Interviews

INTERVIEW: I’m Test Running 24 Hour Operation at Tin Can Port – Nnadi

Barely two months of assuming office as Customs Area Controller of Tin Can Island Port, Nigeria’s second largest maritime facility, Dera Anselm Nnadi told reporters about noticeable changes achieved under his watch.

He disclosed that the command hit N7.6b daily collection recently, surpassing the N3.2b daily target set for it by the federal government.

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He explained that improved human relations backed by a renewed culture of punctuality have influenced the increase in compliance level by port users at Tin Can

Ismail Aniemu participated in the interview session

Q:We congratulate you on your appointment as Customs Area Controller of Tin Can Island Port. Coming from Seme Border, tell us how this sits with you

 

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Sometimes, I find it funny that someone should be congratulated for being sent to do his job.However, I understand the sentiment that you expressed, considering that Zone A of Nigeria Customs has contributed over 70% to Customs revenue and knowing that Tincan it is actually right to contribute the second highest revenue for Nigeria Customs Service in the country.

 

My being posted here, I should say is a measure of confidence in my ability by the headship by of Nigeria Customs Service. However, that does not mean that I am being sent here to be congratulated.I am sent here to work but I like the fact that I can be trusted enough by the hierarchy of Customs because we carry out responsibilities on behalf of Nigerians.For that reason, I can say that your congratulations is in order.

Beyond that, this is actually work in progress.We are here to work.

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Q: At Seme Border you made impact in revenue. Has there been any change since you assumed office here in Tin Can

 

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Let me start from Seme.Before I left, we were able to surpass our target by 120 percent.We did not do anything differently aside encouraging our officers, motivating them, seeking the understanding of stakeholders, bringing them on board and making them realize that the border closure was over and encouraging them to pack their bags and baggages and come back to start work.

Like I said, it is about interaction, human interface, being empathic to their pains that they are coming out from a closed border for three years.We did not do anything spectacular except encouraging the people to have confidence in their environment.

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Coming to Tincan Port, let me correct something. The revenue target that we surpassed was from that very day we got here.The target given to us on daily basis was N3,300,000,000.But on that particular day, we collected N5, 200,000,000 .

People were excited because for a very long time, that did not happen.But beyond that, last week Friday we were able to collect N7,600,000,000 in one day.Yesterday, we were able to collect N4,200,000,000.We are making progress towards increase in our revenue generation.

It is not just attached to one effort or one thing.We have been able to motivate and talk to Officers to realize that so much is expected from us in reciprocating what management of Customs has done. So much confidence is reposed on us and high productivity is expected from us.

Don’t forget that revenue generation is a function of Cargo Trade.It depends on how much cargo that have been around .In recent time, the volume of Cargo coming in has dropped.What we are doing is a few has been able to come into the country.We blocked the usual route for revenue leakages

Q:What are those loop holes you blocked?

There are some infractions that are so obvious and we just have to trace them.Issues of under valuation and concealment of high duty paying items.

 

All that we have done is to insist that proper examination should be done when such items have been identified.They should be given notice to go and pay for the accurate duty.

We have been seeking the understanding of stakeholders on why they have to go and pay considering the status of the Nigerian economy.Maybe because I am their own boy,having been here before and having been their friend.Their compliance level is increasing.

Another thing we did is to make them know that payment of duty is not the same thing as compliance.If you are supposed to pay duty of N1b , and you pay N700m, yes you paid duty but that does not mean you have complied . We try as much as possible to encourage them to do compliance.

It is paying at the correct rate ;It is declaring the correct quantity of what you have in your container.For vehicles, it is paying according to the actual Ex Factory price of the manufacturer.This are what we have come to address .

Another thing that we have also done upon resumption is addressing old issues about resumption time that we were battling with. People resuming to work within the maritime system at 10am or 11am was still subsisting and I said that is unacceptable.

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To change that, I have to lead by example and I offered to come to work by 8am.If the agents come to complain, I ask them when they resumed work for the day and when they started cargo examination.

Before now there was an agreement that cargo examination should start by 10 am and I said no.Let us come by 8am, tidy up our offices and at least start one hour ahead.I insisted on it but they said no, 8am is too early, let’s start by 9am.Some of the encumberances we used to have that make people come late like the blockage of the access roads to the port have been cleared.

