In this interview, the Acting President of the Association of Licensed Customs Officers of Nigeria (ANLCA), Dr. Kayode Farinto, expresses his support for the modernization of the Nigeria Customs Service. He, however, claimed that Nigeria does not need to hire a new venture at the whopping sum of $3.1 billion to be borrowed from the World Bank to achieve the desired result. Reports by PAUL OGBUOKIRI
How would you describe the operation of the VREG since its entry into service in the country?
For you to access any new system, it will take a minimum of 90 days. But because it has to do with trade, we thought that if there is a delay, the multiplier effect goes to the end consumer in terms of storage costs and demurrage. I would say the VREG or VIN assessment is in progress and has not been fully passed.
There are two categories of vehicles. We have standard chassis vehicles and non-standard chassis vehicles. When you enter the chassis number of standard chassis vehicles, the VIN recognizes it, highlighting the vehicle’s history.
So far, so good. I think it’s going well so far except, the non-standard chassis that needs human contact; where you will need to write to the controllers and go to the assessment unit to request an assessment. This is done haphazardly and does not go smoothly.
We implore the Nigeria Customs management team to urgently see how they can expedite the issue of non-standard chassis vehicles so that it starts operating like the standard chassis vehicles where you just need to access the system and to get your value assessment. I will also use this medium to ask the federal government to review the age policy for these vehicles.
If you look at the 12 year old policies of these vehicles, it implies that legitimately only 2011 vehicles can be allowed to come to Nigeria. So what happens to vehicles from 2009 or 2008? You will agree with me that even a common man will not be able to afford a 2009 vehicle given the current price on the market.
The fact that you have a 2009 vehicle, the system requires you to pay a fee for 2011 or 2012. So we want the government to reconsider the issue of car policy because 2009 vehicles are still new vehicles and how many can people afford them?
We should also consider that there are some of our young people; by the time they leave college, they would like to be independent and they go into Uber’s business for commercial services. They may no longer be able to afford these categories of vehicles if the government insists on the 12-year car policy.
What do you think of the proposed automation of the Nigerian Customs Service?
I consider that to be one of the mistakes this government is making, and it is very unfortunate for a government that is fighting corruption. It is an act of nepotism. It is very unfortunate that this is happening in our time because we now have a situation where this government signs jobs or installs the boys. I am an apostle of the need for us to have indigenous engineers, who can partner with personalized Nigerian service. Look at our time now. We have witnessed rain in recent days.
Even the WebFontaine which was brought in from a stranger is not a success. A lot of times we have server downtime or what have you and no one is challenging anyone for that. Bring in a Chinese company; to say that they want to automate our customs operations is a misnomer, an aberration and it is very false.
The electronic customs issue is the worst thing that can happen to the shipping industry. It is very unfortunate that even the company that started the MoU is in trouble and has been dropped for a new company registered on April 7th.
That alone is enough to send someone to jail because due diligence was not done. Thank God people are in court. Personally, I want to join this lawsuit because it is my right because the future and generations to come will ask us what actions we took when these things happened to the shipping industry. It is better to act than to sit on the fence.
We want e-Customs or the modernization of Customs that we started to do at the time of the Dikko India fire (former CG of Customs) through the establishment of PAAR and e-payment. All we have to do is find a local business, improve whatever we have out there, and see how we dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s. But giving it to a Chinese company or a foreigner is neo-colonization.
Why do you think customs scanners don’t work?
The question of equipment is very funny. I’m waiting for customs to say they want to put this in place without putting in place all the things they’re supposed to put in place. I want to believe that customs values 100% examination of goods, because of physical contact and it encourages corruption; whether we want it or not.
On the vehicle question, we said we were tired and wanted a VIN assessment. We still have customs officers who stop this VIN valuation and who do not want it to succeed because this will reduce this physical contact between the freight forwarder and the customs officer by more than 70%.
We even have situations where you pay what the VIN appraisal gives you and some overzealous agents who always want to take bribes would put alerts on shipments. That is why we said that we are compiling the names of these categories of officers and we will forward it to the customs headquarters.
If nothing is done within a week, we will make it public to the world and forward it to the presidency. The question of the deployment of scanners will have added value for the port. Over the past month, I have been one of those who have brought the commission on behalf of our association to the National Assembly to advocate on the need for us to have scanners. Now the scanners are available and customs won’t use them, which means there’s something going on somewhere. Someone somewhere still wants us to laugh. It’s very unfortunate.
Recently, a member of your association was arrested for importing drugs. What do you have to say about that?
He was not arrested for importing drugs. This is the freight forwarder or the customs agent who, within the framework of a customs control, illicit drugs and psychotropic substances were found in his container and he was arrested.
We have told all freight forwarders to ensure they sign the indemnity form with their importers and to do their due diligence by at least notarizing it.
Unfortunately, this was not done. He is not the importer of the shipment and we have told him to cooperate with the National Drug Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in making sure the importer gets out, so he can be released under bail. He is not the importer and he has not been arrested for importing illicit or psychotropic drugs. At that time he was the clearing agent and the law says he is the owner of this shipment until he is able to provide the importer, which I know he has to do in due time.
How have you held on since becoming the interim national president of the ANLCA?
There’s nothing spectacular about being interim president. I see myself as the vice president who promotes our great “oga” which is not there. It’s a role I’ve played for a while before and it’s not a new thing for me. There is no challenge. I am used to.
Do you appreciate the cooperation of Section and Zone Executives?
Yes, they cooperate. We invite them to meetings to inform them of the progress made. Even at the East Zone, we are planning a presidential tour which I am delaying due to the fact that there is too much work on the table at the moment. Very soon we will be embarking on the eastern tour. We have the cooperation of all Chapter Executives.
You are the president of the educational committee of the CRFFN. What should we expect?
You should expect a lot. We need to do empowerment and capacity building. They accredited certain institutions when I was president for the first time. We’ll look at that and how far we’ve come.
They have given accreditation to more institutions to offer freight transport and we encourage our members to be certified because in the next few months if you are not certified you will not be able to practice freight transport. We would arrest anyone who solicits.
This is why we want to separate the wheat from the chaff. That’s why, as a freight forwarder, you need to know your responsibilities and know where they end. We will also discourage situations where a customs officer posted from Gombe State will come with his camp boys and when they leave, they do not take them and he becomes a freight forwarder.
We are going to do a lot of cleanup and empowerment in the industry. I expect our members to come to training to ensure that they participate in the training which will be free of charge.