5,000 Containers Trapped at Ports as Customs Bans Third-party Clearance

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Eromosele Abiodun

The big stick wielded by the high command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) over the unwholesome practice of ‘third-party’ clearance by freight forwarders has started to take its toll on clearance procedures as over 5,000 containers caught in the web of this practice are presently trapped at the ports, THISDAY has learnt.

Third party clearance is a situation where a licensed customs agent hawks his operating licence for financial gains, a practice that allows the agent to cut corners and short-change the government.

Penultimate week, the customs had ordered the immediate stop to the clearance of goods that had discrepancies in the names of importers and other information provided in the clearing documents.

Specifically, the customs authority said it was alarmed at the increasing practice among freight forwarders, who clear goods with Form M, Bill of laden and PAAR that carry different names from that of the consignees.

In a circular signed by Deputy Comptroller General of customs in charge of Tariff and Trade, Mr. Isa Talatu, the customs’ Comptroller General, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), had directed all Area Controllers to suspend the release, forthwith till further notice, any cargoes with discrepancies in their documentation.

However, this directive, as valid and good-intentioned as it is, appears to be hurting goods’ clearance procedures at the ports.

Lamenting the pains and frustration of freight forwarders over this development, the Vice-President, Western Zone of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders(NAGAFF), Alhaji Tanko Ibrahim, declared that over 5,000 containers, 2,000 of which are in Apapa, are currently trapped inside the Lagos ports over the issue of ‘third party’ clearance.

The 5,000 containers, he stated, are outside those trapped at other ports and border posts across the country.

Tanko who admitted that the customs authority was in order over its proclamation against ‘third party’ clearance, pleaded that a reprieve be given to containers which are in this category before the ban.

“Unless customs grants amnesty for this category of containers and allow them to go, they will rot away at the port because it is not possible to issue another PAAR on them, ”Tanko explained.

He therefore pleaded with the Customs authority to temper justice with mercy over the matter.

“As leaders of the association, we are pleading for clemency. We know those freight forwarders involved in this practice are wrong while the customs is right on its decision. However, the instant enforcement of this directive has paralysed the port activities. The vibrancy of the port has slowed down and grounded to a standstill. We appeal that the customs should give time to stop this unwholesome practice, “Tanko added.

He further stated that in as much as the association was not in support of the action of his members, their actions cannot be a burden to Nigerians and port users.

The group therefore appealed to the customs authority to create a window that will enable the erring importers and their agents take delivery of their consignments, which he noted came before the customs order, within a particular time frame before reverting to full implementation of NICIS II.

He said any container that is involved in this unwholesome practice thereafter could be sanctioned.

Tanko noted that the present disruption in clearance procedures caused by the customs proclamation would have multiple effects on port operations and cost of goods.

“If this action is not reversed to allow those trapped containers to go, this will lead to port congestion, accumulation of overtime cargo and huge demurrage at shipping companies and terminal operators. It will also lead to high cost of goods in the market as the final costs will be transferred to the consumers,” Tanko said.

He, however, said NAGAFF has embarked on series of enlightenment campaigns to educate its members on the need to comply with extant laws governing proper clearance procedures.

Also, the National President of Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Mr. Lucky Amiwero, who also decried the situation, called on the federal government to urgent address the challenges encountered by Nigerians on the process of import, export and transit regulatory procedure.

Amiwero, said the federal government must urgently reform the import, export procedure to align with international best practice.

The World Bank had in the report rated Nigeria lowest in Africa and 183 out of a total of 190 trading countries examined across the globe on the Ease of Doing Business in relation to Business Trading Across Borders (TAD).

Nigeria, according to the report came last among a total of 17 African countries drawn across the various regions of the continent, having also come 183 out of a total of 190 countries in the world.