Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, is set to take delivery of three scanners by end of the second quarter 2020, newsmen report. But some stakeholders are doubting the willingness of the NCS to use the scanners when they finally arrive.
Facts available to newsmen showed that the management of the NCS, last year, ordered for the manufacturing of the scanners at the height of congestions at the cargo inspection and clearing points.
A source close to the Customs who spoke with newsmen on the condition of anonymity explained that the scanners will assist in speeding up the clearing process as well as reduce the work of officers and men of the Service.
The source assured that the Service has included maintenance clause in the expected new scanners.
However, National President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, NCMDLCA, Lucky Amiwero, speaking to newsmen on the expected scanners, said there is a need to investigate what happened to the former scanners.
Amiwero explained that the scanners were in good working condition when they were handed over to the Customs and wondered why all the scanners were abandoned shortly after Customs began using them.
Responding to concern about the abandoned scanners he said: “I am a member of the Presidential Taskforce on Customs Reform, PTCR. The former scanners are pre-investment; what we did before was post-investment. Pre-investment means that the people who provided the scanners, the people who procure the scanners and worked with the scanners transferred to the government in line with the provisions of the contract.
“We are supposed to have what is called a post-investment period. The present scanners are not old. There is supposed to be an investigation of what happened to those scanners. The Federal Government has not secured anything from those scanners.
“What happened to those scanners are: one, the Service Providers, SP, procured the scanners, worked on the scanners, transferred it, benefitted from it. The people they transferred it to, there is a need for an investigation to determine why those scanners are not working because that was an investment that was supposed to be a process of development for the country.
“So all the scanners that collapsed are supposed to be investigated because if Customs is bringing three new scanners, what happened to the old ones? What is the guarantee that same thing will not happen to the new ones? You cannot be spending government money like that; there is a need to address what happened to the old ones.”
Recall also that the SPs were mandated to train officers and men of the Service on maintenance of the scanners and general operation of the software in preparation for the handing over.
In 2010, Cotecna Destination Inspection Nigeria Limited, one of the SPs, trained 52 Customs officers on fixed scanner usage in six weeks. Out of the 52 officers 17 were trained on maintenance, while 35 were trained for the general operation of the software.
Then Deputy Managing Director of Cotecna, Alex Woka, had said during the training that the fixed scanner could scan a 40-footer container within 45 seconds and a 20-footer box within 35 seconds, stressing that they could scan over 200 laden trucks in a day.
“We are test running our equipment to ensure that it would not have any side effect on the workers. We are also linking the mobile scanner with the fixed machine so that we can use them simultaneously. This time, nobody will be inside the mobile machine to operate it, but it would be controlled from the fixed scanner’s site”, Woka stated.
Then Customs Area Controller, CAC of Apapa Command, Dan Ugo, said the fixed scanner would help to fast track cargo examination and reduce the number of containers waiting for scanning at the port.
However, shortly after the handing over, all the scanners are either non functional or functioning at a skeletal rate.
Speaking on the issue, immediate past National President of the Association of Nigeria Licenced Customs Agents, ANLCA, and Chief Executive Officer of Skelas Group, Olayiwola Shittu, said it was not right to doubt the sincerity of the Service to put the scanners to use.
Shittu noted that until the scanners are deployed no one can say for sure how things may turn. He, however, expressed doubt about the possibility of the scanners improving cargo clearing process at the port.
According to him: “I am not a skeptic; I also give opportunity for people to prove themselves. You cannot just say because it happened before, that is what is going to happen. We are the ones to use it, if it is not working we will still call you people (Journalists) and say it is not working.
“I can also figure it out that the use of scanners may not necessarily reduce the clearance time or the effect might not be serious felt because of the human element.
“The scanners may not be able to detect the wrong declaration so such containers may now be subjected to physical examination. Until we are able to put our compliance level to more appreciate rate; then you can say once homogenous items are scanned, that will reduce physical examination but when the officer insists that they still want to do physical examination, what do you do?
“So it is the use they put the scanners to that will give us the end result. If you remember, there was a time homogenous goods like the same types of drugs were imported, only to find out that they contained cocaine.
“If the risk level, if the assessment level that was started a long time ago had been continued and it was not subsumed by the urge of the Customs to meet revenue target, by now importers would have profiled in such a way that confidence would have been built and well-known shippers would have been allowed through profiling by carrying out random sampling because if I have 10 containers now are you going to scan only one or two?
“No, they will subject the 10 to scanning and then they will still ask you to go and put some for physical examination and if there is an infraction no matter how small, you must prepare the 10 for examination.
“The impact will only take a while, there are so many system rules abroad, multiplicity of cargo stuffing in some countries is not allowed, where you put cartons of milk with cartons of matches and some wood and you put everything together. In some countries it is not allowed.