One of the mobile scanners inherited by Customs at Apapa Port, Lagos


Strong indications emerged that the high incidences of delay in the release of cargo at the Lagos Ports Complex, Apapa, Nigeria’s premier seaport, which accounts for over 65 per cent of container traffic might not be unconnected with the decision of the Apapa Command of the Nigeria Customs Service to carryout 100 per cent physical examination on over 80 per cent of cargo imported through the port.

A reliable source, who pleaded anonymity, disclosed in Lagos that the delays associated with the processing and released of imported cargo are substantially caused by the abandonment of the scanners in preference to physical examination of cargo by operatives of the service, which paves way for human contact.

The source also disclosed that more often than not, importers and clearing agents are made to incur additional and avoidable cost arising from payment of demurrage and other rent related charges because the cargoes are subjected to physical examination, which is cumbersome, time wasting and more expensive.

It was gathered that while it takes less than five minutes to scan a 40-foot container using the fixed or mobile scanner, it takes over four hours to completely un-stuff and examine the same size of container to conduct physical examination and re-load the content after the examination, which experts believe is very cumbersome.

“We are made to hire labour for the physical examination of the cargo and some times, after the terminal operator had dropped the container from the stack, it will be discovered that one or more of the agencies that perform the examination will not be available and so the exercise would have to be postponed while the terminal operator has already debited the importer or his agent, having brought down the container for examination”.

“Though some importers and their agents cannot be completely exonerated from this problem, the situation would have been easier if modern technologies are deployed in the handling and processing of imported cargo at the port”, he noted.

The expert, who bemoaned this tradition of making genuine and honest importers and their agents incur more cost for no fault of theirs, argued that this accounts for why many importers prefer to divert their cargo to seaports in neighbouring African countries where Customs’ processes are more simple and efficient with the attendant loss of revenue that would have accrued to the Federal Government.

He argued that most efficient and user-friendly seaports across the world have since deployed modern technology including the use of scanners for their cargo examination rather than rely on manual processing of cargo, which is cumbersome, time-consuming and expensive.

It was gathered that it was in attempt to ensure that all imported cargo go through physical examination that the service is colluding with the Federal Ministry of Finance to push for the palletisation policy, which would make it easier to un-stuff imported goods loaded in a container using forklifts instead of the manual systems.

Meanwhile, the Customs Area Controller in charge of the Apapa Command of the service, Comptroller Jibrin Musa had said recently while fielding questions shortly after briefing the media on the seizure of three containers laden with Tramadol and other regulated pharmaceutical products in Lagos, admitted that the command carries 100 per cent physical examination of some cargo.

He however said he was not certain about the volume that goes through physical examination, insisting that the Automated Systems for Customs Data ASYCUDA ++ Selectivity Module determines which cargo goes for scanning and which one is examined physically.

The comptroller reiterated the command’s commitment towards fast clearance and release of imported consignments and therefore urged the importers and their agents to be more honest, transparent in their declarations, which will save a lot of time and resources.

Recall that Customs had in December 2013, taken over the reins of the Destination Inspection Scheme in Nigeria following the expiration of the seven-year Build, Own, Operate and Transfer with four service providers.

Under the contract, the service providers comprising Cotecna Destination Inspection Limited, SGS, Global Scansystems installed scanners at the airports, seaports and land borders, which have all been abandoned while Webb Fontaine managed the ASYCUDA ++ platform.