By Stehen Ubanna
Those who think that the $120 million scanner equipment inherited by the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, from Cotecna, SGS Scanning Nigeria Ltd and Globascan Systems Nigeria Ltd, the former service provider for its operations at the eaports, airport and land border stations, in 2013, are still in good working condition would be disappointed.
This is because virtually all the inherited scanners had broken down , thus making mandatory for imported goods to be physically examined at the ports and land border stations in the country. Before the termination of the service providers contract in 2013, Cotecna, which operated at the premier port, Apapa, had claimed to have handed over $70 million worth of scanner equipment in good working condition to the Apapa Customs Command for scanning of goods arriving at the port, ostensibly to facilitate the clearing process.
The scanning machines, according to insider sources were installed at these other Customs operational locations: Tincan Island,Port Harcourt Area 1, Onne port, Kano, MMIA,Lagos, PortHarcourt and Nnamdi Azikiwe, International Airports, Abuja, Banki and Seme land border stations. But as at 2017, the Customs locations are litered with dilapidated scanner machines, fuelling speculations that that the service providers may have handed over malfunctioning equipment to Customs.
perhaps, to keep the job going, the customs Commands may have resorted to physical examination of Containers, a process which agents described as cumbersome and time wasting.
The Magazine learnt that past and present Customs Management had made a requisition to the government the number of scanners needed to handle Containers discharged at the seaports and trucks laden with goods at the land stations but that was how far they could go.
It is not surprising while the why the Customs management are still looking up to Kemi Adeosun, the minister of Finance to take the issue of provision of the scanners for Customs operation at the seaports and land border stations to the Federal Council, FEC, for consideration to facilitate the award of contract for it.
At present, only Apapa port, has a scanner which is said to be working in bits and fits. Many believe that it is still better than not having any one at all like all the other seaports in the Niger Delta region and land border stations. This may have given Jibrin Musa, the Apapa Customs Comptroller, an edge over his counterparts in other Commands across the country that utilise scanners for its operations .
Yahaya Muktar, an Assistant Comptroller and the officer in-charge of the Command Customs Processing Center, CPC, who represented the Comptroller at the tuesday, May, May22, 2018, Maritime Reporters Association of Nigeria, MARAN, round table at Apapa, lamented that the dearth of functional scanners at the ports, particular Apapa, is having a toll on its operations. This is because of the long queues of trucks laden with Containers awaiting to be scanned daily. Apapa port alone, handles over 50 percent of the cargo importation into the country.
Investigation by the Magazine shows that the functional scanner at the port works for only few hours daily to forestall complete break- down of the machine. Even within the f few hours that the scanner is put to use at the port, Yahaya Muktar, an Assistant Comptroller and the officer in-charge of the Command Customs Processing Center, CPC, said the officers do the right thing.
He disclosed that the Fedeeral Operations Unit, FOU, ,Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos Roving team headed by Riks LMB, a Chief Superintendent of Customs have never had any course to intercept any duely released from the port. He noted that from the CPC, Valuation to the Central Customs Examination Centre, Consignments are thoroughly checked because of the Comptroller’s insistence on trade compliance.
Importers who could not withstand the delay associated with the clearing process because of insufficient operational scanners at Apapa and Tincan Island port may have relocated to Cotonou port in Republic of Benin and other ports in the West African sub-region to take delivery of their goods, the government appear to be under intense pressure from both official and unofficial sources to fix the broken down scanners or procure new ones at the various Customs locations across the country.
This may have dampened the enthusiasm of the former service providers who are said to be using their contacts in the Federal ministry of Finance to penetrate Kemi Adeosun, the minister to put in a word for them before President Muhammadu Bhari to recall them to their former scanner locations .
But Buhari may not want to think along that line of handing over the scanner operations to the former service providers who were relieved of the job in 2013 because Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General has not told him that Customs personnel could not operate or maintain the facilities.
Besides, the scanner challenge at the seaports and border locations, another noticeable problems facced by port operators at intervals whenever there was heavy down pour was the break- down of the Customs servers which affects the clearing proces.
Between Monday, May 20, and Wednesday, May 22, 2018, the newly installed Customs server, NCIS 92, at Apapa Command and other Customs Commands in Lagos were said to have broken down , forcing the officials of the various CPC, to work round the clock to fix the server by the United States Control Center restore normal operation to facilitate the clearing process at the port.
Notwithstanding the scanner and server problem, the Apapa Command was said to have generated over N4 billion in one day of operation without interruption. Murktar, thee officer in-charge of the Command CPC is optimistic that itwould recover the lost ground as soon as the server issue is sorted out. The server problem was said to have been more pronounced at the Command because it has just migrated to the new Customs platform after its trial runs at Lilypond, Port Multi-services Terminal Nigeria Ltd, PTML, and Tincan Islands ports. As at Wednesday, May 23, 2018, the CPC officials were said to have fixed the server problem as agents who could not run their entry the previous day were beaming with smiles as they could run their entries with ease.