How cargo automation, scanners, can enhance trade at ports – The Sun Nigeria

Steve Agbota, [email protected] 08033302331

Nigeria is blessed with everything to be recognized around the globe as a maritime nation. But the government’s shortsightedness to formulate the right policies to build infrastructure or upgrade the existing ones has hampered the sector in all areas. 

Despite possessing six seaports, which include Apapa and Tin Can in Lagos, Onne and Port-Harcourt ports in Rivers State, Warri Port and Calabar Port, none of these ports can presently boast of functional scanners.

The existing scanners delivered and installed between 2014/2015 have gone comatose at various seaports even at the border stations due to lack of maintenance and well trained personnels to man the machines.

This has led to 100 per cent of manual and physical examination of cargoes, which stakeholders tagged laborious and time consuming.

On several occasions, Federal Government, through its agencies at the maritime sector, has promised to deploy scanners at the seaports and border stations, but up till now, no scanner is being provided or installed in any of these ports and land borders.

Hopes were raised sometime last year when the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) promised that some scanners would be delivered in the first quarter of the year. Then, the Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali, said that the proposals have been submitted to the Federal Executive Council (FEC), assuring that the all-important facility would be delivered before the end of the year. Again, this year, the Federal Government through the Ministry of Trade and Investment has come out to inform maritime stakeholders that it will deploy scanners and single window project before the end of the year 2020. Even stakeholders are in doubt if any scanners would be deployed before the year runs out.

The decision to provide new scanners was due to the collapse of existing ones in the ports, which were transferred to the Customs in 2014/2015, thereby resulting in physical/manual inspection on containers, prolonged cargo delays, and the payment of rent and demurrage by importer/licensed Customs agents.

Stakeholders believe that the 100 per cent physical examination makes Nigerian ports less competitive among other ports in West Africa and beyond. For instance, where scanners can take up to about 150 to 200 containers daily,  about 60 to 70 containers are being examined physically at Apapa and Tin Can Island ports daily.

The implication is that some unscrupulous importers and officers take advantage of this to make wrong declarations during cargo clearance. That is why some dangerous weapons are been intercepted outside port after they have been cleared at the ports. Sometimes, wrong declaration of cargoes are allowed to scale through and as a result, government is losing trillions  in revenue while the neighboring countries are automating their system to take shines off Nigerian ports.

As the issue becomes worrisome,  several heads of  government agencies recently came out to make case for the urgent need for the installation of scanners at the ports, which, according to them will aid the ease of doing business in the ports, guarantee security of goods and persons, enhance revenue collection by Nigeria Customs, eliminate or reduce both human contact and corruption to the barest minimum and facilitate trade.

Speaking at a live TV programme in Lagos, the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, expressed worried over physical examination of cargo due to lack of automation and efficient scanners that make the nation’s seaports less competitive.

Ms Usman said there was a need for deployment of scanners and automation of the cargo clearing process to reduce the burden and the stress cargo owners pass through during the clearing process.

According to her, the manual inspection of cargoes by the Nigeria Customs Service at the nation’s gateways does not promote competition and efficiency, adding that NPA is working with the Nigeria Customs Service, Terminal Operators and other stakeholders to fast track cargo evacuation as well as deployment of scanning machines to the port.

“We will continue to engage with our stakeholders. We recognise that we must enhance efficiency, we must ensure that consignees come to clear their cargoes within the time limit. Some of the things we are doing is pushing to ensure that vessels come in good time and are evacuated without delay. We do have attendant challenges as I mentioned, because the waiting time within our ports is not in the optimal manner that we would like it to be.

“We are working seriously with the terminal operators and Nigerian Customs to fasttrack the process of evacuating cargoes and also, importantly, the inspection of cargoes. This is something that is great priority for the Ports Authority, for the Nigerian government, moreso, for the Customs. We need to deploy scanners in our ports so that cargoes can be inspected using scanners. Right now, as a lot of consignees are aware, cargoes are inspected physically,” she added.

However, she also commended APM Terminals for recently acquiring modern cargo handling equipment to boost operations at the Apapa Port.

Also speaking in Lagos recently, the Chairman, Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Princess Vicky Haastrup, decried the high rate of manual examination of cargoes at the nation’s seaports, and asked the Nigeria Customs Service to deploy technology to drive the process.

According to her, manual examination of cargoes is not efficient and does not promote social distancing.

She said: “We have a situation where people must visit the port physically to do Customs documentation and cargo examination before they can take delivery of their consignments. This is not safe at this time and it is also inefficient.

“The Nigeria Customs Service should do everything possible to install functional scanners at the port to reduce the high rate of physical examination of cargoes and to reduce human contacts. Customs should also make it possible for consignees to process their release documents and make necessary duty payments online without having to visit the port or Customs commands.”

She said there is also need to reduce the number of government agencies that participate in cargo examination at the port in addition to reducing the number of checks carried out on cleared cargos both inside and outside the port premises. She said Customs’ clearing process must become smart at this time.

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