The new set of scanning machines about to be deployed by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) across the nation’s ports and borders posts will put to an end estimated N9.6 trillion annual revenue loss, enhance national security and aid trade facilitation in the country.
The new system known as Non Intrusive Inspection, (NII), Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), is driven by high precision image capturing and analysis capacity.
For years, stakeholders have lamented that the absence of scanners at the ports have led to Customs conducting 100 per cent physical examination on cargoes, which virtually hampers trade facilitation and quick cargo evacuation from the seaports.
Shippers and importers have at different fora complained that the absence of scanners at the ports costs them over N800 billion monthly, translating to about N9.6 trillion annual loss.
As a result, in 2020, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the purchase of scanners for the Port Harcourt and Tin Can Island ports to fast tract ports operations.
Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, said the scanners will help ease activities of the Customs and inspection agents as well as reduce delays that pose operational challenges at the ports.
However, the Customs recently took delivery of some scanners at the Apapa, Tin-Can Island and Onne seaports for cargo examination and to aid trade facilitation.
Daily Sun learnt that the new scanning system which is a non-intrusive inspection version and an upgrade of the existing system that eliminates human contact, has capacity to scan 400 containers per day.
Speaking at the sensitisation programme for stakeholders on the processes and SOP, the Assistant Comptroller General of Customs, Modernisation and ICT, Saidu Galadima, said that the regime would commence operation and would be deployed as soon as the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, gives a date for its commissioning.
According to him, the scanners would scan a minimum of 400 containers per day at each port, adding that the boxes would be scanned within one minute.
“This sensitisation is very key, to the success of the non -intrusive technology that Customs is set to commence at the ports. The management of the NCS, has directed us to come and sensitise stakeholders on the flow of how the new regime will work.
“The essence of the new technology borders on trade facilitation. Only compliant traders will celebrate. If you are compliant enough, you won’t have any contact with any Customs officer. Cargoes will be released without anybody needing to go to any Customs office.”
On how the system would work, Galadima, said all activities would start after the scanning process has been completed, stressing that when the vessels berth, the containers would be scanned before they are taken to the stacking area where cargo declarations would start.
“All the scanning process would have been completed before agents make their declarations. We have qualified Customs officers who would man them. Although, the manufacturer, whom we have agreement with would station their technical personnel to oversee the running of the scanners, which are brand new, our officers have also been trained to oversee those scanners.
“On capacity, the scanners would scan 400 containers daily with four hours to rest. For every 20ft container, the scanner would take an average of 35 seconds each to scan. For every 40ft container, the scanners will scan them at an average of 45 seconds each.”
“The scanners have been configured into our NICIS II platform. During image analysis, clearing agents won’t have any business there. The image analysis area would be a no go zone for agents. The scanning area will be a controlled area. We won’t allow people loitering there,” explained.
For physical examination, he hinted that NCS aim to ensure that the scanning percentage would be higher than the number of containers that would be subjected to physical examination.
“We all have to make it work. If agents decide to cut corners, they would bear the cost of delay associated with physical examination. So, being compliant would benefit all of us. Scanning would be run on shift of morning, afternoon and perhaps night, depending on the flow of business.
“The system has been configured into the Nigeria Integrated Customs Information System (NICIS II) system. The main aim is to reduce physical examination and we need compliance from traders to achieve that. This is the beginning of our automation process as Customs would soon introduce end-to-end automated process,” he said.
Galadima further assured port users that the introduction of scanners in port operations would reduce cost of doing business by reducing the rate of demurrage and storage charges importers pay on containers due to delay. He said that it would also make things easier for terminal operators by eliminating time of moving containers from the ship to stacking area and back to the scanning bay as the new regime would enable containers to be scanned at arrival, and the image analysed afterwards.
In his presentation, Deputy Comptroller Paul Ekpeyong, who is the officer in charge of the new system said Customs in all commands would run shifts – morning, afternoon and perhaps night – to enable sufficient time to avoid having traffic overflow.
According to him, as soon as a vessel berths, the terminal operator picks containers to the scanning site where the containers are scanned, while the content images are stored, including the containers numbers, and truck numbers among others.
“The images are thereafter warehoused, to serve as a data base in the event that issues are discovered after the release of any container, the affected container can be easily traced,” he said.
He said in line with the SOP, the shipping companies and terminal operators are in umbilical interface with the NCS, declarants, NICID II risk engine, image analyst, NCS control, terminal operators, recheck officers and scanner managers, are all engineered and integrated into the system.
He said the operation is such that once declarations are made, assessments are generated and payments made without delays, adding that after payment has been made, selectivity is triggered and containers are allocated for scanning and image analysis. He added that the next stage is interpretation of the scanned containers to determine their compliance status while compliant containers hit a green button in the analysis machine, the non compliant containers hits a red lane.
“The first is digitally marked Non Suspect, while the non compliant containers are marked suspect.
While both the Non Suspect and Suspect containers are referred to the Scanner Manager, the suspect container is returned to the terminal where the owners or agents are informed, and arrangement is made to repeat the process.