On July 7, 2020, a strange but necessary marriage among all the Government Agencies in the maritime industry which are under the Ministry of Transportation was consummated.
The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Mr Hassan Bello, Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala-Usman, Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr Bashir Jamoh, Dr George Moghalu, Managing Director, National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and Rtd. Commodore Duja Effedua, Rector, Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron, all converged under the same roof at the Lagos Headquarters of Nigerian Shippers’ Council with a common and unified goal to improve efficiency and remove frictions in the conduct of government maritime business.
We described this gathering strange because it is novel.
The maritime industry has never witnessed this sort of synergy among government agencies that are legendary for their conflicting roles, over lapping functions that have made them not only to work at cross purposes but act and behave like strange bed fellows.
So, when the Chief Executives of these agencies decided to form an alliance to tackle the issues of inefficiency and government bureaucracy that have stalled the growth of the industry, not a few stakeholders were elated.
The synergy, which from all intent and purposes, may have been initiated and facilitated by the Ministry of Transportation which is their mother, will infuse a new lease of life into the industry.
There has been growing concern among maritime stakeholders over the damaging effects the over lapping functions among these agencies have caused the progress of the industry.
For instance, the function of wreck removal is a shared statutory duty among the NPA, NIMASA and NIWA.
But often times, this function is largely left undone or haphazardly carried out due to the needless controversy and bickering it generates among the concerned agencies.
This is despite the delineation of areas of coverage for each agency as spelt out in their respective Acts.
It is also a known fact, that lack of cooperation and working synergy between the NPA and the Shippers’ Council has adversely affected effective monitoring and supervision of service providers such as the shipping companies and terminal operators.
Though the NPA is the technical regulator while the Shippers’ Council is the commercial regulator of these service providers, the two agencies however often work at cross purposes in their bid to assert their authority.
It was even said that the stalled passage of National Transport Commission (NTC) bill, which is long-overdue, was due to the alleged animosity between the NPA and Nigerian Shippers’ Council over who to assume the control of the commission.
Also, more often than not, there have been complaints and bickering between NIMASA and MAN, Oron over the statutory allocation by the former to the latter.
The Maritime institution often complain of being starved of funds by NIMASA due to its refusal or delay in releasing the statutory allocations.
On the other hand, NIMASA often justified its position on misappropriation or non- judicious use by MAN Oron of the allocation.
All the bickerings and muscle- flexing among these agencies have greatly hurt government job and retarded the growth of the industry.
It is expected that this marriage of convenience will bring about a gradual transformation in the industry through cohesive and bonding synergy among the maritime agencies.
Expectedly, operators in the sector such as the Shippers Association of Lagos State, who have been at the receiving end of the uncoordinated activities of these agencies, will now heave a sigh of relief over this new found love among the agencies.
It is equally heart warming to learn that the meeting among these agencies would not be a one- off thing but held monthly for a period of time before it becomes a quarterly deliberation.
This synergy couldn’t have come at a better time than now when the maritime industry could no longer afford the needless bickering, repressed animosity and disharmony among the agencies which have done irreparable damage to the quest for quick and efficient service delivery in the sector.
Listening to Hadiza Bala Usman, Barrister Hassan Bello and Bashir Jamoh speak at the inagural meeting of these agencies gives a great promise and hope for the industry because they espoused a vision that will trigger efficiency and growth of the sector.
It also will lead to unified and coordinated efforts among the agencies that will dismantle the challenges confronting the industry.
All the hopes and aspirations of stakeholders over this new synergy will only crystalize into a reality if the Chief Executive Officers of these agencies work their talks.
Only then, will they have written their names in gold as the maritime administrators who launched the industry onto the path of meteoric rise to greatness.
Only then will stakeholders believe that their marriage is not a marriage of convenience but of necessity.
However, the absence of Customs’ helmsman, Hameed Ali, in the alliance leaves much to be desired.
Even though Customs is under the ministry of Finance, but the agency is one of the most critical stakeholders in the industry.
As a matter of fact, the ports are regarded as Customs ports and any alliance in the industry that does not involve the agency is incomplete.
The agency should be involved in subsequent meetings to enable the alliance achieve the desired results.
We could only hope this laudable initiative will be institionalised and outlive the tenure in office of the respective initiators.
Editorial! The incursion of Chinese into Nigeria’s revenue vault.
The ubiquitous Chinese is gradually getting a foothold in the nation’s economy.
On May 30th, 2022, the controversial concession of the Nigeria Customs Service was consummated at the national headquarters of the service in Abuja.
Despite the outcry of stakeholders against the concession of the operations of the Nigeria Customs Service, the Federal Government signed a tripartite concession agreement with a Chinese company, Huawei Technologies, and their Nigerian counterparts, Trade Modernisation Project Limited with Africa Finance Corporation as the lead financiers.
The agreement was facilitated and midwifed by the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission(ICRC).
The concessionaires, under the agreement, will drive the modernisation project for 20 years.
Last Monday’s consummation of the concession agreement was preceded by the approval granted by the Federal Government in September 2020 to concede the operations of the customs to concessionaires
The concession agreement, which spans a period of 20 years, will involve the modernisation of the processes and procedures of the Nigeria Customs Service, including its revenue generation which the concessionaires will take over through which they are to recoup their $3.2 billion investments.
Expectedly, the decision of the Federal government, which was clinically executed in the mould of a coup d’é tat, caught many industry stakeholders pants down.
It also generated animated discussion as the approval and eventual concession was granted in defiance to the popular wish of the operators.
Since 2019, when the industry got wind of this concession deal before the 2020 approval, there has been concerted opposition mounted by the aghast operators who felt the move was an attempt to give away our common patrimony to the foreign interests.
