Inter-agency Collaboration and Ease Doing Business

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The recent Executive Orders signed by acting President Yemi Osinbajo on ease of doing business, without a doubt, will help rejig the economy and generally improve Nigeria’s business environment through the promotion of transparency and efficiency. Jonathan Eze writes on why inter-agency collaboration is necessary in all of these, especially at the ports

Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) have since gone into frenzied activities in the bid to put effect to the Executive Orders recently signed by acting President Yemi Osinbajo and exhibit compliance with a view to achieving the set objectives.
One of the fall outs of the Executive Orders is on ports operations and this brings to mind the challenge of ensuring ease of doing business at the entry points vis a vis the subsisting issue of influx of substandard and harmful low quality products.

Governments at all levels, the organised private sector, patriots and consumer protection advocates have always wondered if the efforts of the regulatory agencies charged with quality checks at the entry points are enough to tackle the menace of influx of substandard products and drugs (including hard drugs).
This brings under scrutiny, the highlights of the Executive Orders as relates to operations at the nation’s seaports in particular. No doubt that the greater percentage of imports into Nigeria comes through the seaports. Conversely, the greater percentage of substandard products into the country also comes in through these points of entry.

The attempt by past governments to achieve the same objective particularly the directive in 2011 by the then Minister for Finance and Coordinating Minister for the economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala that agencies like NAFDAC, SON, Agricultural Quarantine Services ,etc should vacate the seaports. Prior to the order, all of the regulatory and security agencies have offices located within the seaports complexes. The executive pronouncement then clearly directed that they all relocate their offices outside the ports and participate in cargo examinations on the invitation of the Nigerian Customs Service.

The trickle effect of that order, particularly, the flooding of the Nigerian markets with substandard and harmful products including drugs since 2011, left a lot to be desired. A syndicate of unpatriotic Nigerians with the connivance of foreign partners, have since taken undue advantage of the policy to perpetrate illicit trade in low quality and substandard products including drugs.

Nigeria has since turned into a dumping ground for all types of low quality, substandard and cheap products posing grave danger to the lives of Nigerians and the economy. They have over the years stifled out genuine manufacturers and importers who have invested huge sums to promote commerce and industry in Nigeria. Their activities have also led to avoidable loss of lives and properties through building collapse, fire incidents auto crashes, etc, not to mention other economic losses from purchase of products that do not give value for money, loss of jobs occasioned by shut downs and low capacity utilisation, all of which contributed in no small measure to the economic recession which the nation has been experiencing.

It has also been discovered that some of the agencies established offices outside but close to the seaports and resorted to the use of ICT to monitor importation into Nigeria by integrating with the Nigerian Customs Integrated System (NICIS). Through these steps, agencies like NAFDAC and SON, have been struggling to cope with regulating the importation of substandard and life endangering products through the Nigerian seaports. This way, the agencies are able to view all imports and flag suspected substandard products for further scrutiny. If not allowed to participate in the examination of such suspected imports as was erroneously reported, whose interest is being protected?

Are we encouraging them to hold the consignments once outside the ports? How would this impact on the objective of ease of doing business? Once suspected containers are examined by all concerned, arrangements can then be made to escort them out of the Ports to designated places for further regulatory activity.

Thus, the recent signing and publication of the Executive Orders by the acting President came as a big relief to discerning observers, particularly the aspect relating to transparency and efficiency at the seaports. How transparent can it be if agencies authorised by acts of parliament are prevented from carrying out their legitimate duties? SON operations for example is governed by an act of parliament dated 2015, which stipulates that “the agency shall have a right of access at reasonable times under Part VII, section 30 (b) to any premises, including all Nigerian seaports, airports and land borders where an industrial or commercial undertaking is being carried on, and may use reasonable force, if need be to gain entry”

NAFDAC, under Part II, Section 5 (d) of its enabling act Cap 1 of 2004 has as part of its functions “to undertake inspection of imported food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, bottled water, and chemicals and establish relevant quality assurance systems including certification of the production sites and of the regulated products” Where best can these agencies curtail the influx of substandard products including drugs if not at the largest point of entry.
In view of the above, the recent pronouncement by the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority on the executive orders “as purported expulsion of agencies of government from the seaports from carrying out their legitimate duties under the law” leaves much to be desired.

Following on the resolution of stakeholders at the meeting where the pronouncement was said to have been made, keen followers of developments are aware that procedures of all regulatory and security agencies are to be harmonised for implementation in cargo examination under the ease of doing business directive.

While the NPA reserves the right of ownership of the seaports premises anD to allow permanent accommodation within the premises, It doesn’t seem right and correct that the agency has the powers to determine and make pronouncements on the functions of sister government agencies except clearly authorised to do so. Ease of doing “genuine” business, of course, rather than promote the influx of low quality, substandard, life endangering and cheap products to the detriment of people’s welfare and the economy of the nation.

NAFDAC, SON and the other agencies are reportedly carrying out their statutory duties at other entry points like the cargo sections of the international airports and the land borders in close collaboration with Nigeria Customs and other security agencies.

The objective of the government in issuing the executive orders cannot certainly be to promote the influx of unwholesome products into Nigeria. The results of collaboration between the Nigeria Customs Service, SON and the Security agencies that led to the discovery and seizure of over N5billion worth of tyres need to be commended by all. Imagine the effect of such collaboration at the seaports where the bulk of imports into the country enter? Also imagine the negative impact those damaged tyres would have had on our roads if allowed into the markets. The subsequent prosecution of the suspects and the involvement of the Attorney General’s office are gains that should be sustained.

No doubt, the robust collaboration between NAFDAC, SON and the Police is working effectively. THISDAY reported recently that this collaboration led to the arrest of a syndicate that stocks expired products, change the best before dates to prolong the shelf life and sell to unsuspecting consumers.

Furthermore, recent seizures by NAFDAC of imported expired health drinks and examination gloves at Tincan Island Port; containers and cartons of fake and controlled pharmaceutical products and medical devices at Apapa Ports and unregistered injection at NAHCO Shed 4, Murtala Muhammed International Airport are pointers to activities of unpatriotic Nigerians and their foreign collaborators.

These are achievements that the nation needs to sustain and improve upon. Any measure under the implementation of the executive order that would work against such achievements would not be in the nation’s interest. The Managing Director of the NPA, therefore needs to clarify her pronouncement lest unpatriotic elements take undue advantage of it to the detriment of the generality of Nigerians.
All agencies of government authorised by law should be involved in cargo examination under the ease of doing business directive, albeit using a harmonised procedure of all.