Much Ado About Single Window Goods Clearance In Nigeria

According to the World Trade Organisation, the Single-Window System is a trade facilitation idea. As such, its implementation enables international (cross-border) traders to submit regulatory documents at a single location and/or single entity.

It is a one stop shop for easier transactions aimed at providing a single procedure for the importer and exporter in his transactions. It is also a trade facilitation concept that is being promoted by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to make commerce easier.

As recent as 2017, the World Bank’s trading across borders report revealed that out of 189 countries, Nigeria ranked 182. Reason adduced for this low rating is her non-embrace of the Single Window concept at the ports. In the report, Thailand, Morocco and neighbouring Ghana, which have since adopted Single Window, were ranked 56, 102 and 171 respectively. The report also lampooned Nigeria in the area of trade facilitation, saying that it is very difficult doing business in our ports.

In 2017, the then-acting President; Yemi Osinbajo had directed that all government agencies operating in the ports must align their activities under a single platform aka Single Window. To give vent to this, he also signed three executive orders that were expected to, “significantly change some of the ways government business and operations are conducted in the country forthwith”. 

One of the highlights contained in the Executive Order was that all agencies  that are currently physically present in Nigerian Ports shall within 60 days harmonise their operations into one single interface station domiciled in one location in the port and implemented by a single joint task force at all times, without prejudice to necessary backend procedures.  

Also, the new single interface station at each Port shall capture track and record information on all goods arriving and departing from Nigeria and remit captured information to the head of the MDA and the head of the National Bureau of Statistics on a weekly basis.  

No too long after the executive orders were given,  the same Vice President also pointedly gave fourth quarter  of the same  2017 as the take-off date for the commencement of Single Window in Nigeria.

At a meeting of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council presided over by the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, approval was given for a national action plan on entry and exit of goods; entry as well as  exit of people.

The statement from the meeting also pointedly mentioned the Single Window and declared that it was expected to become operational by  fourth quarter of 2017.

That was about two years ago, and Nigeria is nowhere close to flagging-off its National Single Window.

While it is true that the Federal Government at one time gave the Ministry of Transportation the go- ahead to put the National Single Window together, it is also true and indeed in  public knowledge that the Nigeria Customs Service also planned one!

We recall that, the Service had a contract with Messrs Westblue Consulting to develop the Nigerian Trade Hub and portal, the company was midway into the perfection of the Single Window when its contract was terminated. And in the typical Nigerian way, all that Westblue were thrown away.

Sadly, while government agencies are feuding over the right to Single Window, other nations are already taking advantage of it. What Nigeria failed to take advantage of, neighbouring Ghana engaged Messrs  Westblue and that country’s  Single Window is already up and running. Apart from Ghana, neighbouring Benin Republic and Togo also have it running.

It is a shame that between the NPA and the Nigeria Customs Service, it has been difficult to get the Single Window on track. If it is agreed that, the advantage are numerous, why then is it difficult for the Federal Government to issue a policy statement  as to which agency should warehouse it. 

Without doubt, the Nigeria Customs Service is most suited for the National Single Window project, and we align with this. It is wrong for NPA to want to snatch the Single Window through the back door. Whatever it has done so far with its Command, Control, Communication, and Intelligence System (CCCIS) is only a component of the more holistic National Single Window. According to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the document components of the single window include: customs declarations, applications for import/export permits, and other supporting documents such as certificates of origin and trading invoices.  Transactions under the single window involves the Customs, SON, NAFDAC and other agencies that are connected with clearing processes at the ports or border stations. The NPA is as involved as other agencies, as such it can not lay claim to being the senior partner. 

Ghana could have a single window running because her President; John Dramani Mahama was involved directly. At the official flag-off in December 2015, the Ministers in charge of Finance, Transport, Trade and Industry as well as Food and Agriculture were all in attendance. The country’s Commissioner General of Ghana Revenue Authority was also in attendance.

Without doubt, the single window is a revenue platform and not a security platform, what the NPA has is (as its name connotes), a ship tracking and monitoring device, designed to help the agency track ship traffic, cargo volume and monitor accruable revenue. It can not serve as a National Single Window platform.

According to the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) of the federal government, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) collections would have increased by about 90 percent if the National Single Window had been deployed in Nigerian ports.

The executive secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Mr. Hassan Bello, also acknowledged that the lack of single window had affected the efficiency of the seaports. Bello said that single window will eliminate inefficiencies and lead to the simplification of documents and shorten the dwell time of cargoes at the seaports.

If every one agrees that a National Single Window will benefit the nation, why then are we foot-dragging? The answer is that, the interests of agencies that are responsible for the nation’s trade, especially import and export have been put above national interest. If not, why must the NPA and the Nigeria Customs Service be at logger head over who controls or where the National Single Window will be domiciled?

Finally, the Nigeria Customs Service, especially its current management should explain why the contract of Messrs. Westblue Consulting was terminated, while it was almost through with the Single Window project.