It is to a great extent, not 100% but, we have achieved at least 70% free movement within the port corridor at least from Ijora end.What excuse do they have for coming late to work? I have been saying this. People just come to work by 8am, food sellers come to work by 8am, officers and other government agencies by 8am.Before now, they felt it was just normal for them to come by 10am.

In the supply chain, for example if a food seller comes by 8am and those that will buy the food doesn’t come or if customs come by 8am and the agents come by 10am or vice versa, it becomes an issue and we addressed that.

Another thing we did was to build the confidence of the importers who value their time . Particularly those who import homogeneous products.Somebody will import about 50 containers on the same bill of laden and they are homogeneous. Maybe you have imported camera.They are all cameras of the same size , brand, quality, quantity and value.If you insist on examining the entire 50 containers and you don’t release one until you examine the entire 50 ,I asked if we can find a way to randomly select 10 or 15 and examine them .If we confirm that all the items are the same and the appropriate duty has been paid, can we release the remaining 40 after breaking the seal?

If in the course of examination we find out that there are infringement, we will have reasons to examine the rest. When nothing wrong has been found, they can go if they are homogeneous.I am not saying if you bring containers of different items and put on the same bill of laden you will go, no.For instance, POP cement.If we have 50 containers of POP cement and they are not from a source country but from a country where we know that there will be no drug issue or arms issues and we randomly select , why can’t we allow them to go?

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After our examination and we find nothing incriminating, we can allow them to go so that that way, we will ease space in the port.One reason why we have to do that is the cargo dropping space

for examination of 220 containers daily.We can have some people that will have POP cement up to 200 containers on two bill of lading.Should they request for examination and you drop the 200 containers for them at once?

That means the rest of the port users who want their containers also dropped, will not have space for that day.Should we refuse to drop the 200 containers and drop 30 for the day, giving room for others? It means the man has to wait for you, for about 10 days when we have spread a number of containers he has before he can go.Are we not negating the concept of 48 hours cargo clearance which we have been discussing since 2006 to our general embarrassment?

Q: Can’t we achieve less than 48 hours through some of these successes?

We also introduced Saturday and Sunday operation.I said people should come to work for examination on Saturdays and Sundays.Just to also assist in easing up the systems.These things restored the confidence of the stakeholders and they decided to come.When people talk about competitiveness in a system because I have seen agencies that have come to say your push for revenue drive will make people run to other commands .Now, wherever you go, the most important thing is that you pay revenue to Nigeria Customs Service.I don’t really care who receives the revenue.My own competitiveness is achored on service delivery.

If I am able to give customers satisfaction, to the numerous clearing agencies and importers that have passed through this place, I am happy and that is what will bring them not by asking them to pay less duty and that is what every trader wants .That is what every business man wants; Sevice delivery.I will rather save somebody two days in the port in order not to pay demurrage than to allow him stay in the port for two months and pay demmurage.

If I am able to achieve that delivery which is what we are doing right now, people are willing to patronize the place and pay their duty.That is the magic that we have adopted.I have also spoken to my officers that they should there be any delay on their part, they have me to contend with.They have luckily come in tune with everything that I have preached and they are practicing it.

Q:Your resolution is very evident and obvious even as we speak.We can feel how much you are driving this.You mentioned that when you start work.Yesterday, around 10pm, you were still at the office.Is it also deliberate?

It is not something to celebrate that people leave office very late.But considering the peculiarity of our environment, sometimes, it is desirable that we do that . Since I resumed here, I have never left this office anything earlier than 10pm.I am not celebrating or advertising it

Q: How have you encouraged your staff to do it without grumbling?

They don’t have to grumble because I am leading them by example.Some of them are also copying me in doing that. They cannot abandon me in the office and leave if I am here.That does not mean that I am punishing them.I am doing that because we have volumes of documents.

As much as we are preaching electronic relationship between us and stakeholders, most of the things we do here is still manual and that is why the trade modernisation project of Customs is so desirable to my heart. I can’t wait for it to kick off fully.We sit down and sign documents, we attend meetings and one thing that I have adopted is that I don’t want any of the documents to remain on my table overnight.Anything that comes to my table must be signed and delivered out of my table before I go home.That is what I am doing.I am also here to listen to complaints from stakeholders.

Do not forget that when I was in enforcement, we work at any point in time.It means ship can come at 2am , we must board the vessel.A vessel can say they have finished loading outward, we must board that vessel, no matter the time.Somebody may load his container and want to go which requires our input. We were always around .

