Stop speaking for customs, WUFIPA President tells leadership of freight forwarding associations

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… Urges them to worry more about operational challenges of members

The National President, Worldwide United Forum for Igbo Patriots and Aborigines (WUFIPA), Mr. Edwin Chukwudire-Obi has faulted the situation where the leadership of the various freight forwarding associations in the nation’s maritime industry suddenly become mouthpieces of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) while abandoning the freight forwarders whose interests they were elected to protect.

Obi, who made his feeling known in an interview with our correspondent in Lagos on Tuesday was actually reacting to recent advocacy by the leadership of the various freight forwarding associations for the customs to man the scanners and vehemently opposed the alleged moves to recall the pre-shipment inspection agents to the ports.

While emphasizing that he had no particular association in mind, he however pointed out that some associations were speaking for the Service even as he warned that when this was the case, the freight forwarders were shortchanged as according to him, they had a lot of challenges.

“For example, as it is now, agents are facing one of the most challenging period in the history of this business in the hands of the customs. There has never been a time we have what you called multiple trade alerts, up to eleven trade alerts if you count them. These trade alerts are within the customs administration that has to do with valuation, CIU, and so on. And then, when you hit the road, you will see different multiple task forces ranging from the Federal Operations Unit, CG Taskforce and so on.

“Now, these associations that speak for customs, how have they been able to speak in defense of the agents? This is not the way it has been. Now, let us look at it from the other side of it. What we see in customs now is not professionalism as you see officers that pursue career, that want to professionalize customs, we know the customs that tried to change the system by bringing ASYCUDA++ and other innovations but now, what we see in customs is target. Every officer is after target and they don’t care about how this money is met. Officers no longer compete based on professionalism; they now compete on meeting target. You see one thing, if you see an officer at Tincan who has met the highest target, when another officer comes, he would want to exceed that target.

“Now, these associations that are speaking for customs or defending customs, have they ever asked, how is this target met? A target that has no human face, a target that has subjected the port to a draconian system, a shylock system of target, is that the way to develop? People are crying, now because of these alerts, people are taking their containers outsider the ports. People liked to work inside Apapa, inside Tincan but you can see what is happening now, people are now running to the bonded terminals where they believed that there will not be much alert. Is that the way to run business and you are speaking for customs?

“We want you to come and tell the customs, this thing you are doing, give it a human face. This thing you are doing is not encouraging trade facilitation, listen to people that are into the system. Customs cannot work alone without importers and agents and now, when you have subjected these people to a draconian system, how do you expect the people to enjoy the business?

“For example, look at the issue of scanners, we were told that when SGS, COTECNA, INTERTEK and all the rest of them go, the Nigeria customs will handle this thing. We were happy, at least to make it indigenous thing, to create jobs for our people but what are we seeing today? Go that place now, there are scanners at Ports and Cargo, all of them that run into billions, are lying idle over the years yet, customs is meeting up target. Now they are talking about acquiring new scanners. Recently, we heard that government voted huge sums of money to procure scanners, who is going to manage these scanners? What assurances are there that they are not going to abandon it the way they abandoned the other ones that were there?

“People are really suffering here and I tell you, customs is the cause. Why I said so is that the system of trade alerts is killing the business. We are not going to tell them how they are going to do their job but it has not been like that before. Were they not meeting target before? Is meeting target all about multiple alerts? In one particular container or in one particular car, you have not less than up to six or seven alerts and still counting, yet, you have not delivered it to the warehouse”, he stated.

Asked if he would want target setting for the Nigeria Customs Service to be stopped, he replied, “No, target has been there, the question now is, how have they been meeting up the targets. Customs has always had target, every business has a target but when that target starts to kill the business, when the target is not encouraging the business and when the people in the system are being subjugated by your target, it becomes an aberration. What we are saying is that customs is supposed to be a professional institution, Nigeria is not the only country that has customs, every country has customs. How are they professionalizing their customs?”

Photo: WUFIPA National President, Mr. Edwin Chukwudire Obi.

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