Publish date: 2022-07-04 23:22:47 | Author: Anozie Egole | Source: punchng.com
There is no gainsaying that the ban on some items by the Federal Government has stopped importation of contraband goods into Nigeria. In this piece, ANOZIE EGOLE looks at why these items still find their ways into the markets despite the presence of security and regulatory agencies at the nation’s ports and borders
Fresh findings conducted by The PUNCH have shown that despite the government’s ban on some commodities and with almost all the security agencies having their presence in the ports, contraband goods still find their way into the Nigerian markets.
Some of the agencies at the ports are: Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Immigration Service, Department of State Service, and Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency, among others.
Precisely in 2015, the Federal government, through the Central Bank of Nigeria, placed a ban on the importation of 41 items from accessing foreign exchange in the official window. It also banned rice imports across land borders and kept 70 per cent tariffs on imports coming through the ports. The list of 41 items has since increased to 44.
Despite the ban, the importation of contraband products is increasing in Nigeria despite the presence of security agencies around the ports.
In May, the Nigeria Customs Service seized 12 trucks of imported rice. It classified the imported rice as ‘poisonous’.
In June this year, the Customs also sealed a warehouse with 4000 bags of imported rice.
Products on the import prohibition list like tomatoes are imported or even smuggled into the country, despite the presence of security agencies. Why is that so?
The Chief Executive Officer, Center for the Promotion of Private Enterprises, Muda Yusuf, said that it was an indication that the agencies who were supposed to protect the borders needed to be strengthened.
He blamed the unavailability of technology at the ports as another reason why those contrabands still found their way into the Nigerian market.
“First, it is evidence of the fact that those institutions that have the responsibility to police our borders need to be further strengthened. They need to be strengthened in terms of their number, and capacity and they also need to be strengthened to be able to use technology a lot more.
“Of course, you know the story of the scanners. I don’t know if they are now at our ports, but you know for years we didn’t have scanners. How many containers can you examine manually? A Customs officer was telling us the story of how some guys imported things and put heavy metals on the front side of the container so that by the time Customs lifted one or two, they would be tired and close the container and say, ‘let it go.’
“Meanwhile, they probably had loaded some things inside. So, lack of use of technology is number one. Then, you know the porosity of our borders. When these smugglers are coming, it is not easy for the few guys that are there. There are some borders that are not even manned at all. For those borders that are manned, what is the capacity of the Customs officers that are there?”
According to him, “A Customs officer shared his experience about four of them who were at a checkpoint in one of those borders. Smugglers were coming with vehicles and were about 50. They were fully armed, and what could they do? They had to negotiate on their own terms and not even on the terms of the Customs. They had just two riffles, so there was nothing they could do. So the borders are really very porous, check our borders.”
Yusuf also fingered corruption amongst officers as one of the reasons why those contrabands found themselves into Nigerian markets.
“Then, the issue of corruption. Sometimes, our officers also collude with these smugglers. There is also an issue from the policy point of view. Our tariffs are too high, so we need to check our tariffs.”
A former President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, Eugene Nweke, advised security and safety agencies at the ports to look at the supply chains in totality and not focus on their components in isolation.
According to him, “The SON, like other security and safety organisations, should look at the supply chain in totality and not by focusing on its components in isolation. The SON should be interested in joining efforts to secure every nook and cranny along the chain. This will help to create a responsive and much stronger chain than its individual links approach.”
A trader, who didn’t want his name in print, blamed compromise among security agencies charged with the responsibility of manning the ports and borders as one of the reasons for the Import of contrabands in the market.
“Take, for instance, the issue of all these contraband drugs. Almost all the drug hawkers now sell those drugs. The question now is, how do they access them? Let’s not talk about the bigger pharmacists. All those petty vendors now have access to those drugs. So, you find there is a compromise somewhere.”
He maintained that for the menace to stop, there was a need for the government to come up with a strong policy and be ready to punish anyone caught going against the law.
In a bid to put an end to this and sanitise the Nigerian markets of contrabands, experts have proffered several ways these can be achieved.
According to them, there is a need to reduce tariffs, saying that high import duties are among reasons fueling the influx of contrabands in the country.
Yusuf said, “When your currency is already weak and on top of that you still maintain a very high tariff, the pressure on the citizens will be much and it makes things extremely expensive. So, we need to reform the tariff in a way that will not hurt our domestic industry. If the tariff is too high, it encourages smuggling and leads to a loss of revenue. It also encourages corruption.
“But the tariff regime has to be normal. I am not saying that it should be too low, but it won’t be too high. You will see that the revenue will increase and compliance will also increase. Smuggling will reduce and we will be able to check all these contrabands that are coming. So, I think they need to check the issue of our tariff and also the trade policy itself. We need to look at what should be on our import prohibition list and what should not be there. There are some things you may need and you don’t have the capacity to produce it if you add it to the prohibition list. So, there is a need to reform our trade policy itself.”
Meanwhile, Nweke called for the involvement of SON and other security agencies to ensure security at the port was strong.
He advised the agencies to ensure that the import process started with a safe and secure shipment.
“The SON involvement, with other critical agencies like Customs, pursuant to the security and safety of quality of goods process is apt. It must ensure that the import process, beyond the opening of Form M, starts with the safe and secure respective packing of shipments.
“To this extent, it has become imperative for the SON to further its inter-agency collaboration with the aim of evolving or deploying the ISO 28000 Supply Chain Security Management System. I will request the SON supervisory Trade Ministry to seek collaboration with its contemporary Transport Ministry with the intent to develop a National Supply Chain Security Program, taking a cue from Singapore.”
According to a ship captain and a member of the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners, Adewale Ishola, the agencies at the ports must be allowed to work separately.
“You will understand that in our days, it was only the Nigerian Customs Service that was at the ports. The Nigerian Navy used to have a port commandant at the Apapa port and then you had the Marine Police and Immigration. Those were the major security apparatus we had at the ports. But because the port system has because dynamic now and special agencies like the NDLEA, SON and NAQS have been formed, these have created more issues. Unfortunately, it has not helped to speed up the turnaround time for vessels. When all these agencies come around, they will cause delays. But if you allow each of them to do their jobs, they will be able to checkmate illegality.”
In his reaction, the National Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Customs Service, Timi Bomodi, said that the service was already doing a lot in terms of bringing the importation of contrabands to a standstill.
“Is it until you start seeing heads on the ground before you know that they are doing their best in the fight against the influx of contrabands? They are already doing a lot. As you know, the job of monitoring trade and ensuring compliance is not an easy one. It comes with so many challenges so if these guys are meeting up to not only their revenue target but also their enforcement responsibility, then you know they are putting all the right efforts and doing the right job. So, that is what I feel and I think that is the main focus and what we should be looking at.”