessed by Command Valuation Officers.
The vehicles importers, who were said to have thrown their weight behind the agents who had withdrawn of their services from the ports may have known that their business of importation will run into trouble, as the VIN policy has stated that importers of ‘’salvage vehicles must ’’submit their export declaration , sale contract insurance, invoice, and salvage c Certificate’’ , to Customs.
Given the opportunity provided by the Customs Comptroller General to the agents to make their Contribution at the town hall meeting may have haven given the Customs Team an insight that the aggrieved agents are not ready to return to the ports to take delivery of their cargoes until the obnoxious was cancelled. Perhaps, this may have informed why ACG Aremu, the Comptroller General , had promised to take their Complaints to the Management and give them feedback by Friday March 4, 2022.
The Non –Standard VIN, according to an informed source concerned vehicles that the VIN,cannot be found in the database/third party services but has the complete information on the vehicle ‘s VIN, and name, model and year of manufacture. But that was the customs could go as it never stopped the agents from continuing their violent protest, matching from Tin-can Island to PTML, on a daily basis over the last two weeks, singing and walking to the rhythm of their drums.
The protests appear well organised by the Coordinators from Tin can Island, PTML, Port and Cargo and CarPark C, who had stationed members at the port exit gates, without causing any mayhem. This may have sent a signal to Hajia Zainab Ahmed, minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning and Ali, the Customs boss , that something urgent needed to be done to bring the situation under control as the Customs N4.1 trillion ,target is under threat.
The Magazine interviewed some of the aggrieved agents who gave reasons why they have joined in the protest that the government wants to drive them out from business when they could not provide job for the people. Some of the placards carried and displayed by the agents had carious inscriptions: The principle of trade facilitation must be respected, Duties must be based on Transactional values not artificial intelligence, ministry of Finance, House Committee on Customs, , Silence is a Repression, the implementation of the policy will increase sufferings of the masses among others.
Aminu Rilwanu, who may have been thrown up as one of the Leaders of the protesting agents at the port and who had addressed them at the Tin-can Island exit gate on Thursday, March 3, 2022, had pleaded with the agents to be patient while they waited for the Customs Authorities’ response before the close of work on Friday March 4, 2022, ‘’to know whether they will go back to work or not’’ . He had told The Magazine that they had sustained the protests without ‘’going to the bank to withdraw money for it’’.
Many believe that the agents could sustain the strike as they did not allow their differences in their various Association to come in play in planning and executing the protest which the officials of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Terminal Operators, Shipping Companies and security operatives by surprise.
Rilwanu, who addressed the agents at the Tincan Isalnd exit gate,II, had said that the protests was a success because ‘’ there were no moles among them as they ‘’spoke with one voice’’ . This may have forced the Customs Authorities at the instance of the minister to meet to take a decision on the policy. The Customs Management had agreed to put the implementation of the policy on hold for a month to further sensitize importers and the agents on the e-payment for vehicles. Recall that there have been an increase in the number of car imports through the Tincan Island and PTML. This is because President Muhammed Buhari, a retired Army Colonel had banned the importation of vehicles through the nation’s borders on January 1, 2017 and the policy is still in force.
Signs that the Customs Authorities had taken a decision on the VIN, to calm frayed nerves at the ports emerged late on Wednesday, March 2, 2022, as the duo, Comptrollers Oloyede and Okun, in their respective Commands, started sending messages , to the Deputy Comptrollers and some other officers, holding strategic positions, at the terminals and Car park C, including leadership of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Agents, ANLCA, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF),National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, NCMDLC and other Associations of the agents for a meeting to break the cheery news to them.
At the Tincan Island port, the meeting was said to have been held the Command’s board room. The Customs Authorities may have mandated the Customs Area Comptrollers, that are feeling the pinch of the agents strike to broke the news of the suspension of the policy for 30 days to give room for further discussions on the VIN.
A statement released by the Customs Headquarters on the suspension of the VIN reads in part: The Management of the NCS, has suspended the VIN, recently introduced by the service on imported vehicles for 30 days. Note that the implementation of the policy by the Customs personnel at the ports had led to the shutdown of port activities for the past two weeks and subsequent loss of revenue by government.
Before the introduction of the policy, and the mandate given to the Area Comptrollers to start implementing policy, the duty payable on Toyota corolla, and other small car cars, w was said to be N255, 000.00 but had risen astronomically to N1.9 million with the VIN. The duty payable on the exotic vehicles was worse depending on the model and the year of Manufacture. The implementation of the policy was said to stared with vehicles manufactured in 2007.
Although, agents whose clients’ vehicles are still trapped at Tin-can Island port, PTML, Port and Cargo terminal and Car Park C, will take advantage of the 30 days window provided by the Customs Authorities,to take delivery of it but the trouble has just started.
The agents are still insisting that the government must remove the outrageous value on vehicles based on the VIN policy. The Leadership of the various Associations of the agents were said to have sent a message to Ali, the Customs Comptroller General that even though he has bowed to pressure to suspend the policy, but he must’’ consider accidented vehicles and the mileage of vehicles imported as stated in the Customs Law’’ to restore normalcy at the ports.
Nigerians are watching to see how the Customs boss and his Management Team will take it or will he give allow to the agents to shutdown port Operations again. Your guess is as good as The Value News.