January 29, 2023

Customs Server Breakdown: Freight Forwarder Accuse Web Fontane Of Sabotage

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*APFFLON calls for termination of Web Fontane’s contract
*Customs in high level meeting
* Seeks terminal operators understanding on demurrage

By Frank Odinukaeze

Following the breakdown of the Nigerian Customs Service ( NCS), Server for over one week ,and which has paralyzed operations at the ports with mounting demurrage,freight forwarders have accused Web Fontane,the NCS service provider of sabotage.
President of Africa Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria,( APFFLON) Otunba Frank Ogunojemite, in a press statement described the server breakdown as a sabotage against the freight forwarders and the importers.
Meanwhile the Public Relations Officer of the Police Community Relations Committee,PCRC),RoRo Tin Can Island Port,Elder Samuel Chuks Onyekuru(Sam Bosco) has stated that the breakdown of the customs Server for one week running is a sabotage against not only the freight forwarders,but also the Nigerian Customs Service.
He noted that there is a conspiracy theory by the Web Fontane to discredit the NCS as being incapable of managing the ICT of the service,thereby elongating their contract with the Federal Government.
He noted that at the end of the day,”It is the agent or the importer that would bear the brunt of demurrage of either the incompetence of the Web Fontane or the Customs” he said
Consequently,the APFFLON,in the press statement signed by its National President ,Otunba Frank Ogunojemite, called  on”The Federal Government to either sack the Nigeria Customs Internet Provider, Messrs. Webb Fontane for gross incompetence and for jeopardizing its policy on Ease of Doing Business ( EDB),or urgently provide an alternative so as to bring to an end this national embarrassment.
For the overall interest of the nation. The presidency and the National Assembly should make haste to address this avoidable economic sabotage ” it said.

Ogunojemite noted that with the total shutdown of Customs server for over a week now, clearing agents and their importers have been trying so hard to stay in business coupled with the 90% increase in Customs duty which has brought the industry and by extension, the national economy to its knees.
Part of the statement reads; ” The most worrisome part of it is that Shipping companies and terminal operators will still insist on collecting their charges to the last kobo without considering the unfortunate situation.

” It’s s high time we called upon the Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shipper’s Council (NSC), Chairman, CRFFN and Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to rise up and let’s address this unpalatable situation. And we continue to ask, why is such case Perculiar to Nigeria, why ? Stakeholders must come together to address this issue once and for all as we suggest that the Federal Government engages another internet service provider to backup Messrs Webb Fontane to guarantee consistency.

“As a matter of urgency, APFFLON is calling upon the Chairman, Governing Board of Council for Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria -CRFFN, Alhaji Abubakar Tsanni, to meet with relevant stakeholders and deliberate on this issue so as to forestall possible breakdown of law and order in the industry. Enough is enough, we can’t continue folding our hands while Webb Fontane keeps sabotaging our national economy, something urgently needs to be done”
Otunba Ogunojemite further added,” We hereby appeal to all the associations in this very profession to officially notify shipping Companies and terminal operators of the appalling situation therein appealing for waiver for all members.

“APFFLON is using this opportunity to plead to all shipping companies and terminal owners to look into the current situation and use their good offices to grant waivers to importers and their agents so as to reduce the heavy financial burden being hauled on them due to Customs server breakdown.

“And to professional colleagues and leaders, you are thereby expected to play a professional role by informing your importers about the current situation, they need to be carried along to avoid misinformation from wrong quarters”
In an interview with the Public Relations Officer of Customs Zonal Headquarters,Zone ‘A’, Harvey Road ,Yaba,Chief Superintendent of Customs(CSC) Uche Ejisieme, dismissed the suggestions of sabotage on the part of Web Fontane.He said when issues like this arises, people are bound to reason along different lines.
” Naturally, when situation comes up like this, people are bound to express divergent opinions on that. But for us, we cannot actually apportion blames for now, because I do not think we have any basis to now want to apportion blames. What I know is that anything technology cannot be hundred percent. That is why in some climes of automation, they still create room for manual operations, peradventure this fails. But we are not envisaging any kind of sabotage or incompetence on the part of customs, because as we speak, the customs you know as of today, is now different from customs you know years back”he said.

