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Lack of scanning machines at ports makes clearing of goods cumbersome –Emefo

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Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Xvax Nigeria Limited, Chief Stephen Emefo, who is a Customs broker, spoke to Stanley Ihedigbo on developments within Nigerian ports and the challenges faced by Customs brokers and others while clearing goods. Excerpts …

What exactly is the job of Customs brokers in Nigerian ports?

I have been a Customs broker for over 25 years and I learned the trade from someone who was already in the business. But today, it is a profession and there is a freight forwarders institute found by the Federal Government four years ago. My experience is a tough one because sometimes you may find yourself in prison based on what importers loaded in their containers, in other words an importer will put contraband goods and fail to inform you. In a situation like that, when the Customs examines the container and discovers false declaration, it is the agent that would be arrested first because you are representing the importer. The positive aspect of it is that it is a good job and rewarding.

How can an agent avoid such situations in representing importers?

It is important to note that many importers go into importing business without asking questions or understanding the way things works. For you to be an importer you must open a Form M and it will tell you what you will put in the container. For instance, if you are importing radio from China, after opening the Form M, you have to send it to the shipper or the company producing radio. The reason many people are involved in false declaration is as result of greediness, for instance an importer declares he’s importing radio but will tell the shipper to ship phones. That is the false declarations. It is very important to do things properly in Nigeria. When you open Form M it contains details of the goods or products you’re bringing into the country. Even before you open the Form M, you will have proforma invoice which also carries the details of what you want to import. And if the information on the Form M is not the same thing in the container, forget it about it. The container is gone.

How do you handle the issue of importers importing substandard products?

It is another mess we are witnessing in this country. If you go to China, they have what they call American standard, Chinese standard and European standard but I haven’t heard of African or Nigerian standard. Every day substandard goods are imported into our country and Nigerian importers are the ones who demand the substandard products from the companies aboard. Although Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has been doing a great job at the ports but I will appeal to the importers to stop doing disservice to this great nation. If America and Europe deserve standard products, Nigeria deserves the same. I would like to use this opportunity to appeal to government to take some drastic steps in this area. If a company in China ships substandard products into our country, our government should take it up against China so that the company would be punished and others would learn from it. These substandard products passed their ports and they allowed it. It is not good for the

Chinese government image. Foreigners are said to have taken over freight forwarding business in Nigeria, what is responsible for this development?

It is not true. But the situation we found ourselves is that every company is allowed to have a Customs license. Another problem in the industry is that foreigners are more respected than us. For instance, in Benin Republic, they don’t allow anybody into their ports, but in Nigeria, foreigners, most especially Chinese, Lebanese and Indians enter into our ports as if they are going there to buy bottle water. The government officials in the ports don’t allow Nigerians to sit down in their offices in the ports but they would treat the foreigners that don’t have license or permission to enter into the ports like kings.

What are the implications of allowing foreigners access into our ports without permission or license?

The implications are very simple. They enter the ports as they wish to bribe ports officials in order for their containers to be cleared. Some of their containers are filled with substandard goods and products. Have you ever heard that Chinese towns in Nigeria have been closed? Their containers leave the ports undisturbed and peacefully to their warehouses, including Chinese towns.

The issue of scanning of containers in the ports has been a very big challenge, what is your view on the development and the implications for ports opera-tions?

To my own understanding, is like scanning cannot work in Nigerian ports. If you remember before now, all the ports in Nigeria had scanning machines but corruption hasn’t helped matters. If scanning machine tells you that 100 phones are in a container, it will be that same numbers of phones that are there and it saves time in operations. For over seven years now these scanning machines are not functioning and if they are functioning well, clearing a container would not be more than one day. Today, it takes more than one week to finish clearing one container in Nigerian ports and it is only in Nigeria that such development is happening all over the world.

What effect has the introduction of PAAR in duty payment?

That is one of the funniest things in the industry. PAAR was a good concept, unfortunately in Nigeria, things upside down. For instance, pencil and radio are two different things, and if pencil is valued at N10, 000 and radio is valued at N100, 000, there is no way they should pay the same duty rate. It is not working very well because it is marred by corruption. The best thing that would help government to generate income is resorting to scanning.

Which other areas of Customs’ services need to be improved?

The issue of accommodation is a very big problem as Customs officials resume work very late because they live far away from the ports. I keep saying it everywhere I go that if the police have quarters then there should be Customs’ quarters for them around the ports nationwide. Another area is the use of the camp boys by the Customs officials. Those people are not Customs officials and they cannot do the job of Custom officials for them. Sending the camp boys to conduct container examination is not acceptable. Immediately they come to you and you don’t give them money, they would write nonsense about your containers. It is unprofessional and the authority should look into it quickly before it results into something else in the industry. Many of the officers don’t come for container examination rather they depend on those camp boys they picked from their villages to write reports for them.

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