I asked myself that if I can discharge containers 24 hours in the port, why can’t I also deliver containers out of the ports for 24 hours. That is why I have chosen to gradually experiment with the idea of us operating here 24 hours.

Starting by the number of hours I was already spending in the office. I was lucky.Last week, the NDLEA invited us for a meeting.Stakeholders comprising customs representatives and freight forwarders, Shipping companies.At that meeting, I asked the same question.I said if we can discharge containers into the ports 24 hours.Why can’t we operate 24 hours cargo delivery from the ports?

I will let the NDLEA know that there are encumberances to this based on the experience I am having right now.We need. light, security, access roads that is good and they also admitted that there is need for us to do what I suggested.I still reminded them that we need banks to work.

There are people that told me that banks do not work during the weekends and I asked them that at the airport,if you want to buy ticket to travel on Saturday, don’t they pay to banks?To travel on Sunday, don’t we pay? If you go to the airport and you want to buy ticket by 9pm and as flight, don’t you buy the ticket? Bringing in further, at the international airport, don’t flights arrive by 2am and officers will clear them? If you want to pay duty, they rush to

first at the airport or to any nearby bank and pay? If we can achieve that in those environments, who says we can not do it here?
In other words, it is a collective thing everybody must do?
It is a collective thing that the entire industry must address for us to achieve.I have started it. Let’s others also embrace it.Those that need to provide security should provide it along the port corridor.Those that need to provide light should provide light along the port corridor.Food vendors should come in the night and sell food to those that will come and work here.Banks should also learn to provide apps even if they do not come physically to work.They should provide apps that will make people transact business with them even when they are not there.People can now pay duty even when they can not be there physically and it is available. if everyone of us can do transaction worth more than 5-10 million Naira from our phones, life is easy now.Why can’t they come on Saturdays to work? Like freight forwarders, this habit of devoting Saturdays for ‘owambe’ should stop

Let those in other sectors do that but for those of us that operate 24 hours here in the port because of this set of cargoes, we must discharge the concept of ‘Owambe’ on Saturdays in our ports.People should come to work on Saturdays and Sundays.

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Q: You did not tell us if the terminal operators are willing to position their containers any time of day. For now , we hear it’s only one of them that is operating seamlessly in terms of positioning for examination

We don’t have issues with positioning containers.They have already adopted the concept and they are in partnership with me.

That is what I said about service delivery.If it is being done in one terminal, that is a starting point. Other terminals are going to do it.They don’t have a choice.Otherwise, they will lose customers.Let me start with those who are willing to embrace the reform and rebranding.Others will have to toe the line.That is about competitiveness.

Q:How does your command work in conjunction with the headquarters to flag those source countries for illicit importation like drugs and to ensure that subsequently, illegal and unapproved consignments don’t get into this area?

Every Customs environment all over the world is a supply chain.There are levels of risk management in every Customs environment, not just in Nigeria Customs Service.That is why sometimes we hear about multiple checks and alerts.

It is because I have said this severally under different forums, we cannot legislate people’s character.Nobody is saying that 100% of everyone in the port industry is innocent.If we claim that they are innocent, then there is no reason for me to be here.I am here because I have to checkmate something.

There is a zonal office to also checkmate me.There is federal operations to checkmate what leaves the port. There are also different desks officers to checkmate what we do.We have the investigation unit also.These things are put in place to ensure that the right thing is done at any point in time and at every level.

However, we have some international organizations that partner with us.Beside them, we have local organizations.I just saw NAFDAC working here to share intelligence with me.NDLEA, SON does the same thing.Recently , Police were making intervention directly .We have reached agreement with them.We have sought their understanding and they agreed with me after explaining to them.We can actually seek this same intelligence through their office without doing it directly to the detriment of port operation.

We share intelligence.We also have intelligence that we share with INTERPOL. When we returned some vehicles to INTERPOL, what was the intelligence shared? We share intelligence with some source countries and from where illicit drugs may come.Sometimes they come to suspect some particular container , and we intercept such.Some of these things are readily available and because we don’t put them to the press and they ask questions, people don’t know.

Like I have always said, getting trade facilitation and compliance together is one of the greatest challenges of every customs administration in Nigeria.How do you facilitate trade when you are not complaint? because there are still people that do not want to comply.It is not written on their faces.They want to circumvent the law to make money.

