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National security threatened as N 8.4b scanner project stalls

By Sulaimon Salau
20 August 2020   |   4:30 am
Federal Government’s failure to provide N8.47 billion scanners, approved two years ago, for the nation’s seaports has forced the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS)to resort, 100 per cent, to manual, cumbersome and inaccurate examination of cargoes coming into the country.

Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari (right) and National Security Adviser, Brig.-Gen Babagana Monguno (rtd) during the virtual meeting of the Federal Executive Council at the State House, Abuja… yesterday.

• Customs resort to 100% physical examination
• Ease of doing business suffers total collapse
• Stakeholders lament influx of illicit arms, drugs

Federal Government’s failure to provide N8.47 billion scanners, approved two years ago, for the nation’s seaports has forced the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS)to resort, 100 per cent, to manual, cumbersome and inaccurate examination of cargoes coming into the country.

The seaports had, for the past seven years, operated without scanners. Attempt by government to remedy the situation with approval of N8.47 billion two years ago has not made any difference as the approval remained only on paper.

The FG only revisited the approval few days ago, reviewing the process and granting yet another approval.The delay is coming amid concerns of security breaches, smuggling of arms and ammunitions, hard drugs, among others.

The lack of scanners has also affected the Ease of Doing Business at seaports, as cargoes are delayed as they go through physical examinations.Stakeholders had lashed out at government for what it described as slow and sluggish pace at which acquisition of scanners was being handled. Cargo scanners allow for easy detection of contrabands and promote efficient inspection of consignment and clearance.

National President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, in a chat with The Guardian, urged the Federal Government to make seaports more efficient and facilitate the installation of cargo scanners.

He said the scanners contracted under Build-Operate-and-Transfer (BOT), and transferred to Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in 2014/15 had all collapsed, forcing the Customs to resort to 100 per cent physical examination.

Amiwero said the physical examination as well as the destination inspection regime was slowing down cargo examination, saying it was unhealthy for the economy and the country.

“There is serious concern about the nation’s import and export system and the economy is vulnerable to terrorist exploitation due to our cargo inspection regime (Destination Inspection), which practice contravenes the World Customs Organisation (WCO) Safe Frame Work of Standard, to secure and facilitate global trade,” he said. He said there was a mix-up in scanners at the ports now and that it was being corrected by the Ministry of Finance and Customs.

“It is Nigerian money, governments will come and go but they must put things in order,” he said. Amiwero, a former member Reconstituted Presidential Task Force On The Reform Of Nigeria Customs Service (RPTFCR), also said destination inspection would facilitate influx of unwholesome goods, such as arms and ammunition and contraband into the country, which would expose the nation to serious security threats.

President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Increase Uche, told The Guardian there was a need to overhaul the system because subjecting the entire cargoes coming into Nigerian ports to 100 per cent physical examination was not the best. He argued the practice would defeat the effort to enhance Ease of Doing Business.

“The current trend in shipping methodology is technology. When technology is down, analogue could be deployed to solve digital problems but the case is not so in Nigeria. The customs need to do something very fast. The slow cargo movement out of the port is as a result of subjecting all the cargoes to physical examination, the only way to resolve that problem is for the government to acquire new scanners,” he said.

He noted that Federal Government’s policy of 48 hours cargo clearance could not be achieved under the current physical examination regime, which could also expose officers to compromise.

In January 2017, the Comptroller-General, NSC, Hameed Ali, disclosed plans to replace faulty scanners at the country’s borders and seaports by the end of the first quarter of the year.

Ali, who spoke against the backdrop of intercepted 661 pump-action rifles smuggled into the country, said: “Yes, we have problem of scanners, most of them are not working but we are working diligently to replace them. By God’s grace, by the end of this first quarter, we would have scanners fully installed in our ports.

In October 2017, he made another promise to install new scanners that would aid cargo inspection by 2018. In August 2018, a former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, announced that FEC had approved N8.47 billion for the acquisition of three units of rapid scan mobile cargo scanners.

Adeosun said: “The first memorandum that was approved was for the procurement for Nigeria Customs Service and it’s for the procurement of three units of rapid scan mobile cargo scanners. These are container scanners that are being procured for Customs. Total cost is N8.047,425,000. It includes spare parts; 30 months of on-site service and support and training of over 120 officers.”

LAST week, the Federal Executive Council approved two contracts totalling N283.255 billion and a foreign component of $18.12 million for the purchase of boats and scanners for the Customs.

The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, explained that the first approval was for the revision of a contract that was previously approved by council in 2018 for the supply and installation of three mobile cargo scanners that would be placed in Onne, Port Harcourt and Tin Can Ports.

Ahmed said, “This contract is awarded to a company that is named Messrs Airwave Limited and the contract is in the sum of $18.12 million of foreign component. There is also local component of N3.26 billion, inclusive of five per cent VAT.

“The review became necessary to accommodate VAT, which was not included in the initial contract and also due to dispute that we had from exchange rate differential. So, we now have a resolution and an understanding and FEC’s approval for this contract to go on.”

A terminal operator bemoaned the ‘sluggish way’ the government was handling the issue of scanner acquisition, noting that the process must be fast and smart this time.

The source said terminal operators had offered to acquire scanners from their purse, but “no one is saying anything about it. I don’t know if they are pleased with this archaic system.”

The source said the terminal operators incurred huge cost on physical examination process because they paid for the labour and other risks.Investigations revealed that 40 and 60 containers were physically examined at Apapa port daily while between 50 and 70 were examined daily at Tin-Can Island Port. But about 150 containers could be examined with the use of one scanner at Apapa and the number could even double if both scanners are operational. The decision to replace them follows the collapse of all existing scanners in the ports.