Association says over 10,000 jobs will be lost to closure of DTI cafes

 The National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) has expressed fears that over 10,000 jobs will be lost if and when the proposed closure of the DTI cafes takes effect in April.

This was disclosed in a letter signed by NAGAFF’s Secretary General, DR.  Arthur  Igwilo, addressed to the Minister of Finance, copying the President of Nigeria,  the Senate President, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Also copied were the Secretary to the Federation, the Transport Minister, Comptroller-General of Customs, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council and the Registrar of CRFFN.
The association said a closure of the DTI cafes by the Nigeria Customs Service, which served for the purposes of capturing relevant documents for import clearance, would automatically throw young freight forwarders out of their jobs.
NAGAFF argued that the customs licensing regime for the clearance of goods at the ports which favours corporate bodies as against individuals, which the association had been clamouring, was in contravention of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA).
The association said that the idea of preferring to license only corporate bodies and firms was mainly to shield some customs officers who have licences under corporate name to operate even while on the job.
The letter read that,  “What this means in effect is that as freight forwarders they would no longer be able to carry out their functions in the ports as it relates to Customs formalities. We will want to inform you that this announcement by the Customs authorities is already creating restiveness in the port as the young freight forwarders are apprehensive of the loss of their means of livelihood.
“We do hope that it does not result to violence and withdrawal of service by the greater numbers who are well over 10,000 practitioners rather than a less than 1000 operational licences of the Customs. There is also the danger of a massive distress in the life of port operations in view of the fact that Nigeria Customs Service is a very strategic Agency of the Government in our entry points.
“The country is presently grappling with a lot of challenges in the maritime sector and we feel that to add this not well thought out policy might be a disaster in the making.”
The association told the Minister that it was of the opinion that the “practice of licencing of Corporate body to perform function may be inappropriate at the moment because it does not meet the global trends in international trade supply chain and security of cargo more so, in the context of the Act 16, 2007.”
They argued that while the Legal Notice 95 of 1968, Section 156 of CEMA clearly stated that the categories of those that the Nigeria Customs Board could License should include corporate bodies, firms and individuals, the Board had not deemed it necessary to license individuals.
The association also said that the idea of preferring to license only corporate bodies and firms was mainly to shield some customs officers who have licences under corporate name to operate even while on the job.
“For reasons best known to the Board of Customs they have continued to licence only corporate bodies. We state here that it is the Customs Board that may have over time breached the CEMA with impunity by deliberately resorting to licensing only corporate bodies despite the provisions under reference.
“This is a subtle way of shielding Customs officers who may be allegedly holding a reasonable number of the operating licences of the Customs. They hide under the veil of incorporation by proxies and cronies whereas they are the bona fide owners and operators of these licenses which they operate most times in the areas they are serving.
Part of the letter reads: “We have said it that for the maritime sector reforms to be meaningful, particularly in the area of Customs modernization we have to professionalize the key operators by educating and training them to imbibe the spirit of international best practices. 
"It is only an individual not a Corporate body that can learn and acquire skills to fall in line with this Act. This thinking is what predicated the enactment of the CRFFN Act 16 of 2007 which is a most recent Act to CEMA with an intent to provide this much needed change.
“It is axiomatic that when two legislation make provisions concerning one or similar issue(s), with one earlier in time and making specific provisions of the same concerning the self-same subject in resolving any conflict between the two the later enactment takes precedence and becomes superior to the earlier one.
“The Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) as amended was enacted in 1958 and made specific provisions in Section 153 (2)(b) as to who can act on behalf of an importer or exporter for the purposes of providing services to them in the cargo supply management chain.
