…Says his action needs to be investigated
The National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) has expressed disappointment over the interview granted to the press last week by the National Vice President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Dr. Kayode Farinto accusing SON of complicity in the demurrages accumulated by the importers and their agents presently at the Lagos ports.
It will be recalled that Farinto while interacting with members of the Maritime Reporters Association of Nigeria (MARAN) at the International Press Centre in Apapa, Lagos last week stated that there was total paralysis at the ports as a result of SON’s inability to rectify the delay witnessed by freight forwarders in accessing SON’s online portal for processing of Product Certificate to enable them obtain the Pre Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR), noting that the importers and their agents had lost over N6 billion in demurrages as a result the system breakdown even as he wondered why importers and their agents would be pay to pay for SON’s ineptitude.
However, reacting to Farinto’s allegation in a chat with newsmen at the NAGAFF National Headquarters in Apapa, Lagos on Friday, the National President of NAGAFF, Chief Increase Uche who expressed shock at the weightiness of the allegation stated that he least expected such outburst from a person of Dr. Farinto who he said was supposed to be SON Ambassador.
According to him, “Let me start by expressing my disappointment over the whole saga, those raising issue about portal not being efficient, the portal causing delay in cargo delivery to the extent that importers’ shipments are meant to incur demurrage. I must say I am disappointed with whosoever is making such allegation especially the person of Farinto. Farinto has been part of the nationwide sensitization seminar organized by SON for the past three years now in touring all the six geopolitical zones in the country sensitizing both importers and freight forwarders on the need to be compliant because the issue of non-compliance or shipper hiding information concerning his shipment has been a serious issues globally not only in Nigeria. If some other persons have raised that issue of SON having problem, I wouldn’t have granted this interview but for somebody in the person of Farinto that should even be an Ambassador to SON even trying to raise dust is quite unfortunate.”
Uche pointed out that it was on record that SON and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) were the only agencies of government that had been carrying out stakeholders’ collaboration in the entire logistics chain as they had not been hiding all the processes that they put in place including the SON’s portal upgrade of late last year of which he said they were aware of.
“When the issue of importers finding it difficult to upload their information to access the portal came up, that was when they were doing system upgrade, because when SON started, they never alerted anybody that they were doing upgrade. You know what upgrade means to a server, we noticed that of customs, the moment that kind of process is embarked upon, there is bound to be a lot of teething problems but they resolved it. We even invited one of the senior officers to come and talk to us. There and then, we advised our members to fall in line.
“SON process has made it very clear that before you embark on any importation, you need to have your Product Certificate. This Product Certificate is generated offshore, SON office called SONCO in any country both in Asia, Europe or America, you will go to the nearest SONCO office to express your intention, they will take it up and go for product testing and confirm from the exporters’ factory. There and then, they will send the Product Certificate confirmation to Nigeria here that will enable the importer to open Form M but the racketeering of the Product Certificate is a very big issue that we have discovered because we are carrying out our own investigations to find out where the actual problem is.
“The Product Certificate is being racketeered to the extent that there are some document processing experts that perfect documents. So, when they register some Product Certificates through opening of Form M, they will keep it for any prospective importer, so, in that wise, some of these importers that will want to bring in cargo and cannot get that cargo properly tested and authenticated before shipment into Nigeria will now resort to using that platform and once that is done, SON portal will indicate it and there will be an issue. In that particular scenario, you will be having issues of getting your processing fast enough.
“So, now that SON has upgraded, I don’t think that they have any issue. The only issue you will have now is when the documents are not complete, when you try to provide false documents, it will be detected because before now I was part of a team that investigated a matter concerning SON in Tincan with customs, that was about four years ago, that SON will not send unblocking letter on SON regulated products but some miscreants will forge documents and go behind and meet customs and most times, customs will honour that letter thinking that it came from SON, that was what necessitated inclusion of SON in NICIS I.
“In fact Bash who was a former Controller there assisted so much during the time of Obayi that they perfected the inclusion of SON in NICIS I and they are still under that NICIS I even till today that customs has migrated to NICIS II. Now, they need to be integrated into the NICIS II, customs should also incorporate them in NICIS II so that they can be viewing everything concerning their products and be making input. Right now, they cannot make input, they can only look at it, they will only send email to SON to do one or two thing for them in terms of placing alerts on cargo. Most times, they (SON) are not even invited to witness examinations, so how do you check the influx of substandard products in the market?”, he queried.
NAGAFF boss however denied any knowledge of SON’s portal not being efficient while adding that “the fact still remains that there is hardly any system that fool proof”, as there could be a problem noting that when importers fail to obtain their SONCAP, the next line of action was for them to go for SONCAP default as SON had created that window to simplify the clearance process in order not hinder trade facilitation.
He continued, “So, for somebody to just rush to the press to raise dust, there is more to it, that person needs to be investigated because once you are doing the right thing, SON has even created a platform such that you don’t need interaction with them any longer because there shouldn’t be any human interface anymore. Once you have done the right thing, the system will sought you out completely, you don’t need to go to SON, you don’t need to make complain. But the problem remains that there are unscrupulous elements that don’t want the system to work the way it should work.
“Others that are toeing the same line to join Farinto, they wouldn’t know what they are doing to themselves, blackmail will not help us in this issue, let us do the right thing. If your job is having problem, if you cannot upload, it is a simple thing, you go to SON, they will rectify it for you. It happens in customs even in generation of PAAR, it happens in shipping companies, terminals. There is no place you go you don’t see these issues, having one problem or the other.
“What these people are trying to achieve is what I wouldn’t say because ordinarily, I would see it as pettiness, mere ambulance chasing, it shouldn’t be there at all. Somebody like Farinto should have approached SON and sit down with SON, table all those issues one after another. He has been a SON Ambassador, why is he now behaving this way? It surprises me because that is why I refused to call him. SON has been spending money, quartering us, transporting us every other place, paying hotel bills and all that for us to talk to our members.”
On the alleged corrupt practices against some SON staff, Chief Uche responded, “Do they have clips of such incidents? Can somebody produce any proof because in Nigeria of today, there is the use of the social media? I would have preferred a situation where somebody would have noticed that, capture that and bring it to a group chat than to make unfounded allegations. The SON Act of 2015 gave SON the powers to move into anywhere they suspect that substandard, counterfeit or fake products are hidden even to waylay cargo on the road. And you will remember that right now, SON is not at the port, they have been excluded and that is a very big harm the government is doing to the economy and we have been the advocates that SON should get back to the port because majority of these issues would have been solved inside the port not on the main road. They are as relevant as any other government agency; in fact they should be the number one.
“I can tell you that with the crop of officers that SON has today, I think that they have really proved that they worth the onion. They are not the type that can compromise their position. The issue of corruption and others that are being alleged are mere figments of the imagination of some people. Let them come out with evidence on how these monies exchange hands or how those patrolling along the road will corner them to extort money from them. So, it’s a mere mischief especially from some of us freight forwarders.”
Photo: NAGAFF National President, Chief Increase Uche.
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