By Stephen Ubanna
This is not the best of times for Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service., NCS. This is because the Leadership of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, National Council of Managing Director of Licensed Customs Agents, NAMDLCA, Tin-can Island and Port Multi-services Terminal Limited, PTML, Chapters, had mobilised their members to ground the port and terminal Operations.
The agents had grounded Operations at the Tin Island port under the close watch of Comptroller Adekunle Oloyede and PTML, which has Comptroller Felix Okun, as the Area Comptroller, to protest against the implementation of the Federal government newly introduced Vehicle Identification Number, VIN, Valuation System policy. The agents may not have found the policy which is expected to reduce Customs personnel and importers with their agents interaction at the ports to process their documents to facilitate delivery of their cargoes may not have found it funny as they are already used to trade malpractices and how to penetrate the ranks of Customs personnel at the Valuation Seat and terminals to get their goods out.
Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, that the use of discretional powers by Officers to assess imported vehicles which differe at the ports was making the government lose billions of naira annually that he had supported the introduction of the VIN, which was endorsed in turn by the minister and finally approved by the Federal Executive Council.
With the VIN the agent, armed with the Bill of Laden of the vvehicle importis expected to make a self –assessment of the client’s car imports and make the necessary e-payment the NCS , Account with the bank in order to take delivery of their Consignmen at the port.
The aggrieved agents may have started the protest at Tin can Island PTML, which have RORO , facilities where the imported vehicles for sale in the Nigerian market are discharged and cleared to force President Muhammdu Buhari , a retired Army General, to intervene and reverse the policy to end the week-long protest.
Some of the aggrieved agents who spoke to The Value News disclosed that the Authorities at the two Commands had forced them to take the extreme action of grounding operations at the Tin can Island port and PTML, due to their inability to get the Customs management to put the necessary structures in place in order to ensitise stakeholders about the new policy.
They noted that the VIN Valuation system as it stands now cannot generate accurate value payable on imported vehicles. They were said to have complained to the hearing of Ali, the Custom Comptroller General about the depreciation value in the valuation being issued on the imported vehicles being cleared at Five star Terminal, in Tin can Island port and PTML, and other ports, across the country, but that was how far they could. Note that issue of the VIN, between the Customs and the Agents, have been on since 2021.
Many believe that the protest which had dragged on for almost a week could not have degenerated to the current level of ‘’no work’’, if Comptrollers Oloyede, of Tin-can island Command, who is an Information Communication Technology, ICT, guru, and Okun, his counterpart at PTML, were proactive in taking decision to calm the aggrieved agents instead of responding only when the Leadership of the various Associations of had dragged out their members to protest against the implementation of the VIN .
The protest may have turned violent at the Tin-can Island port roundabout on Monday, February 20, 2022, when one of the anti-riot policeman dispatched to the scene to disperse the aggrieved agents tried to cork his gun to scare the crowd but was unlucky as he was grabbed and given a beaten of his life. The Magazine’s attempt to take pictures of the scene was met with stiff resistance. ‘’if you don’t leave here now, we smash your android phone’’, they thundered.
A visitor to the Tin-can Island port and PTML, which used to be a beehive of activities would be surpised how it has become a shadow of itself as both economic and socials services have been grounded to a halt. Many Companies operating at the port environment whose personnel could not assess the port for fear of falling into the waiting hands of the protesting agents whose rank have been infiltrated by the Area boys were said to have returned home.
The Protesting agents at the Tin-can Island port and PTML, were said to have made effort to extend the protest to Apapa port, and onne port respectively.Comptroller Malanta Yusuf, the Area Comptroller of Apapa Command and awwal Mohammed, his Counterpart at Port Harcourt Area II, overseeing the Onne port over seeing the port including the Kirikiri Lighter Terminal, KLT, phases I&II, Area Comptroller were proactive in taking decision to douse tension in their areas of Jurisdiction.
A source told The Magazine, that Comptroller Yusuf,had held a closed door meeting with the Chapter Executives of the various Agents Associations at the port on Wednesday, February, 22, 2023, to rub mind, on how to ensure that normal work continues at the port without any interruption.
