The federal government has constituted a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) Committee to oversea quick and easy clearance of cargoes at the Nigerian ports.
This is even as the office of the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege in partnership with the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) has launched an investigation into why items imported for charity organisations including Orphanages, Non Governmental Organisations (NGO) and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) are being unnecessarily delayed at Nigerian ports .
At a stakeholders meeting organised by the office of the Senate Deputy President and the Nigerian Shippers Council in Lagos on Thursday, Senator Omo-Agege expressed concerns that charitable items get entangled in high demurrage charges while their clearance process experience delays due to denial of import duty waivers by relevant government agencies, late application of necessary documents by non-profit organizations, among others.
Omo-Agege who was represented by his Special Adviser, Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) Princess Modupe Ozolua, said the delays usually leads to undue loss of items and financial losses.
“It also extends to the denial of, sometimes life-saving relief materials to places they are needed, particularly disease-ravaged areas and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) settlements. And given the present IDP crisis Nigeria now faces, the material and humanitarian losses can only be imagined”.
Omo-Agege however observed with dismay that import waivers on charitable items have been misused and abused not just by businessmen but also by some non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations.
He advised that “All stakeholders including Civil Society Organizations, other not-for-profit organizations, in concert with the government, must comply with necessary application processes and ensure charitable items are not used for commercial purposes, instead they should always get to the targeted beneficiaries”.
Also speaking at the meeting tagged Ease of Shipping and Clearing Charitable Items In Nigeria” Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi called on the national assembly to create a legislation that will support a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which has been established to address the bottlenecks in clearance of charitable goods.
Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Shippers Council, Barr Hassan Bello stressed that charitable cargoes must be given special SOPs in their clearance because most of these cargoes have expiry dates and shouldn’t be subjected to undue delays.
“We have to come together to facilitate the clearance of these cargoes for Nigerians and other nations who use Nigerian ports for transit trade. Going by the delegation here, I am sure that the technical session would come with quality information and the National Assembly is here to make it legislation” Bello said.
He described stakeholders’ consultation as a very important opportunity to address industry problems.
Commending the 9th National Assembly, Bello said; “At the National Assembly, we are looking at bills that not just political but also seeking to address economic issues and improve the well-being of the citizens.”
On his part, Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Senator Ibrahim Yahaya Oloriegbe noted that the health sector is the major beneficiary of charitable goods and that it is a matter of life and death.
According to him, many Nigerians have lost their lives due to the delays in receiving drugs and other items meant for the less privileged.
Senator Oloriegbe said “We want to see how we can better implement the existing protocols and laws as it relates to clearing charitable items at Nigerian ports. We want to deploy technology to make things faster and we also want to review areas that require legislative intervention in terms of new laws.”
He asserted that the most important and immediate approach would be to have SOPs that would put together the best processes and create ease in the procedure.
“We need to create an interim alternative to address the current emergencies we have in the country to get charitable items swiftly delivered to areas of conflict in the North East and the North West,”
Representing the Chairman, Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarders in Nigeria (CRFFN) Dr Kayode Farinto lamented that charitable goods are not usually given needed attention by Customs officers.
He said the Customs, as well as other government agencies are more concerned about revenue generation and most of them do not implement their functions with human face. He recommended that the new SOP for clearing charitable goods should recommend penalty for any officer or terminal operators that deliberately cause delay of the items.
Speaking on behalf of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the Zonal Coordinator Zone A, ACG Kaycee Ekekezie reiterated that import waivers on charitable items have been misused and abused not just by businessmen but also by some non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations.
According to her, the Customs have been shocked to find business persons hide under NGOs to import high duty accessories for sale, yet disguised as charitable items.
She advised the NGOs as well as the government agencies to know what is expected of them at every level.
“Improper documentation has also been a major problem. NGOs must get the required documents outlined by the Ministry of Finance before they approach the Customs. Corrupt practices by importers and various port officials have also affected this process”, she said.
She noted that the major challenge of charitable goods shipping is lack of documentation and compliance by the beneficiaries.
According to her, most times, the import must have arrived Nigeria before the beneficiaries commence documentation processes.
The highpoint of the event was constituting the SOP committee which is headed by Princess Module Ozolua from office of the Deputy Senate President.
Other members of the committee include: Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Nigerian Shippers Council, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigeria Customs, Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Shipping Association of Nigeria (SAN), Special Security Unit Against Money Laundering (SCUML), CRFFN, Nigerian INGO Forum, and the Director-General, African Centre for Supply Chain, Dr. Obiora Madu.