By Samson Echenim
The Office of the Deputy Senate President and the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) are collaborating to end delays in the processing of documents for importation and clearance of charitable goods into Nigeria, as the country faces severe humanitarian concerns.
Distrust by government agencies and perceived importers dishonesty are leading to over regulation of movement of donated items and aids funds from abroad into Nigeria as the population of displaced and vulnerable persons grows by the day.
At a one-day stakeholders consultation on ease of shipping and clearing of charitable items into Nigeria in Lagos on Thursday, organised by the Office of the Deputy Senate President and the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), shippers, customs agents and non-profit organisations (NPOs) lamented that more than half of charitable items donated to charity concerns in Nigeria from organisations abroad face cumbersome documentation requirements that eventually truncate clearance of the goods. The items would later be auctioned, having been abandoned at the ports, while those who need them perish at Nigeria’s many IDPs, hospitals and orphanage homes.
At the end of the technical session, a committee made up critical stakeholders led by the Ministry of Finance and Budget and National Planning was set to develop the Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) for importation of charitable goods into Nigeria.
Other members of the committee include the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, the Federal Ministry of Health (NAFDAC), the International Non-Governmental Organisation in Nigeria forum (I-NGO), the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs Disaster Management and Social Development, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigeria Network of NGOs. The Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), the Shipping Association of Nigeria (SAN) and the Seaport Terminals Operators Association of Nigeria were also conscripted into the committee.
The committee also has Obiora Madu, an astute business administration scholar and country manager, Malaysian University of Science and Technology (MUST), chairman of the technical session and Farinto Kayode, vice president of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) and member, Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (CRFFN) to represent customs agents and freight forwarders in the committee.
Earlier, the deputy president of the Nigerian Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, said the result of bureaucratic delay in the country importation and tariff exemption processes was that charitable items got entangled in high demurrage charges.
“This is sometimes caused by delays in clearing due to denial of import duty waivers by relevant government ministries/agencies, late application of necessary documents by non-profit organisations, among others. These often cause undue loss of items and financial losses,” he said in a welcome address presented by Princess Modupe Ozolua, SA to the deputy president on NGO/CSO Affairs.
He continued: “It also extends to the denial of, sometimes life-saving relief materials to places they are needed, particularly disease-ravaged areas and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) settlements. And given the present IDP crisis Nigeria now faces, the material and humanitarian losses can only be imagined.
“Charitable items are gifts donated by individuals, organisations or governments to the less privileged, usually through not-for-profit organisations, faith organisations or individuals. The items in turn come in different forms such as clothing, foodstuffs, medications, and assets and services.
“All stakeholders including Civil Society Organisations, other not-for-profit organisations, in concert with the government, must comply with necessary application processes and ensure charitable items are not used for commercial purposes. Rather they should always get to the targeted beneficiaries.
“This is critical because as it seems, import waivers on charitable items have been misused and abused not just by businessmen but also by some non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations. Further, it is also evident that these anomalies do not only affect Nigeria but also some of our neighbors whose consignments of charitable items come through Nigerian ports.”
Also speaking in a welcome address, Hassan Bello, executive secretary of the NSC said Nigerian national assembly were no more only concerned with political and constitutional affairs, but now becoming increasingly lending their hands in economic issues to activate and maintain a more robust economy.
He insisted that there must be a set of clearly mapped out procedures, easy to follow and quick to yield results for the purpose of timely delivery of charitable items donated to Nigerian organisations or foreign humanitarian organisations in Nigeria.
“Clearing of charitable items must have SOP. After many years of losing free gifts from kind organisations, we must now come together deliberate on actions to facilitate clearing of charitable items,” he said.
Also in their goodwill messages, Ibrahim Yahaya Oloriegbe, chairman, senate committee on health and deputy chairman, senate committee on diaspora and NGOs and Kabir Idris, chairman house committee on civil societies and development partners, as well as their colleagues from both chambers, lauded the initiative, even as they provide unflinching support from the national assembly to make appropriate acts for ease of importing charitable goods into Nigeria.