The source, disclosed that the Heads of the Enforcement, Valuation, Customs Intelligence, CIU, Imports and Exports, Seat were at the meeting, which was very revealing. The Apapa based agents may h been convinced that there was no basis to join the protest when the Customs Comptroller, put the card on the table with a hold bar. They were aid to have made their own contributions on how to ensure the smooth Operation of the port without any disruption
A visitor to the port on Thursday, February, 23, 20222, could see the agents doing their normal clearing business and finally moving to the terminals to position their Containers for examination and release and loading in the stationed truck to exit the port. Truck s laden with empty Containers and trucks entering the port premises to load Containers at APM terminal, described as one of the biggest Container Terminals in the West African sub-region were also sighted around the port exit gate.
Even the Nigerian Railway Corporation, NRC, which have a working relationship with the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, to take empty Containers to the Apapa port, did not fail s they continued to do so. This is where Comptrollers Yusuf of Apapa Command and Mohammed, PortHarcourt, Area II, needed to be given kudos for their Administrative ingenuity of being proactive to address crisis situations.
The worry of maritime analysts was that if the crisis at the Tin-can Island port and PTML, are not quickly resolved , it would affect the two Commands monthly revenue collection and the service in general. The government had set a N2.2 trillion , non-oil revenue target for the Customs, in the 2022, fiscal year, which which was, increased by the Management to N4.1 trillion, it may be realised.
Aware of the threat of the agents protestto their monthly revenue collection may have informed why the duo, Comptrollers Oloyede and Okun, of Tin can and PTML, respectively, are leaving no stone to bring the situation under control. The duo were said to have opened a channel of discussion with the Leader of ANLCA, NAGAFF, NAMDLCA and other Associations
While the agents have picked holes with the introduction and implementation of the VIN Valuation system policy, another major crisis appears to be brewing at the port over the projected $176 billion revenue target for the service over a 20 year period by the government.
For the realization of the revenue target, the FEC, at its rrecent meeting Chaired by the Katsina state born Nigerian President, were said to have approved $3.1 billion Customs modernization project.
The Leadership of NAGAFF, which had expressed its disgust on the planned Customs modernization project were said to have written Hajia Zainab Ahmed, minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning,’’ to know the applicable indices and parameters used in arriving at the projected $176 billion over a 20-year period.
Recall that in 2020, the FEC, the approved the contract sum of $18.12 million or N255 billion for the acquisition of three Rapiscan Cargo Mobile Scanners which was said to have been won by Messrs Airwave Limited.
Another contract sum of N280,992,888.75, inclusive of Value Added Tax, VAT, was said to also been approved and the contract awarded to Messrs C.Y. West Africa Limited for supply of five units of fast Ballistic Reverie Assault Boats/ five units of Patrol Boats with assorted accessories. The worry of the Association was that between 1979 and now, the government had continued with an endless modernization of the Customs Operations with no solution in sight.
They had alldued to the fact that in the 1996 reform, which was backed up by Decree No.11 of 1996, the Pre-ship,ent Inspection Companies, COTECNA and two others, were paid between the sum of $70 million to $75 million year, which was said to have escalated trade malpractices at the port: wrong classification, false declaration, under payment and Concealment while the Customs was paid less than 1 billion yearly.
The Association had cited had alluded to the Olusegun Obasanjo Administration and Messrs COTECNA Inspection SA on provision, installation and Operation of 14 X-ray scanners on Build, Operate, &Transfer, BOT, basis, at prescribed locations across the country to scan all imports coming into the country through the seaports and the approved Land border areas between 2003 and 2013.
The contract was said to have also covered the training of some 50 Customs Officers on the Computerised Risk Management System, CRMS and who in turn will train 500 other Officers within the 10 year contract period of the contract .
NAGAFF, had aid said in the Letter seent to Hajia Ahmed, the Finance minister that the implementation of the deal was marred with several ‘’flaws and compromises’’, meaning that there would not be any difference with the implementation of the newly introduced VIN Valuation system policy. This is where Aajia and Ali, the Comptroller, have to prove the agents, before dragging the economy back to mud.