“Every importer wants his container to pass through the scanner, but this is not obtainable because we have only one scanner”
Comptroller Musa Jibrin is the Area Controller of the Apapa Command of Nigeria Customs Service. In this interaction with maritime reporters in Lagos recently, he took time to highlight the various challenges the Customs is currently facing in the implementation of its new platform; Nigerian Customs Integrated System (NICIIS 2). He was represented at the chat by the Assistant Comptroller in charge of Apapa CPC, Yahaya Muktar. Shipping Position Daily assistant editor; Dapo Olawuni was there.
“If we are able to be compliant from the traders zone, no officer would be able stop your cargo”
There has been recent complaints of delays in clearing cargoes from Apapa customs, why is this so?
It is true that we often have delays, but from the onset, there are different stages you need to pass through before you get your cargo out. I would start from the ‘capture’, once you opened your Form M which shows your intentions and what you want to import, by the time you begin to present documentary evidence to customs for you to get your PAAR and pay duty on the consignment, it is still the same document you are talking about, if there are issues of infractions in those documents, definitely there is going to be a delay, this has happened from inception.
Secondly, by the time you come to ‘capture’, some of us are not so conversant with the computer, sometimes we make mistakes inputting data, such as the HS code and declaration, by the time the information leaves the trader’s zone and comes to customs zone and it happens there are errors in HS code or declaration, this would also cause a delay.
It is true that we have issues with the scanners, but the system has the liberty of selectivity in terms of where your consignment would go, if you have an homogeneous item with more than 10 containers, for the ease of doing business, it would transmit selectivity into the scanning so that we would not start to open each containers to know what they contain before releasing them. If you make infraction in terms of declaration, you would be confusing the system, even though you have twenty containers whereby in your mind it supposed to go for scanning because they are homogeneous items, but you have confused the system by not making proper declarations, the system would be confused and route it for physical examination, by so doing, it has caused another delay. It is not only customs that is incapable of obtaining trade facilitation, other stakeholders are there, customs is not the one to drop the container for examination, there are other agencies that also needs to come and examine the container at the same time with customs, this was why we introduced the central examination centre just to avoid these kind of barriers. Before you call for examination, your documents must have passed through these agencies.
Again, the scanners are not working, and there is only one scanner working in Apapa, in Tin Can and other areas, we don't even have it, but in Apapa we have one that is functioning. Now, if you have a backlog of works, how many containers can pass through the scanner at a time? Every importer wants his container to pass through the scanner; this is not obtainable because we have only one scanner. These are some of the issues that need to be addressed, the issue of the scanner is not the importer's problem, it is left for customs to clear it and for other stakeholders to do their job, we have told the federal government about the scanners and they keep telling us that they are coming. The issue of the bad roads is another major problem, you get into the port but you cannot come out for several days.
How do you check the increase in number of importers violating provisions of the ‘fast track’ scheme?
The fast track was why we introduced the NICIIS 2 application, but we are still not contained with that, as I speak with you now, we have a piled up document of fast track cargoes in our office because the system is not able to get the number of the beneficiaries installed in the system, the system is programmed to ensure that everything is done at the documentary side, you don't need to come back to customs to say you are a fast track beneficiary and your cargo has not been released, what we do is that from the system, it would recognize a fast track beneficiary so that by the time it is triggered for selectivity of clearance, the cargo would be released as a fast track beneficiary.
Has the bad roads and ongoing rehabilitation of wharf road affected your revenue in Apapa?
I will tell you No, this is because 70 percent of what constitutes revenue in Apapa is the bulk cargo and bulk cargoes have nothing to do with the roads, they have their silos, you evacuate from the ship and go, it is only 30 percent of general cargo that balances up the revenue, so the road has not affected our revenue. Secondly, the containers going on transfer, either they are going on transire, in the procedure form, because of the issue of roads that importers now take their consignment to another terminal outside Apapa, remember that at each of these terminals, we have customs authorities. So whatever (as an officer) you do in Apapa is the same thing they do there. What we normally do is to take the container numbers as they are being transferred either by rail, barges or road.
