Govt needs to ban importation from Turkey over serial arms import, says Akinola
Just last week, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Tin-Can Island Port Command intercepted a container load of arms and ammunition imported from Turkey. This came after the Service had earlier in January, intercepted a container load of arms along Mile 2 Expressway and the Tin-Can Island Command also impounded another container load of arms on 23rd of May 2017.
The alarming connection among the three illicit imports was that they all originated from same country, Turkey. This has raised fresh concern among many industry stakeholders, who now questioned why Turkey was directly or indirectly sponsoring terrorism in Nigeria.
Bola Akinola, CEO of Ships and Ports Communications Company spoke extensively on this issue on the sideline of a breakfast meeting between members of Shipping Correspondent Association of Nigeria (SCAN) and public relations officers in maritime industry. He also spoke on the need to restore scanners at port back into operation to enhance cargo clearance and curb influx of offensive imports.
Hameed Ali, the Comptroller General of Customs has said that the Service would, going forward, hold shipping lines and terminal operators responsible for arms importation into the country.
For the shipping companies, Customs may be right to do that but for terminal operators, who is just like a garage operator, is wrong. The responsibility of the terminal operator is to receive and discharge the vessel, keep the cargo for the Federal Government authorities to examine and approve for them to release. Terminal operators do not have the privilege of knowing the content of the container they discharge, so it would be wrong to hold them responsible for illicit import.
For the shipping companies that transport the cargo from the port of origin to the destination ports, you can hold them responsible including the countries of origin as well. We should begin to hold countries responsible and bring in diplomatic angle to managing issues like this because countries like America do that as well. If they realise that the bilateral trade relations is not favourable to their economy or social wellbeing, they would do something about that.
This is the third time in one year that Customs is impounding arms and ammunition coming from Turkey to Nigeria. Therefore, government needs to review the bilateral trade relations, which Nigeria has with Turkey.
In mine view, government should ban importation from Turkey. But if we must import from Turkey, the Federal Government through the Nigeria Customs should create a special examination window where every import from Turkey would be examined thoroughly to be sure of the content before releasing them to Nigerian market.
Government also needs to institute investigation panel to determine why Turkey is supporting terrorist groups in Nigeria by supplying them with dangerous weapons that could pose security risk on the country.
Sadly, the Customs and other government agencies are yet to make public, the owners of the previous container loads of arms that were intercepted earlier in the year. Such people should be duly prosecuted and brought to book to serve as deterrent to other dubious importers, who might be nursing such idea.
Scanners at ports
The scanners at the ports were working perfectly well when they were being handled by the destination inspection service providers, who also acquired the scanners those days. The big question is why the scanners stopped working less than a year after they were handed over to Customs to operate.
For instance, the mobile and fixed scanners in Apapa and Tin-Can Island ports, Seme border and other entry points were built by Cotecna, SGS and Global Scan, who invested millions of dollars to acquire the machines. But, less than a year after these service providers left, the scanners were reported to be bad. This goes down to show that government does not have the capacity to manage critical assets of this nature.
Given the long procurement process, acquisition of new scanners by Customs also comes with its own problem. The fact is that Customs cannot maintain scanners on their own. Yes, we hear the management of Customs say that they will acquire new scanners but that is not enough because after doing that, in less than no time; we will go back to square one.
So, there is need to involve private sector in the management of scanners at the port because the private sector would provide that back end support while the Customs put their house in order.
Manual examination of imports
As far as port business is concern, 100 percent physical examination on cargo that come to our ports is inefficiency because using scanners can expose all the contents in the container. Another big question is how many containers can be examined in a day using manual procedure? This means that 100 percent physical examination contributes to the delays importers experience at the port today.
We all travel through the airport and at the screening port, the traveler would be expected to put his or her bags at the scanners, which exposes everything in the bag and it also saves time as well.
This means that as long as we do 100 percent manual examination at the nation’s seaport, we will continue to have inefficiency, delay and high cost of doing business in our ports.
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