Monday, 30 September 2013

Another look at the cost of doing business in Nigerian ports (Part 2)


Trapped in the morass of a thieving and an uncaring governing elite that has done everything but govern well, the Nigerian Ports that constitute one of, if not, the most veritable gateways of trade between the import-driven economy and the rest of the world, appear riddled with endemic corruption. Everywhere you go, from the Federal Ministry of Transport, the supervisory ministry that overseers the entire gamut of transport and logistics industry; the Nigerian Ports Authority – a major parastatal in the maritime sub-sector, and to the Nigerian Customs Service – the para-military agency that polices the land, air and sea borders of the country, all your nostrils can sniff is the putrid stench of corruption. And, to all intents and purposes, the three major priorities in all these agencies are: corruption, corruption and corruption.
Dan Amor, June 2012
Last week I identified corruption by operatives of government agencies as one of the main factors responsible for the high cost of doing business at Nigerian ports. I intend to illustrate this assertion with practical examples.
Jamiu (not real name) is a Superintendent of Customs. He was posted to Tin Can Island Port in 2009 from Katsina State. Jamiu borrowed N10,000 from a colleague in Katsina to travel down to Lagos to resume at his new post. Today, he lives in his own house, worth over N60 million, at Palmgrove in Lagos State. Jamiu is already the envy of a good number of his colleagues, including senior officers. His children attend one of the most expensive schools in Lagos and he’s rich enough to sponsor them on summer vacation to Europe or America every year.
Jamiu works in the Customs valuation unit at Tin Can Island Port where he is the second-in-command. Making money is as simple as it can be in the unit. Agents stream to the unit everyday to negotiate with officers on the value of the consigments imported by their principals. The lower the value of the goods, as determined by the valuation unit, the less the importer pays in import duty into government coffers. It is a matter of negotiation. And it is a cash and carry business. Any importer or agent that is not willing to settle will have to contend with the high value assigned to his consignment by the valuation unit. The unit rakes in over a million naira daily and as 2IC, Jamiu goes home with over N100,000 – the equivalent of his monthly legitimate salary – daily. Part of the unit’s collection is used to settle the ogas at the top outside the unit at the command, in the zone and in Abuja.

Jamiu and his colleagues will do everything possible, including seeking spiritual interventions, to remain in their position. Promotion is not even desirable for them at this time, after all there are several very senior officers including Comptrollers and Assistant Comptrollers General of Customs that are struggling financially because they have to make do with their salaries only.
Khalil (not real name) is a manager level official of the National Agency for Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC). He was posted to the Lagos Port Complex, Apapa three years ago. He heads the NAFDAC inspection team.
Khalil’s posting to the port was sheer providence as he never lobbied for the posting but now that he has tasted the pudding, he is not ready to let go easily. He will also do everything possible to remain in his present position.
Statutorily, some consignments must be approved by NAFDAC before they are released by Customs to the owners. NAFDAC officials have to stamp and sign the release documents of consignments that fall into such categories. Khalil’s team charge anything from N50,000 to N200,000 to stamp a document. Non-cooperation by the importer or agent means days of delays which will translate to more cost to the importer.
Khalil and his assistant collect over N600,000 unreceipted money through this means. Of course, part of the illegal proceeds is used to settle the big bosses in the office.
Police officers and security personnel of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) are not left out of the odious system. They make money mostly from truck operators. It is difficult or impossible for any truck to enter any of the two ports in Lagos – the Lagos Port Complex Apapa and the Tin Can Island Port Complex – without settling the security operatives. The average settlement sum is N5,000 per truck for a trip into the port.
The above are only some examples of the numerous profiteering schemes devised by officials of government agencies at the port.
The lack of regulation of the government officials coupled with the connivance of the superiors have led to a litany of ignoble corrupt practices in the port system.
The flagrant and pecunious graft that exists in the port translates to more cost to the importer and this is eventually passed on to the final consumer. 

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