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By Innocent Orok

Nigerian ports, especially the Lagos ports which is often regarded as the hub of ports activities in West and Central Africa has been lockdown now for more than a week now, since Friday 18th Febuary 2022. Before the full blown protest by freight forwarders and Customs Brokers, the stakeholders were first complaining of the cyber failures faced by Importers/ agents to access the Vehicle Registration policy VREG, an additional alleged fraudulent Clearing procedure introduced by the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning.

Hameed Ali, CG of Customs

In the VREG process, every imported vehicle into Nigeria will first be registered by the Ministry of finance , pay some amount before you are able to key into the Customs portal to continue the clearing process of such Vehicle. The amount paid to the Ministry of Finance according sources rages from N5, 000 upward depending on the type of car and year of manufacture. Freight forwarders again have described this collection by the Finance Ministry as another extortion in the goods clearance chain in Nigeria.

Barely two weeks of myriads of complains from the VREG policy, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) introduced the much awaited Vehicles Identification Number (VIN) valuation policy. With VIN all the clearance processes of imported vehicles into Nigeria will been done electrically beginning from the price of the vehicle, value and payment of duty.

Like a thunder bolt, VIN has exploded in the Nigerian ports system, especially the ports of Lagos sparking outrageous public protest and shutting down of the ports for more than a week now.

There was consistent protests and agitations from freight forwarders and Customs Brokers alleging corruption and extortion by Government officials , especially Customs officers at various points and Units on duly cleared and duty paid Vehicles from the ports. Their second agitation was that, freight forwarders wanted a uniform duty on clearing of vehicles from all ports in Nigeria. The freight forwarders and other stakeholders have asked the Customs to give them a uniform Vehicles clearing process, that will free them from all incumbrances and extortions. Hitherto, Vehicles clearance from Apapa port, Tin Can Island Port and PTML port all have different prices, even when they are of same type , year and model.

In yielding to the demands of Importers, freight forwarders and Customs Brokers, the NCS recently introduced the long awaited Vehicles Identification Number (VIN) valuation policy for all imported vehicles into Nigeria. The NCS has computed ex- factory prices of vehicles as obtained from the internet from different countries of the world into its VIN valuation system for all Importers of vehicles in Nigeria to used as a value and payment of duty.

The introduction of VIN valuation policy had sparked off huge troubles in the port Industry. First, on Friday 18th Febuary 2022, a stakeholder and Vice President of Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Dr Kayode Farinto has told Journalists in Lagos that the NCS has introduced a VIN valuation policy that is outrageous, lacks predictability and transparency and this will cause uproar in the ports.
As according to him no Agent will be able to clear any vehicle with such outrageous value. He further inform that, stakeholders were not even carried along in the decision of the Customs to deploy the VIN. Farinto advice the Customs to engage stakeholders, suspends the current VIN valuation and subject their values to criticism and adjustments, before implementing it.

It was also alleged that the Valuation department of the Customs were sidelined , while the ICT Unit was used to input online values of vehicles into the Customs system without even taking into consideration the depreciation or wear and tear value of used vehicles in accordance with International trade practices. No sooner than Farinto finish briefing the press on the issue, than the Lagos ports started boiling with Agents and Freight forwarders threatening protest and shutdown of the ports if Customs does not revert the outrageous VIN valuation policy.

As at Money 21st Febuary 2022, the protest has gone full blown and all the ports and terminals in Lagos were shutdown with no activities going in the last ten days.

It was also gathered from the Customs source that , a vehicle that was cleared with N500,000, before now will be cleared with N2million with the new VIN valuation policy. While a prominent Customs Broker also said that a 2012 model Vehicle which market value is about N4Million, will now cost N12million with the VIN valuation policy.

It is no longer news that it seems the regime of Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali has lost cordial relationship with the freight forwarding community , especially the Licensed Customs Agents, as such dialogue may seems difficult. If it does happen, it may be a mare political or window dressing, while the critical issues will subsist. It has been noticed that since the beginning of the VIN valuation protest, the Customs Management had neither issued a statement to calm fray nerves, nor hold any stakeholders meeting to look for a way forward. While some of the Customs Commands are trying to pacify the striking freight forwarders, the Customs Headquarters seems to be comfortable with the situation or will stick to the policy, while the Nigerian economy bleeds. It will be for the interest of the NCS and the Nigerian economy for the issues to be resolved so that the Customs focus on how to generate it’s N3.1trillion target for 2022.

A source from Nigeria’s Vehicles importation hub, the PTML terminal which is NIGERIA’S number one RORO port as it’s handles over 85% Vehicles importation into Nigeria hinted that since Wednesday, Febuary 16th 2022, Vehicles clearance in the port has seized because of the outrageous values. It was also gathered that closed to 10,000 vehicles have been trapped with the VIN valuation system and more vessels are coming to swell up the number. Also experts says over N200billlion has been lost to the shutdown of the ports in the last ten days of the VIN valuation policy protest, yet nothing tangible is done by government to end the the bleed.

For the Nigeria economy which has been living on high budget deficits with over N33trillion debt profile, the VIN valuation policy if not properly manage may further plugged the country into financial crises, as most vehicles importation will either be lost through neighboring ports or through smuggling along the numerous border routes.

It is therefore imperative for the NCS to sit down with it’s stakeholders and fashion out a win win trade policy that will be beneficiary to all parties for activities to resume in our ports.

The NCS having realize that general goods importation has dropped drastically, but with the coming of the general elections early next year, this is the season for vehicles importation for purpose of campaigns and gifts , the Customs is expected to collect more revenue from vehicle imports rather than for it to be lost to smuggling, other neighboring ports or at best seizures that will cost more revenue lost.

Can someone think for the policy makers, especially the NCS to resolve this trade dispute fast for the benefits of the Nigerian economy before it’s escalate to a dangerous dimension that may cause more harm to our economy.? Less, we forget the vehicle importation business is the highest business that attracts more young people to the ports and by extension more young people are involved in vehicle importations, selling and hiring Vehicles business. Should we allow the protest to turn another EndSARS protest? A stich in time , they say saves Nine.

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