The new Customs Area Comptroller, of Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) Jayne Shoboiki is causing untold hardship and chaos for Nigerians who have found it difficult to clear their goods, some of which are lifesaving drugs from the airport warehouses since the past three weeks.
A visit by BusinessDay to the two air cargo handling companies, Skyways Aviation Handling Company Limited (SAHCOL) and Nigerian Aviation Handling Company, Nahco Aviance (NAHCO), which handles 100 percent of all export and import cargoes going through Nigerian airports, shows that over 3,500kg of cargoes are yet to be cleared by customs from the warehouses.
These goods include lifesaving drugs of patients waiting to be treated in the hospitals, perishable items, wedding gowns of couples who are about to get married, machineries for harvesting and several other lifesaving equipment, BuisnessDay found.
The customs service has blamed its new ‘systems upgrade’ for the delay in the release of cargoes and goods to Nigerians.
A source close to one of the ground handling company wondered why the system upgrade is taking so long, even after NAHCO and SAHCOL provided customs with brand new systems for the upgrade to ensure there are no delays in the process.
While the export sections at the airport were functional yesterday, the import sections were shut down, while importers queued up in their trucks in anticipation of having their cargoes cleared.
Stakeholders told BusinessDay that each time a new Customs Area Comptroller resumes office; they try to show they can do better than their predecessors by introducing hazardous systems that could affect importers and the entire country negatively.
“I have been visiting Skyways Aviation Handling Company Limited (SAHCOL) in the past 10 days to collect my cargoes that had arrived two weeks ago but I have not been able to clear any of them because customs claims to be having systems upgrade. This development has put a halt on my business as I cannot sell my goods or pay my lenders until the goods are cleared from the warehouse,” Ekene, an importer told BusinessDay.
Another importer who craved anonymity told BusinessDay that Jayne Shoboiki, the new Customs Area Comptroller, MMIA has continued to make business difficult for the importers, especially with the new systems upgrade, making it almost impossible for importers to clear their goods within 48hours as it was carried out before now.
“The new policy introduced by customs demanding importers to provide Form M, (a document indicating the value of the shipment from country where the cargoes originated) will take not less than two weeks to one month to arrive and that will only drive importers away from air cargo to other means of transportation, since cargoes can no longer be delivered as fast as it should.
“Importers cannot pay so much to have their cargo delivered by air and still wait for over three weeks to clear their goods,” the imported lamented. The Federal Government has touted its rise in the 2018 World Bank report on Ease of Doing Business (EODB) which placed it 145th position out of 190 countries in the index.
According to the report, Nigeria moved up by 24 points from 169th position on the 2017 ranking to 145 in the current index. The current situation at the airports due to Customs service inefficiency threatens to reverse the gains, analysts told BusinessDay.
A source at one of the ground handling companies told BusinessDay that custom is currently migrating from the Automated System for Custom Date (ASSCUDA) to the Nigeria Integrated Custom Information System (NICIS), which requires the importers or agents to provide Form M before their goods will be cleared.
The source disclosed that in a situation where the importers cannot wait for the documentation to arrive in three weeks or more, they will be forced to pay triple the value of shipments they have declared.
He added that the agents have refused to pay the huge sum for the goods to be cleared and that was why the goods have remained at the warehouse for two to three weeks now, pending when the documents arrive.
“Airport is a speedy outlet and cannot be compared to shipment coming by sea. Shipments coming by sea stay about three weeks to 21days and above but the airport cargo is supposed to be fast in arrival. Within six hours the shipments are on ground but the documents take weeks to arrive. This implies that their shipments will wait for some days till their documentation arrive.
“The importer pays a lot to fly their cargos instead of going through sea. This is the major challenge with the new system. The new system is making the agents and importers pay double the former duties. Some of them are forced to pay over triple,” the source explained.
He hinted that customs wants to generate more revenue for the government at the expense of innocent Nigerians who are affected by this unfavourable policy.
Ephraim Haruna, the spokesman of Customs confirmed to BusinessDay that the systems have been upgraded and that is causing a slowdown in cargo clearance.
“This system is more secure and it will be faster if they have done the right declaration. We started the upgrade last month and our team from Abuja are still on ground to educate the parties on how to use the system. Some of the goods are being cleared but they have to have their complete documents,” Haruna the Customs spokesman said.
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