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The SON desperate  move to return to ports

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On October 26th, 2011, there was a Presidential directive which pruned down the mushroom government agencies at the ports to only eight.

The directive issued by Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the erstwhile Minister of Finance, was consequent upon  the multiplicity of agencies whose operations made clearance procedures at the ports painfully slow, cumbersome and unwieldy.

During this period, there were government agencies in excess of 14 in numbers whose operations made the  Nigerian ports the most expensive and inefficient on the African Continent.

So, the 2011 presidential order recognised the following government agencies to domicile at the ports.  The Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA),Nigeria Customs Service, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency(NIMASA), Nigeria Police, Department of State Security((DSS), Port Health, Nigerian Drugs Law Enforcement Agency(NDLEA) and Nigerian Immigration Service.

While others not mentioned on the list were consigned outside the ports, those whose services among them are still required in the course of port processes such as Standards Organization of Nigeria(SON) and National Food and Drugs Administration Control(NAFDAC) are to be called in whenever the need arises.

However, this Presidential directive was obeyed in the breach as those evicted agencies stayed put at the ports.

In February 2018,as a result of  its desire to ease the cumbersome nature of doing business at the ports, the Federal government, through its committee charged with sanitising the operations at the ports, the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) headed by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, gave the Nigerian Ports Authority the matching order to enforce the 2011 Presidential Directives.

So all the outlawed government agencies were effectively weeded out of the ports.

But because of the allure of the filthy lucre at the ports, the evicted  agencies launched  an aggressive lobbying, using instruments of blackmail, half-truths and outright lies to get the sympathy of government in their bid to return to the ports.
Both the NAFDAC and SON are guilty of this inordinate ambition to return to where their operatives have regarded as honey comb.Few months after this directive , the NAFDAC lobbied the presidency and  succeeded in its plan when the Federal government recalled the agency to be part of resident operatives at the ports.

This development has therefore emboldened the SON to step up its own campaign to return to the port.

The agency has tried all the tricks in the book to gain the sympathy  of stakeholders and government to regain its entry into the ports.
It is on this plank we are advising the Federal Government not to once again succumb to the antics of SON and its kind.

 It is unfortunate that government allowed itself to be hoodwinked by NAFDAC.

Falling for the same gimmicks by the SON would be most grievous that will give other evicted agencies  justification to also want to come back to the ports.

As it were, those numbers of agencies permitted to be at the ports are still unwieldy as the processes at the ports have not significantly improved to the point all stakeholders would have wanted them to be.Allowing SON to join the fray will further compound the problems.

We are yet to see any reason why SON is making subterranean moves to come back to the ports.

The excuses being bandied about by its paid agents are as ludicrous as they are ridiculous .

The agency claimed that their absence at the ports has allowed fake and sub -standard products to  gain access to the ports and same cleared into the market.This argument flies away in the face of the component of the presidential directive that any of the agencies not resident at the ports should be called whenever their expertise is needed in the course of goods clearance procedures.

We therefore have no reason not to believe that the Nigeria Customs Service, which is the lead agency at the ports and goods clearance procedures, do not heed this aspect of the directive.

We also strongly believe that SONCAP, a pre-shipment verification exercise adopted by the agency should have detected and taken care of such sub -standard products at the point of shipment.

SONCAP is a pre-shipment verification of conformity to standards process used to verify that products to be imported into Nigeria are in conformity with the applicable NIS or approved equivalents, and technical regulations before shipment.

Under the SONCAP regime, imports are required to undergo verification and testing at country of supply (Exporting) and a SONCAP Certificate (SC) issued demonstrating that the products meet the applicable standards and regulations or a Non-Conformity Report (NCR) where the goods do not comply.

The conformity assessment elements undertaken in SONCAP include but not limited to physical inspection prior to shipment, sampling, testing and analysis in accredited laboratories, audit of product processes and systems, and documentary check of conformity with regulations and overall assessment of conformity to standards.

Having gone to this extent to profile all imports at the points of supply to make sure that fake and sub-standard products are not even shipped into the country, this extensive procedure has nullified any need for SON to come back to the ports.

We can safely conclude that their passion to come back despite the stringent conditions of SONCAP is simply to engage in other uncharitable activities.

We also want to believe that the deluge of the  Nigerian markets with fake and sub -standard products is a screaming testimony that SONCAP regime of the SON has failed.

It unfortunatly gives credence to the widespread belief that the SONCAP Certificates are not necessarily issued to importers on merit but given to the highest bidders.

We advise SON to shelve its ambition of  coming back to the ports but instead  concentrate on performing its statutory duties at the ports on demand.

The agency should also insist on strict enforcement of the SONCAP regime to stem the high tide of influx  of harmful products into the country.

Government should make it mandatory for customs to call operatives  of SON whenever regulated products are being examined and also to ensure that they have the exclusive right to determine the genuineness of any SONCAP Certificates submitted by importers.

This is imperative because it is not within the competence of customs officers to detect fake or genuine SONCAP Certificates.

Nigeria’s position on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business index is still dismally low.

Ease of doing business in Nigeria averaged 145.09 from 2008 until 2018, revealing an all time high of 170  in 2014 and a record low of 120 in 2008.The country ranked 145 among 190 in 2017 and 146 in 2018.

The rankings haven’t fared better in 2019 and  2020.

These statistics show that despite government efforts, doing business in the country is still painfully slow and unattractive.

Rather than allow SON to come back through the back door to further muddle up the already complicated processes at the ports, it won’t be out of place if government finds a way of removing any resident agency whose functions could be carried out from outside.

It is through this Nigerian ports will become more efficient, cost -effective, competitive and gain ascendancy on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business index.

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