The Zonal headquarters Harvey Road image maker who spoke from Abuja stated that all the Area Comptrollers whose commands are affected are currently in Abuja .
CSC Ejisieme noted that as son as the issue arose ,the Headquarters was alerted and the Headquarters quickly alerted the service provider,We Fontane.
“As soon as this matter was reported by the respective Area controllers, it was escalated to HQS here and the HQS has also escalated to the service providers by way of trying to mount pressure on them because the situation has the tendency of seriously affecting us in terms of revenue,an also in terms of the inconveniences being experienced by traders in the value chain” he said
According to him what happened is not any deliberate act, it is what happens with technology.
“Once in a while, you experience breakdown. Even though some people might be arguing that. at the end of the day , the freight forwarders or their importers are the ones that will bear the brunt. But if you look at it very critically, this revenue is very, very germaine to our operations. And we are even more worried than anybody” he said,adding that,
” Even yesterday, in Abuja I physically saw when some controllers were are also discussing it with the appropriate authorities”
He assured that the customs high command are working round the clock to restore and resolve the issue
“But the assurance is that we are doing everything possible to make sure that these challenges are sorted out by the appropriate person s ‘ he assured.

CSC Ejiseme informed that the NCS has stopped up in its drive for full automation.
” We have gone so far in the areas of full automation . We are also nearing full automation of our processes,
and procedures,just to make things very easy for people that operate in the value chain.We have gone ahead over some agencies, even some parastatals of government,to make sure that we are in tune with global best practices” he said
He said customs have been trained for this non intrusive inspection, stressing that scanning now,is called non intrusive inspection, because they needed to make clear difference between scanners that scan paper and also the scanner that scans goods.
” Scanning as word of English,is commonly associated with documents.Now they have given it a new name ; non intrusive technology or non intrusive inspection.We have trained officers both at the Headquarters and command levels ,who are eminently qualified to handle any level of technology that might be associated with scanning operations.And this is why I said earlier on that that the customs of now is different from the customs you used to know.A lot of this people have been well trained and certified.And those of them who are certified, can also certify person’s all over the world, to tell you the level the service has gone.So, we are not leaving any stone unturned .
” The Comptroller General of Customs,and the management,are not resting on the oars or leaving any stone unturned, because as I said earlier, anything that touches the nose , directly affects the eyes.So,let’s disabuse our minds from any sabotage.Customs are well trained .I can assure you authoritatively that the level of trainings ,and the level of man- power skills that are being encompassed ,with regard to automation ,general ICT,is unprecedented.We have officers that are well skilled,who can actually compete with the best any where in the world,in terms of ICT and Technology” he said.
He said very soon,customs will roll out full automation.
“And by the time we do that,you will now see the kind of edge i’ m talking about.
CSC Ejiseme stated that why the customs sympathize with the agents ,it also notes that the current situation has multiplier or spiral effect , particularly with demurrage as this cannot be overemphasized
He said that the Customs has no control over the terminal operators in terms of demurrage waivers ,but noted the the Service will continue to have discussions with them. “However,you also know that Customs actually has no control over the terminal operators.But we will continue to engage them in discussions.Most of the Area Comptrollers are always having meetings with stakeholders to cross- fertilize ideas on how to ameliorate some of the challenges.
So the terminal operators are aware that challenges of this nature will always come ,in terms of demurrage and all that.And I remember the last time ,Five Star Logistics,for instance,gave a lot of waiver.So we expect that the terminal operators who also understand the situation ,that it is not actually the fault of the freight forwarders,need to do something to at least shift some grounds in ameliorating the challenge” he stated.

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