The same CEMA in Section 156(1) has created effectively a regulatory framework under the “CUSTOMS AND EXCISE AGENTS LICENSING REGULATIONS” otherwise tagged Regulation 95 of 1968. The provisions of Section 156(1) of CEMA and the subsidiary legislation deriving from it constitute the legal framework that sustains the regulatory regime existing under the Customs and Excise Management Act which is exercised by the Nigeria Customs Service to control a segment of the logistics supply chain called Customs Licensed Clearing Agents.
“We know as of a fact that the word Customs Brokerage is unknown to any law in Nigeria. Customs brokers as sub-elements of the freight forwarding business have their set standards that are backed by an enabling Act. This is the standard that those other parts of the world like Canada, USA, Australia etc must comply with before they can be called Customs brokers.
“ They must have undergone a course of training in Customs formalities and duly certificated by the relevant authority as provided for by an Act of parliament. Right now it is only the CRFFN by virtue of Section 1 of the CRFFN Act that has the backing of the law to determine the Standards of Skills and knowledge to be attained by an individual to be registered as a freight forwarder.
“We have taken the pains to explain in detail what a freight forwarder is so that all these unnecessary confusion and breaches can be well understood. We are told by the ACG Zone A of the Customs that as from the end of April 2016 all DTIs which served as cafes for the capturing of relevant documents for import clearance from all our entry points will be shut down and in their place only those with Customs licenses will be issued PIN Numbers as passwords to perform clearance of goods from the Customs control.
“ It is instructive to let you know that Customs licence whose RC numbers used to be used for these functions is no longer being in used. Rather the Tax Identification Numbers (TIN) is being used in ASYCUDA declarations.
“One question we continue to ask the Customs is why only license corporate bodies and not individuals and firms as provided for by CEMA? We would suggest that instead of giving passwords to only those who have Customs licences why not use the RFF Numbers of registered freight forwarders for this purpose?
“In the opinion of NAGAFF it shall be our strong advice that an executive bill be initiated from the Ministry of Transport and in collaboration with Ministry of Finance to expunge Section 156 through a subsidiary legislation at the National Assembly, so that this matter can be put to rest. We cannot have two separate Government agencies regulating the industry stakeholders on the same subject i.e. freight forwarding.
“If we are to go by using the mischief Rule of interpretation of Statutes we would be right to posit that, taken in its totality the coming into effect of the CRFFN Acts was to cure the mischief inherent in the CEMA especially with regards to its regulatory functions of the Licensed Customs Agents.
“In the collective wisdom of the law makers they discovered that in order to professionalize the freight forwarding practice, it is only individuals who can acquire skills and knowledge that is required to be professional freight forwarders and not corporate bodies who do not have the capacities and capability to acquire the professional skills and knowledge needed which is not obtainable presently by the relevant provisions of CEMA.
“We urge you to consult with the Hon. Minister of Transportation everything concerning freight forwarding as a profession and License Customs Agency as a vocation. The point herein contained is that it is an illegality for Customs to license any corporate body without a person duly accredited and certified by CRFFN as the regulatory agency of Freight Forwarders of Nigeria.
“The Hon. Minister should be aware that Licensed Customs Agents are subsumed as secondary freight forwarders in the transportation chain, i.e. the carriage of goods and services across the international boundaries of a state to arrive at the final destination. The point herein made is that any license issued by the Customs without a clearance from CRFFN is an illegality.
“The urgency for the Hon. Minister of Transportation and Finance Minister to meet in this regard with a view to harmonizing the two legislative instruments cannot be over emphasized because if nothing urgent is done and the Nigeria Customs Service go ahead to implement the password orders for Licensed Customs Agents, the essence or otherwise of CRFFN have become invalid. We again repeat our advice that the permanent solution to this conflict of interest is to expunge Section 156 of CEMA through legislation.
“In the interim, the position of Hon. Minister of Transport should be upheld by the Finance Minister to ensure that Licensed Customs Agents subject themselves to the control and regulation of freight forwarders council. The registered numbers of the individual freight forwarders should be the bases of issuance of password other than corporate body licensed by the Customs.

“ It is on record that Nigeria Customs Service is primarily using TIN numbers for declarants and not necessarily RC numbers of corporate companies. And for the records and in facts, the Customs law does not deal nor transact business with Freight/Licensed Customs Agents Associations,” the letter reads.