Interview: Terminal operators should provide scanners at the seaports—Prince Shittu

Prince Olayiwola Shittu, Former President of ANLCA

Prince Olayiwola Shittu, erstwhile President of the Association of Nigerian Licesed Customs Agents (ANLCA) has expressed his views on a number of industry issues including who should be responsible for the provision of scanners at the seaports. In an interactive session with journalists in Lagos at the weekend ahead of his birthday celebration and book launch, Shittu said it remained the responsibility of the terminal operators to provide tools of trade for their operations as concessionaires at the seaports.

On matters of trade facilitation, Shittu said it was difficult to talk about facilitating trade when the Nigeria Customs Service harps so much on revenue generation, and pointed out that regulatory agencies of government in the industry operate without checks and balances, an act he said was very inimical to trade itself. He also spoke on the challenge of handling of overtime cargoes as well corruption at the seaports, which he described as “cancerous.”

Who to provide scanners at the seaports?
All over the world, it is the terminal operators that provide scanners, because they are the ones receiving the cargo in their own terminals. And scanners are supposed to be positioned in such a way that all containers coming into the country must be scanned. Scanning reporting issues and put under the scrutiny of the security agencies. There was why we asked for one-stop shop a long time ago.
The problem of the industry goes beyond the issue of scanning alone, it goes beyond the issue of 100 per cent examination, beyond the issue of compliance or no compliance.

Who regulates the regulators? That is one question we should ask ourselves. Individual regulatory agencies acting on their own as if they are not answerable to anybody; NAFDAC will tell you they are not answerable to the minister, some will say “I am not under you.” Customs will say the CG did not ask me to do anything, I am not interested. That is not the way. And that is why we can never have trade facilitation in Nigeria. Anybody asking for trade facilitation will not get it because it will be cooked in the name of ‘security’ and ‘revenue generation.’ And you cannot have revenue generation and have trade facilitation.

So, if you go and buy scanners and come to install for the terminal operator to warehouse, who maintains them? That is the issue. The terminal operator has been given concession, they should provide the tools of trade. But everything we do in this country, when it comes to the issue of money politics must enter. We need to find out who purchased the earlier scanners. Customs was supposed to be supervising the scanners, the printing. But when you want percentage, it becomes a problem. When PAAR was introduced, the inspection agents left because CISS was no longer coming. Terminal operators are under the ministry of transportation, customs is under the ministry of finance. So, who takes charge?

Issue of over-time cargoes?

The days before the concessioning, NPA was responsible for the movement of overtime cargo, because they were running the port then. They had in every port, government warehouses, and there was a system of disposal of overtime cargo. The first question you will be asking yourself is “how come for the past six years goods that are on overtime, goods that were seized are still remaining on the same spot and there was no system of disposal? Because you need to evacuate, dispose in order to create space. Who is responsible? I know customs tried with the online auctioning, but it does not perfect it.

In those days they had licensed auctioneers and the beneficiary would come and evacuate. But ask yourself this, those goods lying down in the port as overtime cargo, can the terminal operator release them without collecting their rent? So, some of them, the rents are so prohibitive that owners abandoned them. And abandoned cargo is overtime cargo, nowhere to go. There was this time when NPA brought out money for the evacuation of overtime cargo and when you were allocated a container or a vehicle you were now responsible for the transfer. 

But what happened to the means of transportation from the ports to Ikorodu? So NPA stopped, and customs will never handle that. With that problem, they then decided that overtime cargo will remain where they are because where ever they are is government warehouse. 

Know that those terminal operators are not here to come and play, they are here for business and the space is valuable to them. If you tell the terminal operators now that government has given them license to dispose of overtime cargo, under two weeks the place will be empty. What about those who are licensed as auctioneers? They have been side-lined because everything now is political.  So, the issue is politics. Customs say they lack the capacity. Can the terminal operators move the cargo themselves? It is not possible. Is anybody benefitting? No. Somebody has to benefit. You have to find out the reason why the movement of overtime cargo was halted. Then you know who to blame.

Corruption in the ports?

Corruption in the port is not only embedded, it has become cancerous. There is no operation you do in the port that is not backed with money. Even those who are compliant are discouraged from remaining complaint by the Customs, because they refused to drop money illegally, while those who are bot compliant but giving bribes have their way. Truth is that, those who are paid to ensure this compliance, are under pressure to meet both official and unofficial targets. And at the end of the day, the unofficial target is more important.

What you are seeing with the police are encouraged by the operators themselves. It is not the job of the police to delve into customs clearance. But it is the neighbours in the port that are inviting the police to come and ‘chop’. It is sad that the Customs said they had nothing to do with that. The Police go to the point of having the ship manifest with which they carry out their operations. When you ask them, they tell you a matter is being investigated. But ask them, how many of such containers that are arrested have the owners prosecuted?  After settlement, an investigated container becomes uninvestigated.