Any other challenges saddling customs operations at the Apapa area command apart from the road?
Of course there are challenges, human errors are number one, secondly is that you are supposed to do something but you have not been able to do it. For example, since morning, we have not been able to access any work, simply because the internet is not working, and we are talking of trade facilitation, today, no importer have been able to capture, it means that they would now have to start capturing tomorrow, trigger it and customs starts the process, it is another one day delay. In any new introductions, there are human errors.
Would the delay in NICIS affect customs revenue?
Apapa command is not the pilot for NICIS 2, KLT started it because we need to start with a smaller command because we envisaged there are going to be problems, if we had started the scheme using Tin Can command or Apapa, we would have a system collapse, because it is the first introduction, and everywhere in the world when you are introducing a system, there are bound to be problems, so if you start with a larger area, then the whole area that happens to be the revenue target would collapse and the country would not have the money. This is why we decided to start with a smaller area where most of their consignments are on groupage, we have been able to achieve results, we encountered many problems and we were able to solve them. From KLT we moved to PTML which also a lesser area than Tin Can, we are now improving because we have seen the problem at KLT and solved it, we moved to PTML, saw other problems and solved it, then we came to Tin Can where there was a lot of problems; Apapa and Tin Can are more or less the same thing, so when we were coming to Apapa we already know the problems, at Apapa, we experienced very little problems compared to Tin Can command, the only problem I am speaking about today is the internet problem which is a worldwide thing. Sometimes when we were using ASYCUDA we usually have a shutdown of three hours, and this is why I particularly stay till 8pm in the office because I control the server system and the central system, so I stay back to ensure we don't have pending jobs, the server sometimes comes back, by then the congestion on the network would have dropped, then we would work. So, there has been improvement on the NICIIS 2 at Apapa based on what happened in Tin Can where importers and agents were not able to capture based on certain challenges.
On whether the challenges would affect our revenue; well, it might affect it and it might not, in the last two weeks when we rolled out in Apapa, there was no declaration because they were using ASYCUDA as the pilot and the new system as the new system, after a week we stopped using ASYCUDA for capturing, we only use it to discharge pending jobs, now you cannot capture on ASYCUDA; you only capture on NICIIS 2, people were afraid of the new platform because there might be errors, so the first week there was no revenue, but the second week, we collected N2.3billion in a day and this covered for the loss of three days that we had. At the initial stage, the revenue might go down, but subsequently it would jump up. Double-checking of cargoes at the gate by your officers, NPA has kicked against it because it frustrates ease of doing business Each officer has their schedule of duty, this problem comes up because of the infractions in declarations made by importers and during cargo examination, because of the lack of equipment to conduct examination, or failure of the officer to conduct proper examination, the container leaves the port and along the way, a police officer stops it and discover a wrong cargo not contained on the documents, there is a problem because revenue has not been collected in full. If we are able to be compliant from the traders zone, no officer would be able stop your cargo.
With this NICIIS 2 application, we would stop all the anomalies, whatever you submit in your form M and PAAR document will be stamped on your declaration and you cannot change it, it would now remain for the examination officers to confirm it.
There have been allegations of shady businesses going on at some of the bonded terminals under your command, especially at night, under customs watch; can you stop cargoes going there?
Every importer has the right to choose where he wants his containers to be delivered; this is why we have in the CEMA what we called 'bond' even from the inception of your declaration, he must have instituted that it must be at a particular terminal so nobody has right to tamper with such containers. Also, remember that the revenue is general, whatever is collected at DENCA, EML or any other bonded terminal is referred to Apapa collecting the revenue, it is a way of decongesting the mother port from having multiplication or congestion. So you cannot decide on where somebody’s container would go. As to what you said on shady businesses going on at the terminal, I am not aware of that, you are only giving me information.