Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Boarding, rummaging and sampling at Nigerian ports



Checks on ships at berth are statutory and are carried out all over the world but these vital components of port operation are being grossly abused on a daily basis and with impunity at our seaports. The checks carried out at our ports by security agencies are often abused and fraught with corruption.
Typically, after a long voyage and upon arrival at a port, Customs officers will board and rummage a ship. To rummage a ship means to search it and ensure that duty-free goods and goods that do not comply with the laws of the country of the host port do not find their way out of the vessel.
Usually, the Customs officer in charge of boarding and rummaging will seal the bar and other storage areas leaving only what is necessary for the crew to survive while at the port. Apart from Customs, Port Health Service officials and immigration officers also board. The Port Health officers’ are to ensure that communicable disease is not transmitted from the ship to the host community through goods or persons while immigration officers board to ensure compliance with the nation’s immigration laws.
In other climes, all of these checks are carried out simultaneously and will typically last for about an hour. I raised the alarm not long ago that our check officers keep the vessel waiting for an average of four hours translating to huge financial implication to the Nigerian economy.

In shipping, time is money and the longer the keep the ship in port, the more cost it incurs and the shipping line will naturally factor this into the freight charges.
My recommendation had been that while these statutory checks are going on, stevedoring operation should commence to save the ship time and money.
Now apart from the time factor, our officers also do not conduct themselves in the best professional manner when they board these vessels.
The Nigerian factor has crept in as they practically go cap in hand to the ship captain using everything within their official powers to rip off the captain and his crew of valuable commodities. They even go as far as asking for money from some ship captains. You will see some of these officers emerging from the vessel with cartons of goods and bottles of choice wine.
The other aspect of the activities of our security agencies which is worrisome is sampling of regulated goods. This process has also been heavily abused by our security operatives.

Typically, officials of the Nigeria Customs Service; the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the National Agency for Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) take samples of regulated imported items for test to ensure compliance with safety standards. Several items including electrical/electronic items, household items, liquor, building materials and other commodities fall under goods that are so tested by the regulatory bodies.
One would have thought that one or two pieces of such goods that require testing will be sufficient to take to the laboratory and test. But what we see at the port today is massive looting by officials of these agencies in the name of sample collection. They collect the items in large quantity and they don’t return them even after the so-called tests are concluded.
It is another form of corruption which has eaten deep into the fabric of the Nigerian nation. And woe betides the importer or agent that refuses to cooperate with these unscrupulous government officials.
You see these officials gleefully stuffing their vehicles everyday with all manner of items which they take home and distribute to their family and friends. The so-called samples never get to the laboratory as they end up in personal homes.

It is corruption at its highest level. What I call “Authority Stealing”, apologies to the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
Corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of our nation. Public officers use the privilege of their offices to plunder resources with impunity and thus plunder the country’s resources impoverishing the lives of the very people they were elected or appointed to serve.
Nigeria is considered one of the world’s most corrupt countries ranked 143 out of 182 countries in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perception Index. Nigeria exports and sells over two and half million barrels of crude oil per day earning huge revenue. Despite this, however, over 75 million people representing more than half of the population live in absolute poverty largely due to corruption and mismanagement of state resources by political leaders. The dysfunctional state of public utilities and infrastructure in the country is also a direct consequence of high level corruption.
Who will save importers from this bare-faced extortion?

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