Scanners have been introduced to the cargo clearance procedure at Nigerian seaports as far back as when Destination Inspection was introduced and the Federal Government entered into a seven-year contract with the destination inspection service providers - Cotecna Destination Inspection Limited (CDIL), Global Scan Systems and SGS, to build and operate inspection equipment.
No doubt, scanners, which can be fixed or mobile, are critical to the Customs’ Destination Inspection operations because they go a long way to improve upon the time and cost of doing business at the ports.
The present scanners at the ports were handed over to the Nigeria Customs Service at the expiration of destination inspection contract in December 2013, making Customs responsible for the operations of the scanners.
But, frequent breakdowns have made them unavailable and have made Customs to go back to 100 per cent examination of containers.
Customs officials have also confirmed that in the good days when the scanners were working at full capacity, Apapa customs command alone used to scan between 450 and 500 containers in a day. At some point, it even had to run day and night shifts among its officers.
Scanners are crucial tools in destination inspection of cargoes, because otherwise every container must be opened and physically examined, which will be time-consuming and makes room for mistakes and possible abuses.
Customs have always claimed that the destination inspection companies handed over near-dead scanners to them. We recall that the immediate past Comptroller General of Customs; Dikko Inde Abdulahi promised to acquire news set of scanners for the Service, he never did. We are also aware that the incumbent; Col Hammed Ali (rtd) had also talked about the poor state of the scanners. He also promised to do something about it!
Investigations have confirmed that the Customs may be incapacitated in its attempt to fix the scanners. Customs say only two of the three levels of the needed scanner maintenance can be carried out by the Service, while one level of maintenance is the duty of the manufacturer.
Sadly, the only maintenance needed can not be carried out. Reason- the manufacturers say they have no scanners’ maintenance agreement with the Nigeria Customs Service.
Further investigations revealed that since the manufacturers have refused to repair the scanners, the Customs also took to self-help, fixed the scanners, but they only worked for a while, before they packed up.
The fact today is that all the scanners have stopped working and the Customs has also embraced 100 % examination of cargoes, with all the attendant penchant for abuse and negation of trade facilitation by its officers.
Lack of scanning machines and use of 100 per cent physical examination in the ports have led to so many malpractices. In the absence of scanners, personnel of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), State Security Service (SSS), Nigeria Police, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Standards Organisation of Nigerian (SON) and others have been having field day. The result is that Nigerian ports have become very expensive, and a fertile ground for sharp practices, including importation of arms and ammunition.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) had also frowned at 100% per cent physical examination of cargoes at ports by officers of Nigeria Customs Service, saying that it poses significant corruption risks to port processes.
This verdict was contained in a final report of Corruption Risk Assessment conducted by the ICPC in six major Nigerian ports; Tin Can, Port Harcourt, Onne, Warri and Calabar ports.
Perhaps, it is pertinent to ask: Why did the scanners that Destination Inspection agents handed-over to Customs stop working shortly after the Customs took charge? While there is no evidence of sabotage, can we also ask- Was the Customs fully prepared for destination inspection and ‘ownership’ of the scanners when it took over, aren’t the officers more comfortable with physical examination which allows them freeway? The questions are endless.
And why did the successive Customs management fail to pay attention to an item that will help the Service to carry out its assignment more efficiently?
If the scanners were working as they ought to, it would have been difficult or near impossible for illegal arms to be flooding our territories as they have been since the beginning of this year. Apart from this, it is a known fact that 100% cargo examination encourages corruption at the ports.