In the bid to checkmate the various challenges associated with delays in clearing charitable items at Nigeria Ports, the Nigerian Senate and port stakeholders has agreed to have a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for faster clearance of charitable items from the nation’s seaports in avoidance of conflict often encountered by government agencies and owners of such cargoes.
The event which was held on Thursday in Lagos was organized by the Nigerian Shippers Council and the office of the Deputy President of the Senate, tagged “Programme of event for stakeholders consultation on the ease of shipping and clearing of charitable.
Speaking at the event in Lagos, Deputy President of Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege said that the shipping industry, has had perennial cabotage problems, especially at the upstream point; especially as it affects charitable shipped items.
The Deputy Senate President was represented by his Senior Adviser on NGO/CSO Affairs ,Princess Modupe Ozolua.
According to him, the industry has been fraught with problems of classifying items for the purposes of waivers, rebates, exemptions and other privileges.
He added that as a result, there was often the confusion at the point of clearing between charitable items and other categories or items, especially the commercial ones, as they all, sometimes, go through the same processes.“The result is that often, charitable items get entangled in high demurrage charges sometimes caused by delays in clearing due to denial of import duty waivers by relevant government ministries/agencies, late application of necessary documents by non-profit organizations, among others. These often cause undue loss of items.
“It also extends to the denial of, sometimes life-saving relief materials to places they are needed, particularly disease-ravaged areas and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) settlements. And given the present IDP crisis Nigeria now faces, the material and humanitarian losses can only be imagined.
“Charitable items are gifts donated by individuals, organizations or governments to the less privileged, usually through not-for-profit organizations, faith organizations or individuals.
“The items in turn come in different forms such as clothing, foodstuffs, medications, and assets and services” he quipped
Also speaking at the event, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi said it was necessary to create awareness on the importance of Aid materials to the national economy and the need to improve on the processes and procedures for the shipping and clearance of such materials at the Nigerian ports.
Amaechi who was represented at the event by Director, Inland Container Services, Mr. Victor Ewaje, reiterated that one of the major mandates of the Nigeria Shippers Council was to protect cargo interest in all transportation chain pointing out that the council was to ensure the cost effective handling of cargo from origin to destination, adding that aid items fall within the cargoes that need protection.
He said, “We are equally aware that these Aid items enjoy waivers, however, experience has revealed that the process of obtaining duty waiver on these items takes time and such delay do translate to accumulated demurrage charges on these aid materials.
“This sensitization seminar will afford stakeholders the opportunity to brainstorm on how to improve the processes and procedures of shipping and clearing imported aid materials into Nigeria.
“Major highlights of the discussion will centre on issues of timely approval for duty waivers, timely clearance inclusive of Customs formalities identification of accredited Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) as well as effective cost of Shipping and clearance.”
Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary ,Nigerian Shippers Council ,Barrister Hassan Bello described the view of national assembly to contribute to economic boost.
He said charitable goods must embrace high level of special protocol thus to facilitate speedy clearance for such cargoes from the seaports.
Bello noted that the technical session should be convey to the direct beneficiaries of discourse,adding that stakeholders consultation is important to the clearance of charitable cargoes.
At the event, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development called for the establishment of new specialized laws to ensure ease of shipping and clearing of charitable items in Nigeria.
According to the Assistant Director, Humanitarian Affairs, Mr. Femi Alaka, the Ministry which was established in August 2019, has received numerous complaints from NGOs on challenges facing import of charitable items leading to high demurrages and abandonment of cargoes in some cases.
Alaka revealed that over 17.5million Nigerians were orphans, asserting that most of these orphans were depending on orphanage homes which survive by charitable imports.
Besides the SOPs, he recommended that non-Customs processes be streamlined and enhanced awareness on the processes. He also admonished all government agencies involved in the process to collaborate and show seriousness in expeditious handling of such cargoes.
Meanwhile, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Health and Deputy Chairman Senate Committee on Diaspora and NGOs, Senator Ibrahim Yahaya said; “We want to see how we can better implement the existing protocols and laws as it relates to clearing charitable items at Nigerian ports. We want to deploy technology to make things faster and we also want to review areas that require legislative intervention in terms of new laws.”
He asserted that the most important and immediate approach would be to have SOPs that would put together the best processes and create ease in the procedure.
“We need to create an interim alternative to address the current emergencies we have in the country to get charitable items swiftly delivered to areas of conflict in the North East and the North West,” he said.
He also called for an attitudinal change by all operators and business persons in the supply chain as it affects import of charitable items, admonishing them to ensure that the trend of delays in charitable items is corrected.
Speaking on behalf of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the Zonal Coordinator Zone A, ACG Kaycee Ekekezie stressed that the issue was critical because import waivers on charitable items have been misused and abused not just by businessmen but also by some non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations.
According to her, the Customs have been shocked to find business persons hide under NGOs to import high duty accessories for sale, yet disguised as charitable items.
“Improper documentation has also been a major problem. NGOs must get the required documents outlined by the Ministry of Finance before they approach the Customs. Corrupt practices by importers and various port officials have also affected this process”, she said.
She stressed that there must be more awareness on the procedures to bring in charitable items so that genuine NGOs don’t run into frivolous challenges that lead to delays.
Whilst stressing that Customs is very insistent on documentation, she said that the challenges associated with import of charitable items would be easily eradicated if all hands are on deck to address the bottlenecks.
“The NGOs as well as the government agencies should all know what is expected of them at every level,” she said
Present at the event include; representatives of NPA, Customs, CRFFN SCUML, INGO, NAFDAC, SON, among others.
Highpoint of the event was the setting up of committee of SOP to harmonise all the submissions at the deliberation. The committee set up to constitute the SOPs include representatives from the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, NSC, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Customs, Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Shipping Association of Nigeria (SAN), Special Security Unit Against Money Laundering (SCUML), Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) Nigerian INGO Forum, the SA to Deputy Senate President on NGOs and the Director-General, African Centre for Supply Chain, Dr. Obiora Madu