The Maritime Traders’ Association (MARTA), an amalgamation of importers plying their trade in the port industry in Nigeria, has condemned the federal government’s recent ban of vehicle importation through the land borders.
Chairman, Board of Trustees of MARTA, Roy Chudi Philipson in a chat with THISDSAY described the policy, which comes into effect in January, 2017, as ill-conceived and ill-advised, saying it will fail.
Philipson, who conveyed the feelings of other importers, stated that the policy is tantamount to stopping importers from bringing in their vehicles through legitimate borders, saying the importers will then find an alternative of importation through illegitimate borders.
‘’The policy is ill-advised and will be ineffective. It will only result to violent smuggling activities because people will seek an alternative means of bringing in their vehicles through illegitimate borders as government has banned them from taking legitimate borders,” he said.
According to him, our borders are porous, stressing that we don’t have enough man power in Customs to man the porous borders.
“Even if you deploy all the Customs officers to the land borders, they will still be grossly inadequate to check the menace of smuggling. They will continue to come in and government will continue to lose revenue. The policy will lead to an increase in smuggling and smugglers will become more violent and daring thus putting the lives of Customs at the borders at risks,” he said.
Philipson noted that rather than ban importation of vehicles through the land borders, government should be more curious to know why importers prefer Cotonou ports to Nigeria’s RORO ports.
‘’Why should people still prefer to use land borders, especially through the unapproved routes, despite all its associated hassles and risks, that means something is wrong with our port system. If government could boost trade, revenue will be boosted, there will be no longer complaint about revenue loss. When there are anti-trade policies, people will run and revenue will go no matter how you try to compel them. What you will only succeed in doing is compelling people to go into smuggling and what you get is brutal smuggling,” he stated.
He identified the astronomical increase in terminal charges as one of the major reasons why importers are fleeing the Nigerian ports, especially the auto importers.
He said: “Government must address the issue of high terminal charges. From 2006 when the port concession programme began till now, there has been over 2000 per cent increase in terminal charges and there is no end in sight. Our ports are not competitive. Check the terminal charges in Nigerian ports and that of the neigbouring ports and you will see the difference. It is the terminal operators who make our ports unfriendly and the costliest in the sub –region.”
He noted that it was not Customs duties importers are running away from at the ports but the high terminal charges, saying they still pay Customs duties at the land borders.
‘’Terminal operators are the major problems of our ports. While in the neighbouring ports, importers are given seven to 14 days rent free period but in Nigerian ports, you are given barely three days rent free period that would even be eaten up by the effusive documentation procedure before you can start to enjoy the concessionary period. These people are just too exploitative,” he claimed.
Philipson called for a total over haul of the clearing and documentation process at the Nigerian ports as well as the review of port concession programme in a bid to make the port more competitive and attract the fleeing importers.
He therefore urged the government to inaugurate what he described as Customs Advisory Committee that will comprise retired but seasoned Customs officers such as Alhaji Aliyu Mustapha, Hameed Bello Kojoli and Abdullahi Dikko who will advise the present Customs administration on evolving practicable and workable programmes and policies that will drive the service.
“These people are seasoned retired Customs officers who are well grounded in Customs operations and will advise the Customs administration on things that are practicable and workable. In 2007, late President Musa Ya’ Adua did similar thing when he set up the Customs Reform Committee which comprised, among others, about three former Comptrollers-General of Customs which I commended then as the President of MARTA and it is in the same spirit and conviction that I am calling for the setting up of the Customs Advisory Committee in 2007,’, Philipson noted.