It is always a difficult challenge for every Customs administration to get trade facilitation alongside compliance.That is when we see some levels of protest.Just last week, some people were protesting that we have increased duty rate.Nigeria Customs Service did not increase duty rate, the only thing that increased was the exchange rate which is the beyond Customs management. Remember we reacted to monetary policy and what is it?.If you are importing a container at the rate of $10,000 , it remains $10,000.If you are paying duty at 20 percent, it remains 20%.

People were now undervaluing what they were declaring as the value of their cargo to accommodate what they were doing before.We said they should still pay what they were paying but they have forgotten that these things were in the system.The moment you make your declaration that you are bringing a camera and you are payingN4,000,000 for that camera, based on the value of $10,000 If you bring the same camera in September where exchange rate is now N770 and you still want to pay N4,000,000 that means you have devalued the value of the camera to about $3,000 and we are saying no, that we should take it back to what it used to be because they are still buying from wherever they bought it.The same value gives us your real invoice.That is all we have been able to achieve.

The protest was needless. The CGC said during his last visit that we should optimize export so that we will get more dollars in order for the pressure on Naira to ease so that exchange rate differential will drop.Once we do that, if it drops, what you are paying will also drop . Because nothing has changed.The rate of duty remains the same.

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Q: Even with procurement of scanners, Is your examination still 100% physical?

This is a very pertinent question for me.Nigerians will always clamour for non intrusive cargo examination .It is perfect and I go for it.I want every cargo in Nigeria scanned.That is the way to go about it.That is a global practice.

However, it is subject to the integrity of the cargo itself.If you declare 100% of what you have in the container, scanning becomes a perfect example of cargo examination.If you have items A,B,C in your container and you say you have only item A, and we scan we will resort back to physical examination and know what those items are .

It negates the entire principle of non intrusive cargoes and machine.Whether you came for physical examination or non intrusive, which is scanning.The most important is cargo integrity.Are you declaring the right thing? Is it what you said is inside your container that is truly inside it? Otherwise, scanning becomes a double examination.

If I examine your container where you said you have camera and we see camera, tripod, microphone.I will drop that container for physical examination and it becomes double examination.Most of our cargoes still go for physical not because we chose but because the system chooses that because of the the risk level which is that majority of the items are not homogeneous and they are not declared as per what is actually inside the container.Then we go physically.

The best way to address this issue is to encourage Nigerians to increase the integrity of what they are importing.Not to import 2 or 3 items in a container and say they have only one . Otherwise, we will remain where we are.

Q:Before now, we heard issues like when you go to Apapa the duty is different and when you go to Tincan, the duy is different.Is it that people have different tariffs there or what really happened?

I have not heard about discrepancy in duty payment.What I know is the issue of transparency which is the first thing.There should be flexibility, objectivity and standardization. If these four items that I have mentioned which are under the WCO convention are adhered to as a custom administration for which our clients,the freight forwarders and importers are supposed to adhere to, things will work uniformly.

Transparency belongs to them mainly.The other three belongs to me.For me to achieve creditability, standardization, credibility, the cargo itself should be transparent.The declaration should be transparent.That is where transparency also comes in.

If you say there is no standardization, standard operational procedure after the three different procedures. Go and check the integrity of the cargo if it is transparent.

Q: What’s do you think is our level of preparedness for AfCFTA

 

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Nigerians are so scared about African Continental Free Trade Agreement.The hype is so much yet the anxiety is much more than the hype.It is so because of the same reasons we have been discussing here. We are afraid of competitiveness.Nigerians are scared of competing within the sub-region and within the continent itself.

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Are we prepared for African Continental Free Trade Agreement? I will say that we are prepared. The structure is already there.I said so because we are only practicing ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme which is a pseudo AfCFTA within the sub-region.Other sub-regions in south Africa, East Africa are already having one.Even within the french countries of West Africa ,they have theirs.

The question now is have you maximized the gains of ETLS? At least you will start from one step before you get to 20 steps.Have you gotten it right under the ETLS? I will say to some extent and not a large extent.I said so because trade within Africa under ETLS is about 12%. Within other African countries and regional blocks, some were trading within as high as 30%.Some are as high as 40% and 20% .The least is 20% before our ECOWAS reduced it to 12%.Who is ECOWAS biggest Trade player ? It is Nigeria .Of over 250 million people in West Africa, Nigeria alone has the population of 210 million people.That means ECOWAS Trade is actually trade about Nigeria.

