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. Charity organisations and shippers of charitable goods have called the Nigerian government to review regulations to eliminate bottlenecks in the delivery of donated goods to beneficiaries, as the nation awaits an SOP on importation and clearance of charitable items, SAMSON ECHENIM writes.
From the orphanages to the country’s several stranded IDPs in the north-east and north-central, charity organisations are willing to help, but lack of trust and precautions against loss of revenue by government agencies, helped by dishonesty among citizens and shippers are denying many vulnerable Nigerians helps that are badly needed.
According to Nigeria Network of NGOs, the country has 17.5 million orphans who need charitable items.
Many charity organisations do not appear to understand the process of receiving donations into Nigeria, a process that competent sources describe as more cumbersome than those of Afghanistan and Iran.
At a one-day stakeholders consultation on ease of shipping and clearing of charitable items into Nigeria in Lagos recently, organised by the Office of the Deputy Senate President and the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), shippers, customs agents and non-profit organisations (NPOs or NGOs) 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.
The Office of the Deputy Senate President and the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) are now 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. The collaboration has yielded 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, as Hassan Bello, executive secretary of the NSC said, “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.
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.
Counting the losses
Ovie Omo-Agege, deputy president of the Nigerian Senate, said the result of bureaucratic delay in the country importation and tariff exemption processes was that charitable items got entangled in high demurrage charges and may never be got by the beneficiaries eventually.
“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,” he said in a goodwill message presented by Princess Modupe Ozolua, SA to the deputy president on NGO/CSO Affairs..
Laws not working
There are provisions in Nigeria’s trade laws for waiver of tariffs on donated cargoes for charity, but they barely work. Schedule 2, item 7 of the extant ECOWAS Common Tariff (cet) 2017-2021 provides that, “Goods obtained free as technical assistance from donour international bodies/countries enjoy exemption from import duty.”
Section 43 (1) of extant Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) CAP C45 (LFN) 2004, states that “Where by virtue of any provision of the customs laws, any imported goods are exempted from duty as being intended or imported for a specific use on purpose, such goods shall not be used or dealth with in any way contrary to such use or purpose, except with the permission of the Board and after payment of the full duty, or such proportion thereof as the Board may direct on goodsof a like kind not intended or imported for such use of purpose.”
Also, goods obtained free as technical assistance from donour international bodies/countries are exempted from destination inspection in line with the FMFBNP Circular on Approved Destination Inspection Exemption List Ref No. X/194965/PICDIA/T3/97 of 5th Sept, 2006. Gifts and other non-commercial goods which are imported by charitable and similar organisations.
The sad implication is that more than half of donated items do not get to the needy. Despite waiver of tariffs provisions for charitable goods, more than 50 percent of the items are trapped and abandoned at the ports or borders, while another 30 percent are allegedly sold by dubious business people who hide under charity to do business. This is where the biggest concerns of the government agencies responsible for granting tariff waivers lie. The ministry of finance is not willing to give Import Duty Exemption Certificate (IDEC) easily, because there are tales of it being abused and taken advantage of by some shippers to import commercial goods in disguise of charity donations.
Frank Oshanipin, a principal officer at the ministry of finance said the ministry ,maintains an MoU with charity organisations, which naturally gives them tariff exemption privileges, but unfortunately, many of the NPOs are not taking advantage of the MoU. “It appears that many NGOs do not understand the processes involved in getting their IDEC, but the ministry operates an automated system that enables them process the document online. We are also wary of granting IDEC because we know that there a lot of sharp practices by people or organisations who want to import comercial goods in disguise of charitable goods,” he said.
The senate deputy president also expressed similar concern. “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,” said Omo-Agege.
“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,” he noted.
According to Oshanipin, a limited liability company cannot receive charitable goods. It therefore means that only non-profit organisations can import charitable goods. He said charity organisations in Nigeria which wish to import charitable cargoes or receive same from donour organsations abroad would need to provide a letter from the donour attached to their application for IDEC. The application is then forwarded to the relevant ministry for the items being imported or received.
For applications coming to NAFDAC, the agency requires that where the goods being donated from abroad are being produced locally in the country, the beneficiary is required to get certificate of no objection from the local manufacturer. Shippers and NPOs said this is a big problem to the process as the local manufacturer may not be willing to give such certifications easily. They sought removal of the clause which they said is capable of aborting the process and denying the ultimate beneficiaries the charitable gesture.
Kaycee Ekekezie, assistant controller, Zone A, Nigeria Customs Service, said “When clearing charitable goods, application is made to the the minister of finance through the relevant ministry, e.g for medicament, through the minister of health. Necessary documents include certificate of donation; packing list/invoice and certification by relevant government agency.
“Application of import duty exemption IDEC is submitted before shipment of the goods. In event of delay in the processing and the goods arrive or arrival is imminent, to avoid incurring demurrage: apply to the comptroller general of Customs, attach copy evidence of of application for IDEC and request to take delivery on bank bond.”
Getting it right
Indeed, stakeholders agree that there are obvious legislative lapses that have led to the involvement of too many agencies in the clearing of charitable goods. This has watered down the sense of urgency required in the release of such of goods.
Kayode Farinto, vice president of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), said “It is easier to clear a ship load of containers to to clear one container of charitable items from a Nigerian port. “Even only within the Customs circle, your application would need to go through over seven offices from the ACG of Zone to the terminal DC. Even if we start documentations months before shipping, the goods would always get here with documents needed for clearance not still ready,” he said.
“The aspect that has to do with getting certification from the local manufacturer of same good you are receiving should not apply to charitable goods. It is always hellish to get such documents. Many charitable goods are lying in waste at the ports; the figures are alarming,” he lamented.
He called on the national assembly to amend the CEMA, while domesticating relevant provisions of CET and adopting it part of the SOP for importing and clearing charitable cargoes.
“We know there are genuine concerns, yes, importation of charitable goods should be controlled, but we need a seamless operation,” he insisted.