By Ojo Mayowa
Speaking recently in an interview on the ICT modernisation programme of the Nigeria Customs Service, the CEO of Techno Brain West Blue, Ms Valentina Mintah, the technology partner of Nigeria Customs Service stated, “It is of real pride to have an African Customs administration trail blazing in the area of technology innovations with simple, effective solutions such as the Nigeria Trade Hub. This demonstrates what can be achieved with the vision and drive of industry leaders such as the Comptroller General of Customs DikkoAbdullahi Inde; empowerment and capacity building of local workforce and the advancement of ICT in the region. We are certainly excited by the ICT potential in the Africa region.”
Trade facilitation initiatives benefit both the business community and governments. The business community benefits by obtaining enhanced competitiveness in national and international markets due to reduction in delays and costs which are achieved with predictable and efficient movement of goods across borders. National administrations are able to utilize modern procedures to enhance controls, ensure proper collection of revenues due and at the same time contribute to the economic development through increased trade and encouragement of foreign investment. Thus the need for the Nigeria Customs Service as a significant member of the World Customs Organization created a safe landing for efficient controls and better trade facilitation which has brought about increased revenues accruing to the Governments. These revenues contribute significantly to the programmes aimed at increasing the social and economic well-being of the Nigeria citizenry as a whole.
It is no longer a gainsaying, that ICT is not just an enabler in the business and corporate organizations, it is now a game changer, in transforming today’s e-trading, which has increasingly enveloped various aspects of our daily lives like work, business, teaching, learning, leisure and health just to mention just a few.
Currently, the transformational drive undertaken by the Nigeria Customs Service under the auspices of the Comptroller General of Customs and other international organizations including the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Bank, the World Customs Organization (WCO), the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the European Union, cannot be over emphasized.
Perhaps the recognition of effectiveness of ICT as a key strategic business tool combined with efficient processes, a capable workforce and a legal framework that has gained acceptability amongst nations to aid trade facilitation, is what the Nigeria Customs Service has effectively leveraged, to modernize and galvanize its operational activities to meet the World Customs Organization (WCO) recommendations.
Recognising that ICT is an enabler and not a driver of modernisation efforts, the Comptroller General of Customs as part of his Six Point Agenda has focused on other key areas to assist with the Vision Realisation. A typical example is the comprehensive capacity building programmes adopted by the Service. In order to meet the present global challenges, the CGC has organised various training programmes in both domain and technology within and outside the country, which covers all ranks in the Service. Achievements in this area includes the creation of key customs and trade facilitation skills in officers of the Service to international standards.
The results of the modernisation journey of the Nigeria Customs Service includes the mammoth feat of ending the pre shipment and destination inspection era, an approach heralded and promoted by the WCO to its member countries. This regime where Customs functions were contracted out by the Federal Government to Service Providers eight years ago, placed the service on a very low pedestal making the Nigeria Customs Service Leadership seek a new drive and approach to its Modernization Efforts as part of Mr Presidents Transformation agenda in the Country. The Nigeria Customs Service following the successful takeover of these core functions from the Destination Inspection Service Providers has since saved the Treasury an estimated two billion four hundred and six million dollars paid out over the last 8 years of this regime to the foreign service providers.
The destination inspection programme and the associated ICT provision was initially designed to allow quick clearance of cargo and facilitate trade, which in turn would allow the Nigeria Customs Service, deal with various stakeholders electronically whilst managing risk. The ensuing results in view of the very poor Return on Investment and Value for Money were not in keeping with the Six point Agenda of the Customs Comptroller General within that period and neither did this assist with improving Nigeria’s position in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Trading Across Borders ranking. If anything, the ranking of Nigeria plummeted during this period. Despite the colossal amounts of money spent by the Federal Government on this initiative, the ICT platform provided has been fraught with obsolete equipment and frequent server break downs over long periods bringing about congestion in the ports and huge financial losses to traders and the government alike, defeating the main objective of the programme.
The international supply chain requires goods to cross borders promptly and predictably. Unnecessary delays at borders increase trade costs, erode the competitiveness of traders, and damage the international supply chain. In addition, the rise in the express cargo industry requires swift release of time-sensitive goods at borders. The needs of modern international business models exert pressure on Customs to process goods effectively and efficiently to minimize delays at borders, whilst securing the nation’s borders, a need recognised and embraced by the Nigeria Customs Service in the bid to be recognised as a Service Oriented agency – one of the visions of the Comptroller General of Customs. “The development of paperless customs systems according to the Comptroller General is seen as the crucial starting point for any country to influence the growth of e-commerce and thereby improve economic performance. The spread of ICT is an opportunity for customs administrations to strengthen their positions as the vanguard of strategic developments in all countries. The vision is now to create a truly National Single Window environment with optimised processes.”
With new border rules and measures, world merchandise trade is more complicated than in the past. A number of trade measures were recently introduced under the WTO/GATT rules. Recent proliferation of RTAs and EPZs adds further complexity to goods in terms of the geographic characteristics of international trade. Growing concerns regarding key Customs enforcement areas, such as drug enforcement; security; health and safety, IPRs and the environment also resulted in new border rules and measures not only in importing countries but also in exporting countries. Nigeria Customs Service is fully attuned with the ever changing dynamics of the international trade domain and in line with the recent WTO recommendations, the next phase of the Nigeria Customs Service modernisation activities following the successful takeover from the Destination Inspection Service Providers will focus on creating a National Single Window environment, by focussing on an approach of Stakeholder Engagement, Business Process and Data Harmonisation, Legal Framework, Change Management and finally the adoption of efficient ICT tools, to reduce the time and cost of doing international trade business in Nigeria in line with the Transformation Agenda of Mr President. Concluded
Ojo Mayowa is a media consultant and an associate of APCON