The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS)on Wednesday expressed its displeasure over the rotting of three calibre mobile scanning machines worth millions of Naira at the TinCan and Apapa Ports and urged the National Assembly to assist in ensuring that the machines are installed for use at the ports.
A Comptroller of Customs, Mohammed Abba-Kura, gave this hint told the House of Representatives Committee members during their oversight visit to the Command that the scanners, which were being managed by a foreign company – Cotecna – were abandoned following the revocation of the firm’s contract by government and subsequent re-award to an indigenous company – Global Scan, owned by Emeka Offor.
Abba-Kura, who is also Comptroller of the Apapa Area Command, told the lawmakers that “Smiths Hiemann 2533 HCV machines which were and managed by a foreign company known as Cotecna have not been put to use since 2015 when the contract involving the company was revoked.
The contract involving Cotecna was revoked and re-awarded to a Nigerian company known as Global Scan owned by Sir Emeka Offor.”
The top Customs officer maintained that “the company lacked the technical capacity to manage the scanners, even the CIR issued by the company was the worst, the Customs, has ever worked with”, alleging that “the issue of politics was brought into the scanning.
“Even the contract with the service providers, for so many years, Nigeria Customs Service was not part of it. If you want to do a project, you must bring stakeholders to be part of that project, because once they are part of it, it will be a success story and a win, win situation.
“These contracts are normally signed and brought down the throat of the Customs to implement. Before destination inspection, from 1978 when we were doing pre-shipment, we were never part of it. The contract will either be signed from the mother Ministry or somewhere in the Executive.
“In fact, the service fought seriously to even collect some of the aspects these service providers were handling such as taking over the scanning machines. Even in the agreement, the service providers need to train Customs officers on all aspects.
“Cotecna is one of the service providers that did very well. They were the ones that installed the fixed scanners and mobile scanners in both TinCan and Apapa ports and they did very well managing them and a lot of officers were trained. Many of us benefited from that training”, Abba-Kura added.
He told the lawmakers that some of NCS officers were privileged to be taken abroad to visit some other ports and maintained the fixed scanners at the Apapa Port were more advanced than the ones in other foreign ports.
According to him, if the scanners are functioning, the Service will reduce man-hour sent on examination, generate more revenue and discover so many things that are prohibited.
While lamenting that there is nothing the Customs Service and its officers can do right now because there are laws that must be followed, Abba-Kura pointed out that “if money is budgeted and not released, you should be able to know why the money was not released and whoever is responsible should be sanctioned so that others should sit up and do things properly.”
On enquiries by the lawmakers on the cost of the machines, the Comptroller said “to be honest, I don’t know the cost. But I know it is really very expensive. But since it is going to secure the country and will lead to more generation of revenue which will equally translate to more development in the country, I think the government should go the whole hug and get scanning machines for us to work.
“The machines are meant to serve two purposes. One is to generate revenue and the other being security. If the consignment is examined non-intrusively, whatever is inside the container can be seen, the proper assessment will be done and more revenue will be generated.”
Worried by the sordid state of the assets at the port, members of the Committee expressed their displeasure over it and the Vice-Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Leke Abejide, who led the technical Committee on the visit, said the House would thoroughly investigate the deplorable state of the machines and advise the government on the best way forward.
He assured: “We have just gone round to see both the mobile and fixed scanning machines. They are in a moribund stage. Nothing is happening there. From what we heard, there are three levels which there were supposed to be trained in. but those that installed them trained them in only one level of maintenance.
“There is the need for us to investigate deeply into the activities of the era of scanning and see how we can come up with a solution to help the system so that their job can be easier and they can generate more revenue. As it is now, nothing is moving here in the port.
“Look at the access road to the port, a place the government is getting N40 billion per month. I don’t think the construction of this road will take N40 billion. Politics was allowed to come in when it was taken from Cotecna and given to Global Scan even when Cotecna is higher in terms of capacity, knowledge, and innovation. When those politics came in, it crippled the system.
“As a parliament, we will investigate it and come out with a solution. We will work with the Customs and all stakeholders to advise the government on the best way forward”, Hon Abejide promised.