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Dangerous cargo: can ports security handle threats?

A transponder attached via plug and play to a container can permit monitoring of container’s route via satellite navigation and communication systems, thereby allowing potentially suspicious and particularly dangerous routes to be identified. Aber Tasser Benjamin explains that Nigeria Customs Service have sufficiently tracked an inland container in order to know where they could be at a particular time when it exited the port.



Nigeria Customs Service modernization drive did not start today, says Aber Tasser, Chief Consultant, Customs ICT. It began when Nigeria Customs first introduced ASYCUDA 2.7 to manage declaration.  At this time, the ASYCUDA 2.7 was limited, because at that time the technology available was not adequate, says Aber Tasser. That necessitated the decision of the Federal Government to move ahead, and in 2006, the government introduced the three service providers namely the Cotecna, SGF and Global Scan to manage our import by different scanning equipment and the system that will manage the risk assessment aspect of all imports coming into the country. The Nigerian Customs Service areas of operations were divided into Lots, and given these companies respectively. The fourth company was Web Fountain. The company provided the Nigeria Customs Service extended telecommunications backbone that drives the e-customs process, he said.

All this started in 2006. Web Fountain was supposed to handle the project with the assistance of UNCTAD, because the ASYCUDA platform was UNCTAD products which were being used by over 184 customs administrations worldwide. The UNCTAD and Web fountain was supposed to upgrade the ASYCUDA platform from 2.7 to ASYCUDA++.

From there, it escalates to the deployment of the ASYCUDA world, that is the ultimate in e-customs process. This is because ASYCUDA world has the functionality of managing data centrally and remotely by networking all areas of customs operations for effective centralize risk management system that can actually provide the service the capacity to control and process all imports, exports and transit of goods  being destined for Nigeria. The first three process managed by the service providers particularly Cotecna, SGS and Global Scan have their contract ended last year.

The Nigeria Customs Service has since taken over the scanning operations on the first December 2013. The implication of the takeover is that it will now provide the functions of the service providers. One of the functions of this was the operations of scanning machine. Before take over, the Nigeria Customs Service invested in training of over 400 customs officers building up the capacity to handle the operations of scanning. Since we took over, there has never been any challenge concerning scanning operations. The only area that is of concern is the maintenance of the scanning tools. The service providers were requested to hand over to us equipment that were functioning and fully operational. And unfortunately, the equipment were not updated as recommended by the transition body and that issue has not been concluded.

Establishing centralized data network

Despite these challenges, NCS has concluded the process of centralizing the management and operations of scanning equipment. This implies that service will network all the scanning equipment in such a way that all the data and images generated can be centrally managed from the headquarters. For instance, an item can be scanned at customs port in Apapa, then the officer in charge can go ahead and continue doing his work, but here in the headquarters, the application build into the centralized image analysis centre in such a way that automatically the system will generate a report on the items and thus enable us to compare with the officer’s interpretation of his/her image.

This will help us re-validate and ensure that our officers are themselves in compliance. With this, we can examine the difference between a complied managed system and the human decision making process. This will give us the capacity to control the operations particularly in the current situation of insecurity.

We are also nominating Apapa as a centre of excellence where the best process of scanning operations will be used, fine tune them, and then extend the process to other areas and will be like a small institutional centralized scanning process.

The capacity building, we want to consolidate on the gains of the destination inspection programme of the NCS that has been handed over to the Nigeria Customs Service, and so we are running a new programme to consolidate the capacity of the NCS destination inspection professionally.

Evolution of PAAR scheme

And the agreement was premised on the service providers providing the scanning equipment and also provide platform for assessment of risks that are of the consignment, this is called RAR. Risks assessment report which were being generated by the scanning machines. This aspect, the NCS has taken over, with the implication that the three service providers could not agree jointly agree to jointly build a work process that will gives the public a predictable, transparent and simplified process of import.

Even with the service providers, there was a disharmony or inconsistence values, classification, in so many things. The NCS start from the scratch point zero, and build what is now called Pre Arrival Assessment Report. It was solely developed and built by our officers. And what PAAR is all about is the simplification of procedure of declaration starting from form M up to the level of release of cargo.

It is fully automated and paperless. And this time, when you are applying for RAR, that is the service providers, the banks have to physically check your document in the premise of the service providers that manually scrutinize the documents before entering these data into the system. With PAAR, we have changed the whole process to become paperless.

