Will  Customs allow cargo scanners to ever work at Nigerian ports?

Will  Customs allow cargo scanners to ever work at Nigerian ports?

Chinazor Megbolu    |    

After the contract award approval for cargo scanners towards efficient port operations failed twice, another approval took place recently by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in Abuja for the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS).

The NCS inherited scanners that have now become obsolete,  making the acquisition of new ones necessary.

The ineffective nature of the scanners has given room to 100 per cent physical examination of goods which definitely causes delay and fuel corruption. 

Concerned stakeholders, who accused the Nigeria Customs Service of complicity in the disrepairs of the inherited ones,   expressed doubts if  the N3.25 billion worth of scanners which purchase was  recently approved by the Federal Government won’t go the same way of the previous ones.
 

The  contract for the purchase  of the scanners,  units of Rapiscan mobile cargo model, was the third attempts made by government to procure these machines for the Customs  after the approvals for two previous contracts were botched.
 
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, announced the new approval at the end of the 9th virtual FEC meeting at the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa, Abuja, presided over by the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari.

In 2018, Ahmed’s predecessor, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun had similarly announced same award of contract, which was estimated at over N9 billion to one Air Wave Limited but was mired in  controversial circumstances as the Customs was  allegedly accused of  connivancing with Air Wave Limited  for almost two years.

The NCS wrote to the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), seeking a review of the contract sum as well as the review of the originating tax and exchange rates.

Adeosun, under whose supervision the deal was packaged and approved by the FEC in 2018, said that the contract includes the training of 120 customs officers in the operation of the scanners, and the integration of the scanning system into Nigeria Integrated Customs Information System II, NICIS 11. 
 
It remains to be seen if the training ever took place and if it did, why did  some  scanners like the brand new one  in Seme border  never worked or deployed for cargo scanning.

The next approval was in October 2019, when the FEC announced the sum of N718.6 million for the acquisition of one mobile security scanner for the Lagos Port Complex, Apapa. 
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who made the  announcement after the weekly FEC meeting, presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in Abuja hinted that the scanner would aid security at the port as well as attract more revenue.

According to him; “the Ministry of Transportation presented a memo for approval for the award of contract for the supply of one mobile security scanner at the Lagos Port Complex. The contract is worth N718.6 million”. 
The announcement was later cancelled and the supply never saw the light of the day.

Furthermore, Ahmed blamed the failed contract award on non inclusion of Value Added Tax (VAT) by the people who packaged the contract as the major reasons it was not executed, which led to controversies especially on exchange rate differentials.

The stakeholders were not told the reasons for the controversial circumstances in exchange rate differential or what went wrong with the contract from tax payers money, that was duly approved by FEC, for the purchase of the scanners, which processes were undertaken, finalised and approval granted by the BPP.   
 
Going forward, the obsolete scanners in some border posts over the years have made ease of doing business  difficult,  leading to 100 per cent physical examination of imports by the Customs.

Stakeholders are  seeking to know if the latest approval will not be abandoned the same way the previous ones were frustrated. 
 
Who is in charge of manning the scanners? How about the 120 officers  that were initially trained for that purpose? Where are they? Why are the scanners not functional? Could it be that it’s a culture in NCS circle for it never to work?
These are the questions raised by some of the stakeholders who spoke with our  correspondent.

“Take the case of the gunboats that  were acquired  under the former CGC Dikko but only rehabilitated last year by the incumbent CGC but which are still lying fallow because of non availability of  technical expertise to operate it”, a concerned industry operator observed.

Meanwhile, efforts to reach out to the Customs National Public 
Relations Officer, Deputy Comptroller Joseph Attah via phone call and SMS proved abortive but in statement attributed to him in an online platform,    he claimed that  he wasn’t aware that the service has in any way delayed the purchase of scanners.
 
“First of all, I am not aware that NCS is renegotiating scanners contract sums. I don’t know about the document you are talking about.
 “But even then, there is no way you’ll say Customs will wait one month, even one week, if there is…you’re saying a contract, I have my doubts, most especially since I am not aware of the contract you’re talking about.

“So I will not be in a position to react to what I don’t know, unless you avail me the document so I can understand what it is all about, and if I am unable to understand it, I know the appropriate head of department I can meet to get clarification.

“What I know is that Customs wants scanners like yesterday, not even today, in other words, Customs can never be associated with any delay regarding scanners,” Attah was quoted as saying.

A Chieftain of the Association of Nigerian Licenced Customs Agents (ANLCA), Mr. Pius Ujubuonu noted that the approval can only be successful if the implementors means well.

According to him; “the success of any programme depends solely on the implementors.
 
” The implementation of the procurement of the scanners depends on the civil servants who monitor and approve the requisite and proper machine.

“The places fitted for them and the expert hands required for their manipulation. If these officers do not compromise their functions, surely, the scanners will help ease the clearance process. 

“If the proper scanners are in place, it will help the security of the nation as dangerous and hazardous wares will be detectected with ease.

However, another stakeholder, Mr. Zebulon Ikokide stated that the scanners will aid the work of the NCS, adding there’s no need fretting over the purchase.

“For the approved scanners, it is a working tool for the Customs, therefore, they will purchase it, there will be no fear about that because if nothing is done, it can be traced to the Customs Department,” he said.

Moreover, Comrade Anthony Chidi Opara on his own noted  that the deployment of scanners by Customs for cargo examination  will remain a mirage as long as corruption remains the order of the day in the system.

“As for the scanners, so long as the system remains corrupt,  the scanners cannot function effectively and achieve the aims for which they are to be installed.

“This is because the scanners are to be operated and the data they would capture would be analysed by persons from the same institutions that have been rightly adjudged corrupt,” he said.

Meanwhile,  stakeholders expressed hope  that the latest scanners approved for purchase and installation will be deployed and allowed to work to fast track cargo  clearance procedures at the ports.
 

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