Then, Hon. Jerry Alagbaso, a former Customs chief and erstwhile member of the House of Representatives, rallied the National Assembly against the move.
But to the chagrin of everyone, the Federal government pulled a fast one on all the antagonists of the project.
We are less disconcerted over this concession deal which we believe was willing away the nation’s cash cow for 20 years to the foreign imperialists and their local collaborators.
We are at a loss on which powerful forces could have forced the hands of the Federal government to enter into this type of deal against the popular counsel of knowledgeable stakeholders.
Modernisation of Customs, they said.
What is there to modernise in the processes and procedures of the Nigeria Customs Service?
At the risk of being controverted, we dare say the Nigeria Customs has the most advanced form of automation process among the government agencies in the industry and one of the most automated in Africa.
The Secretary-General of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Wamkele Mene said as much when he visited Apapa Customs command last week.
Mr. Mene said Nigeria Customs has the most advanced and comprehensive automation programme among its peers in Africa.
The only challenge which the service has is human.
Some of the men and officers of the service are clearly aversed to full automation due to their selfish and pecuniary interests.
The automation process will eliminate human contacts which is the avenue for extortion and exploitation.
Since 2003, Nigeria Customs has gone through a series of automation processes that have made its processes and procedures seamless.
The Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) and its advanced form of ASYCUDA+, ASYCUDA++, the Nigeria Customs Integrated System (NCIS1 &11), and Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) are some of the automation platforms created by the customs management over the years to make customs operations seamless.
Even, in 2013, the Service developed a web-based application to provide information and guidelines for international trade business processors, export and transit trade which is called Nigeria trade Portal which is interactive.
To our mind, what the service needs is to upgrade these automated platforms, and integrate them with other players in the cargo documentation and clearance chains under the neglected single window project.
With adequate capital outlay, we believe Nigeria Customs can achieve full automation status without the involvement of foreign economic imperialists, aided and abetted by their avaricious local collaborators.
The anti- automation officers, who are averred to technology due to their selfish interests, could be reformed.
If they are adamant, they could be shipped out.
Cargo scanning could be emphasised while physical examination of cargoes could be sparingly used.
With these and all other automation platforms well integrated into the single-window under the supervision of a willing Customs administration, the Nigeria Customs will be a world-class agency.
We are however least surprised at the tenacity of these economic vultures in their quest to lay hands on the Nigeria Customs Service, which is gradually emerging as the cash cow of the nation.
Apart from oil, maritime is the second-highest revenue earner for the country and Nigeria Customs plays a key role in this regard.
With the yearly earnings in the excess of a conservative estimate of trillions of naira and the capacity to do more, as well as the dwindling earnings from oil due to the global crisis in the oil market, the maritime industry nay Nigeria Customs is understandably the preferred bride for these economic speculators.
Various attempts have been made in the past to dip their hands in the Customs’ till without success.
In 2011, the illegal concession of Customs key functions between the ministry of finance and a company called Single Window System and Technologies was shot down.
In 2017, another move for Customs modernisation was made by the technical committee on the Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme(CISS) which was pretentiously acting on behalf of the Federal government, with a technical partner called Adani system Nigeria limited.
The attempt, which sought to concession the Customs then for 25 years, was frustrated.
However, in a blatant disregard for popular opinion, the Federal government, after several failed attempts, eventually forced down the throat of the unwilling stakeholders, the concession of the agency.
However, the deeds have been done.
Any further lamentation by the stakeholders on the issue is crying over spilled milk.
Now that the government has had its way, we can only hope that its aspirations for the concession will be realised.
The Minister of Finance, Budget, and Planning, Zainab Ahmed, has said the government stands to realise $176 billion from the project without spending a Kobo.
The question is how much will the concessionaires realise within the 20- year period of the deal beyond the $3.2billion investments they are expected to sink into the project?
What would be the fate of the customs officers whose jobs will be affected by the take-over of the revenue functions of the agency?
Even though the Comptroller General of the service, Col. Hameed Ali, has allayed the fear of job loss, the redundancy of some categories of officers could not be totally ruled out.
It is instructive to note that one of the two core functions of the customs, which is revenue generation, has now been concessioned under the guise of this new modernisation project, leaving them with the anti-smuggling function.
We hope rather than render some crop of officers reductant which may lead to possible right-sizing of staff, they could be redeployed to beef up the anti-smuggling function of the service.
We are worried about the involvement of the Chinese in the project as represented by Huawei which serves as a technical partner.
The ubiquitous Chinese have gradually become a leech on Nigeria, sucking on the economy of the nation.
We can only hope that the modernisation project will leave the Nigeria Customs service better than it met it.
We equally hope the project will not be sabotaged by disgruntled insiders whose means of livelihood is being threatened.
The misadventure of the Professional Import Duty Administrators (PIDA) between 1996 and 2000 in the Nigeria Customs Service is still poignant in the memory of those who were in the know.
At that period, a firm of an accounting/consultant was engaged as professional Import Duty Administrators to complement the Nigeria Customs Service in the task of revenue generation.
They left the service worst off than they met it.
We appeal to the Federal government to ensure that this project transforms the service into a technologically-driven agency whose operations are seamless and paperless.
Editorial! Chairmanship of CRFFN: Mortgaging the Freight Forwarding industry
“Following Chibuike Amaechi’s imposition of one Alhaji Tsanni as chairman of the governing council, Amaechi’s action, contrary to the legal provisions of the CRFFN Act as regards the position of chairman and vice-chairman, has automatically placed the Council on the precipice.”
“It is absolute disregard of the rule of law. It’s not even healthy for the political future of Mr. President (Buhari).
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