We validate it, accept or reject it based on certain parameters which are predictable and transparent. Even for a compliance trader, the start of processing of documentation from form M up to the issuance of PAAR, it is predictable and transparent, and in less than six hours you have the result, especially for a compliance trader.

We also know that the service providers did not offer the trading public the platform for complaint and handle some of the issues, because no matter how compliant a trader might be there are certain mistakes that come into transactions that will delay and cost money. What we did was the establishment of a help desk that is also electronic, based on a trader going to a bank, registering a complaint, and the bank passing them electronically to our system. That information is treated and an electronic feedback is replied accordingly.

There is another angle to this, PAAR, when issued, we send a copy to the email that was originally registered when you are you registering your TIN. This is because TIN has been used as an identifier, this means that we identify individuals who are owners of transactions. Electronically, when a PAAR is generated, a trader receives a copy automatically via email, a trader will be told if there are problems and what will be required to done the. traders got response automatically

Container security

On the side of customs, technological solutions for ensuring container integrity do not depend on the transportation mode. Tracking is on various levels. Containers are not owned by the Customs. What is of interest to customs relate to electronic manifest, says Aber Tasser. The consignments that are loaded into a vessel are manifested and electronically transferred to our data base in the headquarters. Anytime,  there is a declaration, the system write off that declaration as utilized and when its released we can see that the consignment has been released by customs.

In developed countries, terminals are marked electronically, and when you positioned a container, it can be notified on system dash board. In general, most shipping companies have their own ways of monitoring. A container tracking began when the consignment leaves the customs control and being transferred to approve bonded terminals for conclusion of customs process. In terms of security, electronic systems installed inside the container detect movements within the container, including opening of the door and can be programmed to send a signal to a control centre if the container is opened at position other than its predetermined destination. Indeed, experience has shown that theft is practically non-existent after the system’s application.

By monitoring container traffic and systematically gathering and analysing data on container movements, then potentially suspicious and particularly dangerous routes can be identified. Additionally, ground position determination of containers through satellite navigation have becomes possible. In addition, real-time data transfer via communication satellites will also enables availability of all data and documents, electronic creation and signing of loading and customs documents by authorised persons, and goods-condition monitoring and coding of all data.

Thus satellite applications prove to be a promising alternative to physical verification, for instance, the actual opening of a container and manual verification of its contents with the bill of lading, a process taking approximately eight hours. At the Nigeria Customs Service, our network is based on two systems, the satellite and radio links. It’s automatic. We monitor the system, if there is any problem with the satellite link, the radio link is switch on, so the them work together.

Eborder management

Already, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS has successfully achieved e-custom system in certain areas. Eborder management is not the business of customs alone. It involves cooperation of other agencies such as the NAFDAC, Immigration, Police, SSS, DMI, and others. At the Customs offices, the electronic dash board provide us with connectivity to all other government agencies that have something to do with clearance of consignment.

The system has been build and we have trained them. We trained the agencies. For instance, once the agencies submit to NCS the data they required to monitor and do business, we check their risk parameters and put in the system and tagged it and input a business rules in our centralized risk management engine. Then if certain consignment is coming and NAFDAC or SON for instance is required to check and they will be notified by SMS alerts and NCS will be notified from the dash board when they are receiving their data. The dash board turns green when they are receiving data and red when they are not receiving data.

FIRS Integration

The Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS is the first of government agencies that was of interest to us, according to Aber Tasser, when we are looking for identifiers in our system. This identifier are data that represent an entity that is having a transaction in our system. As an identifier, there are codes or a particular number, a company or a human being that represent it.

Initially, when we started, we said if you are a company, you must have house or office number. However, the first thing we did was to interface with the corporate affair commission, CAC, to be able to validate  the RC number that were being sent to us. But after some times, after working for so many years, since 2006 at the time we are about to take over, a 2011, or 2012. That number that now represent the whole levels of transaction. There are inputs that require form M, there are some that does not require it, there are some personal effect, may be, especially when you are resident abroad and you are coming to Nigeria with your family and you have some goods, there are diplomatic consignments,, let look for a unique identifier, FIRS came to our focus, since everybody  pay tax, we now insist that for you to have something to do with us, go first to FIRS, and register to get TIN number. The process of getting that number will necessitate the client to provide his or her detail personal information, with that it become identifier. So the system now open file for such an identifier. Once a client is registered  with the FIRS, he or she can now registered it into our platform for customs transactions.

Once the TIN number is registered, our system our system interface with that of FIRS and has the capacity to validate or authenticate the validity of such in their own system.

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