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The Comptroller General of Customs, Hameed Ali, has said that Nigeria Customs Service will not comply with an Executive Order signed by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo on the ease of doing business at the nation’s seaports.
Osinbajo, in his capacity as Acting President, had on May 19, 2017 signed the Executive Order to facilitate cargo clearance at the Lagos Port Complex, Apapa.
Towards implementing the Order, Ali and the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala Usman met with representatives of government agencies operating at the port to announce major operational decisions.
At the end of the meeting and in the euphoria of the moment, Usman announced that NPA would establish a port community system, which would serve as a central portal, where all agencies and stakeholders operating in the port would interact and harmonise their operations.
Also speaking after the meeting, the Comptroller General of Customs, Hameed Ali said Nigeria Customs Service had embarked on a change process that required the full commitment of other stakeholders.
“We are trying to reduce the time and process in what we are doing and it is only when we abide by this that we can do that. I want to enjoin all of you to join hands with us and make sure that we implement this to the latter.
“When the orders are fully implemented, we will succeed in the mandate and it will also reduce time of doing business at the port,” he said.
But in a remarkable volte face last week, Ali said Customs would not facilitate trade at the expense of the security of the country.
He said, “70 to 80 percent of what comes in, comes under false declaration and that is why we find it difficult to effectively execute ease of doing business.”
While speaking in Lagos on the seizure of a new set of 470 pump action rifles at the Tin Can Island Port on Thursday, Ali said, “If we fast track and depend on document, these (rifles) are what we would be unleashing on our people which means we have to subject containers to 100 percent examination and that delays the honest people’s goods.
“By the look on the importers face, we do not know whether he has concealed something or not so it is unfortunate that the honest people get to suffer and until Nigerians begin to do the right thing and become honest in the way they do business, it will be difficult for Customs to clear goods within the time frame that is globally accepted. That is the fact.”
Speaking further, the Customs Comptroller-General said, “We won’t shy away from performing our duty because we want to fast track clearance of goods. The security of this country is more important to NCS than the money we collect in terms of duty. What is the use of money if there would be no security?
“This critical time, Nigerians have to bear with us because we will be forced to do our job beyond the ease of doing business because we want to safeguard lives and properties.
“When we get to the level of normalcy, we can now bring back ease of doing business and ensure that we conform with the global best practice. But for now, to safeguard our country, we have to go beyond ease of doing business.”
Ali also said the process of acquiring new scanners for the port was ongoing.
“The memorandum for first consideration was supposed to have been presented on Thursday and if that was presented and approved, then we are almost getting to the provision of scanners at our seaports, airports and land borders. The procurement process is long because scanners are not off the shelve items; we have to place orders for them.
“In the interim, customs and the ministry have agreed to go for a quick pick at the major seaports and airports, before we get the bigger gantry scanners. This is what we are working on and hopefully by the end of the year, we will begin to see scanners at our ports.
“It is unfortunate that the scanners we have are totally bad and putting them back will only amount to a waste of money,” he said.