- Reports of Customs server breakdowns are exaggerated
Webb Fontaine is the manager of Customs digital platforms. It is responsible for the provision of IT & telecom infrastructure for Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). This encompasses the delivery of Customs Management System nationwide via the Nigeria Customs Integrated System (NICIS II).
In this chat with News Diet, the Managing Director of Webb Fontaine Nigeria Limited, Mr. Ope Babalola speaks on the reports of consistent server breakdowns by freight forwarders, which has seen the organization labeled ‘inefficient’. Babalola also compares the Nigerian port domain to neighboring ports where the organization operates similar Port Community Systems with a higher success rate.
Find out the differences in port operations and peculiar challenges in Nigeria.
The Managing Director was speaking on the sidelines of the 2022 Annual Conference and Awards of the Association of Maritime Journalists of Nigeria (AMJON), in Lagos, yesterday.
In recent times there have been numerous complaints from freight forwarders with regards to persistent server breakdowns of Webb Fontaine’s online platforms for Customs. What is responsible for these frequent server problems?
We need to have a discussion with these stakeholders because our servers do not breakdown and our networks don’t fluctuate or malfunction as it is grossly reported in the press. I see some of the stories and sometimes I’m disappointed with these reports because we check and find that there is no problem with the server. The truth is that the reports were done without proper research on the issue.
At Webb Fontaine, we would prefer that we get a more accurate reporting of exactly what is happening at the ports with respect to the servers. There are several things that could go wrong. It could be a very small action like someone switching off a light switch on a wall or an officer refuses to take an action with the excuse of server breakdowns. There dozens of things that could have happened, so it’s very important to find out what is going on before we report in the media.
Sometimes I read the news articles and it is like reading a storybook. I hope that we can have proper discussions to talk about these challenges and work towards finding what the issues are, if there are any. Our servers are up and functional for 99percent of the time.
Based on your explanation, would you imply that some of the Customs officers are not properly trained to handle the softwares?
The officers of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) are properly trained. Over the years they have been extensively trained and many of them are very good at the job. I think some of them will be surprised at these frequent reports of server breakdowns that aren’t true.
A lot is happening in Nigeria Customs Service in line with automation and there are concerns about the role of Webb Fontaine when Customs fully implements it’s Modernization Project. What’s your take on this?
Customs already operates a paperless system and that’s one thing to get straight. The Customs platform covers almost all the agencies involved in the trade cycle in Nigeria. However, a few key organizations aren’t part of the Customs system like the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). We are hoping that when the NPA gets its automation done, we can work together and cooperate so that everything could go smoothly.
Webb Fontaine runs the Port Community System in Benin Republic and several other countries which integrate with Customs and other port operators and it is totally automated and functional. Those countries are really enjoying the best of everything derivable from automation and I don’t see why we can’t do the same in Nigeria.
The ports in Nigeria is under the Ministry of Transportation, Customs is under the Ministry of Finance, Trade is under the Ministry of Industry and Trade. So, in Nigeria we have three different Ministries sometimes with different objectives and goals. They also usually have different areas of interests and varying opinions on the best way to advance Nigeria’s trade and commerce. Transportation Ministry’s focus might be a little bit different from Finance Ministry; while the Ministry of Industry and Trade point of view is also a bit different.
There is a very important need to put all of them together so that there is a single focus and single drive towards a one-stop shop for proper automation.
We already have about 90 percent of that in Customs single window (trade.gov.ng). Most of the agencies are there, so I would suggest that those agencies that aren’t there join the platform and everything can be harmonized.
Has there been disruptions in your servers of recent?
In the press, you would have seen the reports of this already but the House of Representatives are going to conduct an audit into the reports of breakdowns. We are going to cooperate with them and allow them audit so that we can see exactly what the problems that are being claimed are and also see what the solutions would be.