Barring any last minute change in the scheme of things, Nigeria’s Single Window platform for international trade and related cargo transactions at the sea, airports and land border stations would commence operation before the end of the third quarter of 2017.

This follows approval by the Federal Government for the takeoff of the platform, which is in line with the policy of the government of enhancing the ease of doing business in the country.

The Single Window platform, which would connect all government agencies at the ports including the Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency NIMASA, the Nigerian Shippers Council, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria SON and the Nigeria Customs Service and private port operators, among several others, would facilitate online real time documentation of international trade transactions at all the entry points into the country.

Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali, who made this disclosure during a working visit to the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders NAGAFF on Monday in Lagos, said that President Muhammadu Buhari has already approved the establishment of the platform, which is expected to take off before the end of third quarter of 2017.

According to him, the committee on the ease of doing business in the country, headed by Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, is currently working towards this target with a view to enhancing efficiency in the release of cargo at the seaports, airports and land borders.

“One of our greatest problems in the country is the duplication in the process of doing business in the country, including the points of entry points and that is why we are rated very low as a country in terms of ease doing business. There are more than 10 tables in the clearance of goods at the ports as against less than five tables obtainable elsewhere”.

“We are therefore working towards the deployment of information Communication Technology ICT to drive the ease of doing business in the country. To this effect, the Federal Government has also approved the deployment of scanners at the nation’s airports and land borders in order to enhance the ease of doing business and reduce turnaround time of ships and cargo dwell time”, the CG also said.

He also disclosed that a large chunk of the service’s budget for 2017 would be expended on the training and re-training of the officers and men of the service as part of measures to keep them abreast of goings on in the international trade arena, which he said is dynamic and so officer must conform.

The CG also promised that many of the Customs brokerage agents and freight forwarders would benefit from the training, arguing that the service cannot do its work effectively without the cooperation of the agents and freight forwarding public.

On the reason for the visit, the CG argued that he turned down the request of the NAGAFF leadership to visit him in order to save them the inconvenience of travelling to Abuja, especially given the hitches caused by the Abuja Airport runway and the diversion of flight to the Kaduna International Airport.

He also revealed that his decision to come was informed by the need to meet and interact with more stakeholders, assuring that the visit would mark a new dawn for the cordial relationship between the association and the service.

The CG however warned agents and freight forwarders to shun all acts of trade malpractices and corruption, insisting that he has a mandate to reform and restructure the service and would stop at nothing in doing just that.

He also warned importers and even officers and men of the service, who connive to cheat the government to desist from that, as the long arms of the law would soon catch-up with them.

Meanwhile, acting National President of NAGAFF, Chief Increase Uche in a welcome address, expressed appreciation to the CG for finding time to visit the association despite his very tight schedules, which he said stands him out as a humble leader.

He however charged the CG to commence the process of professionalising officers and men of the service in line with global standards in order to discharge their duties and responsibilities effectively and efficiently.

He also made a strong for the adoption of international best practice, which he described as tested methodology in carrying out research in the activities of the service, which is the only way trade could be facilitated and simplified in the interest of the Nigeria’s economy.

Chief Uche, who was until recently the Deputy National President of the association, also called on the CG t work on the various legal instruments that guide the operations of the service and international trade practice, especially the Customs and Excise Management Act CEMA, with a view to harmonising all the issues around the single window platform, Destination Inspection and restructuring of the service as a way of facilitating trade.