- Freight agents many unanswered questions
- We don’t need stakeholders consultation – Customs
Despite the much-anticipated gains accruable from automation, fiscal experts and veteran freight forwarders have described the recently signed $3.2 billion Customs modernization project as a misguided venture that would cripple the nation’s economy.
The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed has also been accused of leading the nation into economic crisis with the e-Customs project tipped to prioritize exports, devalue the naira and send more Nigerians into abject poverty.
Although the federal government is thrilled at the 20-year project to generate $176billion, analysts have expressed worry as neither Customs officials nor freight agents have an understanding of how the Customs modernization era will function.
There aren’t clear economic projections via increased imports or other indices to support the postulations that the Service would earn around N5.28trillion ($8.8billion) annually for 20 years; when Customs highest annual revenue earning was N2.3trillion attained in 2021 as the economy was stretched severely and freight agents allegedly arm-twisted to part with funds.
Perhaps, the situation is more appalling when considering that freight forwarders had condemned the secrecy surrounding the contract since it was first mooted in 2019, but the Customs National Public Relations Officer, Mr. Timi Bomodi argues that Customs had no need to consult stakeholders on this modernization project.
Speaking with The News Diet, the President of African Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria (APFFLON), Mr. Frank Ogunojemite warned that the long-term impact of the project will be consistent devaluation of the naira with imports prioritized over exports.
His words: “This development will lead more Nigerians into abject poverty. I’m worried about this choice and the statements of the Minister of Finance on this project. Its seems like she doesn’t have a clue as to the grave implications of this concession. Customs concession shouldn’t be likened to the seaport terminals because government gave out the land but in the case of Customs we are taking about national security and government revenue.”
“Several freight forwarders have been shouting that we were left in the dark about this project since 2019. The Finance Minister confirmed that the concession stalled because the parties had a conflict in the sharing of the stakes. What was this conflict about? Why the secrecy? Why wasn’t there a public hearing on this project? Haven’t we learnt from the conflict and protests that followed the initial implementation of the VIN valuation without stakeholders engagement?”
He posited that there are lots of unanswered questions surrounding the contract and expressed worry that the 20-year concession period is too long for a trial venture.
“We saw the port concession without stakeholders input and the many challenges that are still being resolved; we are likely to have the same problem with this Customs concession because it has been concluded without stakeholders input,” he lamented.
On his part, the Customs spokesman, Mr. Timi Bomodi said; “We don’t need to consult with stakeholders for this project. Why should we have to consult with stakeholders when we are making our system more efficient. We know what we need and the areas that need to be looked at and corrected. We don’t need to consult anyone for that.”
Mr. Bomodi argued that one can understand the economics in the concessionaire’s projection as it completely hinged on automation.
“When you deploy technology into all Customs processes and procedures, the system becomes more efficient and this means there is a higher possibility that Customs is going to generate more revenue. The projection is based on anticipated increase in revenue. Right now, we are generating upto N2trillion annually but they are projecting that we can generate between N5trillion to N6trillion yearly with the adoption of technology,” he said.
When asked to explain the rationale behind a new e-Customs concession agreement between the NCS, Africa Finance Corporation, AFC, and China’s Huawei Technologies Limited, the Finance Minister, Mrs. Ahmed said: “The e-Customs project was approved by Federal Executive Council. There were some challenges that had to do with disagreements between the concession partners. Remember that government was not a partner of the concession, it was a group of different investing parties that came together and formed the consortium.”
“The Attorney General and Minister of Justice has intervened. There were several number of meetings to try to iron out the differences. So, it has to do with shareholders, who has what responsibility. And at the end of the day, I think one of the partners in the concession did not agree with the arrangements.”
The Minister said implementation of the e-Customs project would now commence since the party that was uncomfortable with the agreement had opted out, despite efforts by the government, through the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, to mediate.
However, she didn’t say when the e-Customs project actually takes off amid concerns by industry stakeholders that there is a need to integrate frieght forwarders on the new processes.
Speaking on the concession, the representative of Huawei Technologies, Kevin Yang expressed the commitment of his organization to the success of the project, promising to ensure Nigeria benefits from the automation process.
“I just want to express our commitment that we will make sure that all the deliverables to the facility and process automation and paperless customs are achieved,” he posited.
The representative of the AFC’s Chief Executive, Sumaila Zuberu on her part reiterated the commitment of the AFC to the project, pointing out that its success will be a reference point for the Customs Service in other African countries.
She expressed hope that the project will be quickly implemented, adding that the AFC was still very committed to providing the relevant finance required for the project.
Other partners in the project include; First Bank of Nigeria, Bionica and Bergman Security.