By Stephen Ubanna
Hopes brightens as Mohammed Abdullahi Baba-Musa, Comptroller of Tin-can Island Command, devises strategies on improved trade facilitation and promotion of international trade with a view to improving the monthly revenue generation of the Command.
Trade facilitation, analysts stressed could only be achieved in an atmosphere of honest declaration, which will ultimately allow for a seamless flow of documentation in the system. Past and present Administrations had given Executive order for 24 hours ports operation as part of efforts to promote trade facilitation.
As a prelude this, Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, had insisted that Shipping Companies must submit advance d cargo manifest to Customs Commands seven days before the arrival of the vessels at the nation’s seaports.
Baba-Musa appears to have queued up into the Ali’s directive on trade facilitation as he has listed as one his policy thrusts : installation of time release Study ,TRS” facility. The TRS facility , a source said is expected to showcase the timely movement of importers declaration with a view to identifying points of delay at the port.
The TRS, according to sources is part of the efforts of the Tin-can Island Comptroller to enhance trade facilitation and flow of international trade at the port. The Comptroller, the source said is optimistic that the installation of the TRS facility would go a long way to improve the monthly revenue collection of the Command. The Controller is aiming to surpass the N29.45 billion generated by the Command in the month of January 2018 under Barsha Yusuf , his predecessor, now Comptroller PAAR, at Customs Headquarters, Abuja.
Many believe that if the Tin-can Island Comptroller could keep to his promise of the installation of TRS , it would go a long way in removing problems associated with the 24- hour clearance procedure which are currently being experienced by importers with their agent at the seaports.
The Shippers Association of Lagos state in its study confirmed that the cargo dwell time was too long because Nigerian ports are operating an abnormal situation. The Association had said that Sirilanka , which handles about six million Containerized cargoes annually, had more plants and equipments that enable its terminals service vessels in less than two hours.
Industry stakeholders believe that dwell time at the nation’s seaports was the highest when compared with other ports in the West African sub-region. At Cotonou port, Republic of Benin for instance, the average cargo dwell time was said to be between 12 and 14 days, Durban port in South Africa, four days while in Mombassa port, Kenya, cargo has a maximum of five to seven days.
Moreso, the study by the Nigeria Shippers Council, NSC, shows that that the country’s seaports had the lowest free Containerized cargo storage period in the region, as importers get three storage free days before being charged for storage by terminal operators. The NSC study shows that in Cotonou port, importers get seven days free storage but in Ghana, another West African country, it is 11 days free storage period before being charged by terminal operators.
The study further shows that importers get five demurrage free periods in Nigeria seaport, 10 days in the Republic of Benin port of Cotonou and Cameroun each while in Ghana, the importer gets seven days demurrage free period. This may have been the reason why the why stakeholders argue that the ”cost of doing business in Nigeria was too high, coupled with low ranking of the country on Global logistics Index and Ease of doing business”.
But the Comptroller may have found an answer to the high cost of doing business at Tin can Island port with the installation of the TRS. Indeed, he had left no one in doubt that he was going to match his words with action as he had set the necessary machinery in motion for its actualization soon.
For now, he was said to have ordered the profiling of transactions to ensure that due diligence is followed. iT is not surprising why one of the Assistant Comptrollers, Valuation, in one of the terminals , was said to have verbally queried a releasing officer for do so without referring it to her officer for proper profiling of the cargo in accordance with the Comptroller’s directive.
This is in addition to practical trade facilitation aimed at ensuring that full compliant declarations are treated expeditiously.
Perhaps, one area the Comptroller had won accolade since he assumed duties was in the area of ”Dispute Resolution”. There had been conflict of interest between importers with their agents and Customs Operatives, mostly Valuation officers . The conflict had been either on wrong classification or valuation of the Consignment. Sometimes the case had been dragged to the Comptroller who had used his position to resolve the conflict.
Barsha, the former Comptroller of the Command was said to have established a Conflict Resolution which sit twice a week, thus leaving may cases unresolved. the situation was so bad that he was confronted with one ne of such complaints , forcing him to give the ”Comptroller’s Order to the Committee” .
instead of sitting twice a week, Baba-Musa, the Tin-can Island Comptroller was said to have ordered the Committee either on valuation, Classification or on any other mater to sit immediately a petition was sent to it by an aggrieved importer or agent.
Agents who spoke to the Magazine gave kudos to the Comptroller for taking the bold initiative to read the riot actto the Dispute Resolution Committee to sit whenever there is a case before them to handle instead of postponing it till another date.
The Comptroller, a source told the Magazine do not want agent who has problem with an officer on account of misunderstanding the Classification or Valuation of the Consignment to bring such matters to his office, as he has more important administrative issues to deal with daily. The Comptroller’s order may have put the Committee members on the high jump as they can afford to fail or give room to exploit their inability to resolve disputes arising from trade transactions to bring complaints to him. Uche Ejesieme, a Deputy Superintendent of Customs and the Command Image maker , Baba -Musa, the Command Area Comptroller as a” very serious person who is determined to uplift the standard of doing business at the port”.
Many believe that what the Comptroller has done so far was not far from his promise to” build on the legacies of his predecessor in all its ramifications”. he had made it clear to all those that care to listen that that he cannot achieve his lofty objective for the Command without the support of stakeholders. It is not surprising why he had called for the ” support of all stakeholders in the task ahead”.
There is no gain saying the fact that Baba- Musa had to Tin-can Island Command at a time when the hours of inspection and physical examination of cargoes as well as paper works of imported items had been reduced to ease business operations at the ports, .
Ali, the Comptroller General disclosed that the Service had attained 75 percent automation level . Tin-can Island Command, for now had an edge over other Commands in the implementation and training of officers on the NCIS 2 , which is the higher version of NCIS 1, expected to eliminate corruption at the ports.
Industry analysts see it as a major tool for facilitation of legitimate trade and Baba- Musa had made it clear that he is all for it. Indeed, his policies are tilted toward ”trade facilitation, to remove bureaucracies and bottlenecks in the process of doing business at the Nigeria port. He was said to have retain the signages at designated centers at the seaport created by the former Comptroller. It is basically a place , Ejesieme, the Command Image maker said where stakeholders visit whenever they anticipate any challenge in their clearing process at the port on how to get over it. Suffice it to say that the Command Enforcement Unit run 24 hours daily in accordance to the Executive order of May, 2017, to attend to official issues.