If you ask me, I will say we are a bit prepared but not fully and that is why I also said that we should improve our infrastructure.Is Seme road optimized for trade for ACFTA?If you travel from Lagos to Cotonou which I did several times when I was serving in Seme up to Core D’Voire border you won’t see any pothole but from Agbara to Seme, you see many.

Although I commend the Federal Government for the effort they are making on that road .Some of us know that about 3-4 years ago, that road was almost impossible to pass through and now , it is only the region between Agbara and Ibereko that is very bad even though efforts is being made to repair it but the better portion of that road is a bit okay. That does not mean that it is as good as what we have across the border.A lot of what we should be addressing for ACFTA is infrastructure.Remember that I said something earlier in this interview about light and security. But we can see that there is security along that place, considering the number of check points we have around.Talking about light and other things. If I have a trailer across that road and there is a breakdown ,do I have a facility that can fix it immediately for me? If I am traveling and it is late in the night that and I need to sleep.Do I have facilities along that corridor that I can use? If somebody is sick ,is there vehicle of emergency that can be provided for that person along that corridor? These are some of the things that we need to be addressed before ACFTA takes off. It is not just about addressing issues of trade.Our tariff is still upgrading.Our personnel have been trained.Just last week or two weeks ago, we were in Apapa discussing issues of origin on how to categories goods under ACFTA to know which ones are coming from Nigeria, South Africa, Morocco and anywhere that are really made in Africa because that is where the challenge lies to avoid.. where somebody signs an agreement gets good from third countries or third continents, have them inside Africa and in transporting to other countries without payment of duty as expected under ACFTA.We are trying to address that through some several capacity building

Q: Talking about first hundred days in office, a few persons in the port have said CGC Adewale Adeniyi has not achieved anything spectacular and not much has been done under his watch. What’s your reaction to this?

 

I will be surprised if somebody says not much has been achieved in the first 100 days of the Comptroller General of Customs. Being a serious stakeholder engager, one of the first things that we’ve achieved is engaging the rest of the stakeholders. I’m surprised that people still think that customs is going to work in silos. That’s very wrong.

Nigeria Customs Service is responsible for over 80% of activities that happen in our national economy. Practically speaking, government agencies like Ministry of Finance, Budget and Economic Planning, Ministry of Trade and Investment, whereas Federal Government, for example, come out with policies on economic development, who implements those policies?

As a customs administration, we cannot just sit in one place and talk to documents. No. We have to talk to our major stakeholders, who are Nigerians, who are major players, whom our activities impact on, either negatively or positively.

The second one is to restore the confidence of customs officers who have been under the leadership of a non-customs officer, who, to his credit, also did so much to develop our capacity, develop our environment. So, that’s a transition period. And people expect that you just wake up one morning and then you announce, boom, revenue is now 100%.

Don’t forget that we are also being affected by other economic policies in the country. Take, for instance, Nigerian customs service is being affected now by the exchange rates.
Cargo throughput has gone down and the same CG is managing it effectively. Our trade modernization project is an ongoing process. We have partners in the system that we are partnering with to continue to maintain the project. Officers are still being trained just next week they are going to attend promotion examination. So, the system didn’t shut down.
100 days is just a creation by Nigerians. Because in a dynamic environment like the port industry, you don’t use 100 days to assess somebody. You use every day. And so long as this system is still working and loading and revenue is being collected, of course, the CG of customs is performing through the area controllers and zonal offices.

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Taking my own command, for instance, yes, I’ve said the same thing when I reported here on the 14th. Our revenue collection was at 58%. As of yesterday, it was at 62.8%. So, there’s a lot of improvements that we are making. I was worried when I addressed to people before. I said, how do I achieve maximum collection of my target in three months when I’m supposed to collect 42% in three months? Now, we’ve brought it down to 37.4% to be collected in three months. That means we are making progress
I want to believe that, well, before the end of the year, we will be able to meet up with the 37% of total revenue left to be collectedand then surpass it. That’s an achievement. That’s an achievement replicated all over.
But specifically, this is a man that just launched Authororised Economic Operator (AEO) for compliabt traders. He has revived the fast track. These are indices that are going to help manufacturers to produce more. We have optimized our free trade zones. These are foundations for economic
development.

During his last visit to Lagos, he emphasized the need for us to optimize exports. That is what people should count on. Not ceremonies. Not blowing the wind. That’s not what we’re talking about. Adeniyi is laying a foundation for the development of the Nigerian economy. For a sustainable future and that’s what we’re doing with him at the command level

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