By Ray Ugochukwu
The umbrella body of freight forwarders in Nigeria, the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), has demanded for the personal intervention of the President, Muhammadu Buhari, in the ports to stem the prevailing confusion stifling trade in the system.
The group asserted that there is a system failure which can only be remedied by the number one citizen, who is the only person that can give direction presently.
Speaking for the body at a media chat Monday, in Lagos, was the Founder of NAGAFF, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, who deplored the paralysis in the ports as a result of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) alleged highhandedness in goods clearance.
Aniebonam regretted the uproar in the system following the Customs’ recent introduction of the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) valuation method for goods clearing. The method, he observed, has given rise to over 300 per cent hike in the cost of clearing automobiles in the ports.
He argued that rather than apply the Agreed Customs Value (ACV) system of assessment, which allowed for valuation based on transaction price of automobiles, the service resorted to the Brussels Definition of Value (BDV).
BVD was signed in Brussels, Belgium, some years past, and it provides that valuation be based on the price that a good would fetch in an open market between a buyer and seller independent of each other.
Dr. Aniebonam said using this method negated some principles considered in valuation, including vehicle depreciation and others.
“I cannot understand why the Nigeria Customs Service would resort to the use of BDV instead of the ACV. This is what is causing problem in the ports resulting in the strike action by freight forwarders which has grounded operations in the ports.
“We, as NAGAFF, are not part of the strike but we’re engaging the Customs constructively in order to find a way out of the quagmire. Those embarking on strike, in a way, are adding value to the struggle while we, the NAGAFF members, are equally contributing to finding an amicable solution to the problem through dialogue”, he said.
The NAGAFF founder, wondered why the various interventionist method of the Customs in cargo clearing in a system that was operating Destination Inspection. He explained that with the Federal Government’s exclusion of 41 items from benefiting from the official forex market, goods that always had issues were those affected.
As a result, he continued, they ought to be favoured by the Destination Inspection system of cargo examination where the containers were usually opened for physical assessment by the authorized Customs officials applying Bill of Sight.
“Ordinarily, with Destination Inspection, goods under the category of the 41 items excluded from forex, on arrival, should be handled based on Bill of Sight.
“With the physical examination by authorized officers and the issuance of Demand Notice (DN), which is paid by the importer, the goods in question should have an unfettered exit from the port to final destination. There should be no need for FOU (Federal Operations Unit); there should be no need for Strike Force; there should be no need for any other intervention on the road any longer.
The former Customs officer asserted that with the application of the Bill of Sight method on the goods, issues bordering on concealment, wrong declaration, wrong classification, under-valuation, over-invoicing, among others, would no longer count.
“Unfortunately, this has not been the case and that is why we are having this confusion in the ports. I think we need Mr. President’s intervention to give direction”, he added.
The founder and national Chairman, New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP), took a swipe at the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) for the confusion in the ports. He said if the body had lived up to expectation, it would have been a place of succour for aggrieved freight forwarders as well as the engine room for training and retraining of its members.
He expressed worries that the Federal Ministry of Transportation that had cornered a supposedly private sector-driven body as its parastatal, did not want to let go and was nothing thinking well for its future growth. Aniebonam lamented the inability of the ministry to organize an election advertised over one year ago.
He raised the alarm on plans by the powers that be to rig the forthcoming CRFFN election to favour individuals rather than component associations that formed the bedrock of its existence. The Ozo Ebubechukwu of Umuawulu also wondered why some persons had already emerged as sole candidates in some zones when there were many members expressing interests for the positions.
Vehicles congesting the ports
The NAGAFF founder has therefore perceived the anomaly as an affront on the component associations and the Act establishing the CRFFN and has suggested that the various groups should think of boycotting the election for the minister and his cronies.
Recall that there has been a general outcry over the Customs’ introduction of the policy which it said was initiated to satisfy the clamour of importers and their agents for uniform valuation on vehicles. The National Public Relations Officer (NPRO) of the Service, DC Timi Bomodi, had explained that the new valuation method was based on international value of automobiles.
He added that it was part of the automation of the system, which stakeholders had clamoured for over the years, in order to stem the alleged differentials in valuation for vehicles of same make and age at various ports.
He said it was a system devoid of human contact, which worked by feeding the system with the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to pop up the designated value for proper Customs assessment and wondered why the agents were protesting against it.