By Hassan Zaggi
The recent outburst by the Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria (APFFLON) against the reforms currently being embarked upon by the management of the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has caused many well-meaning Nigerians to wonder what really was the motive behind the outburst.
It is no more news that since the Director General of NAFDAC, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, was appointed, she came up with many reforms aimed at ensuring that greedy manufacturers and importers of products under its watch-list did not toy with the health of Nigerians.
Of course, these reforms did not go down well with people who have questionable characters and with the penchant of making money at the detriment of the lives of ordinary Nigerians.
APFFLON had, few days ago, in an online media platform accused NAFDAC of having “shoddy mode of operation”.
In a recent statement to clear the wrong impression created by the APFFLON, NAFDAC said that it has decided to respond to the publication because the allegations were carefully crafted and baseless falsehood meant to discredit the agency and her efforts to improve service delivery to our stakeholders.
“The contents of the publication, especially with regards to the comments made by the National President of APFFLON, Otunba Frank Ogunojemite, are deliberately calculated mischievous, false and concocted statements that have been carefully scripted to fight back the anti-corruption systems being put in place by NAFDAC Management and to also mislead the general public on the new full ‘end-to-end online processing of the clearance of NAFDAC regulated products at the various airports, seaports and land borders.”
NAFDAC, however, recalled that: “In the past, importers and clearing agents were made to physically move from one NAFDAC office to the other to process the clearance of their goods at the ports but with the appointment of the current Director General of NAFDAC, Prof. Moji Adeyeye, we fast-tracked the implementation of electronic processing of the clearance of goods at the ports from issuance of licenses to the release of imported products at the ports.
“She mandated that all processes within NAFDAC should move from the previous inefficient manual processing to online systems of doing transactions in line with the Federal Government desire to greatly improve the ease of doing businesses in Nigeria.
“Machinery was therefore put in place to deploy a fully automated and computerized system for goods clearance at the ports. The full automated system was deployed in 2017 with an identified group of low risk importers and clearing agents who used the system for the clearance of their goods at the ports.
“This enabled them to clear their consignments without visiting the offices of NAFDAC except when invited for meetings.”
The agency further revealed that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to enforce social distancing, NAFDAC reduced the online clearing system to a very simple process of submission and processing of documentation and release.
Importers and clearing agents were asked to only fill 4 fields and attach all the relevant documents as provided by the guidelines for clearance of goods at the ports.
According to NAFDAC, the importers are only asked to input email address for receipt of confirmatory token and transaction notifications, Port office; SGD Number, SGD date and then attach all their clearing documents
“These simple steps were greatly commended by sincere stakeholders who were amazed that processing of documentation and clearance of goods could be simplified to just five steps. This system therefore put an end to the previous situation where Importers and clearing agents crowded NAFDAC offices requesting for services.
“Currently, the only place where a client sees a NAFDAC officer is at the point of physical inspection of imported goods at the ports and/or importer warehouses which for obvious reasons must take place,” the agency explained.
This system definitely has many benefits. Some of them include the ability to process documentation and clearance of NAFDAC regulated products at the Ports from the comfort of offices and homes using smart phones, tablets and computer systems; ability to submit request on the online platform around the clock with NAFDAC officers processing them on-duty, off-duty, day and night.
Other benefits include the elimination of person to person contact between clients and staff and the tendency to compromise officers during cases of non-compliance; provision of document verification and authentication system and pictorial display of inspection and inspected product packaging and labelling.
“This is one intervention that is annoying unscrupulous agents who have come to terms with the anti-corruption system inputted into the platform and efficient tracking system for transaction clearance with the corresponding customer friendly service by NAFDAC officers that enable clients check the status of their requests,” NAFDAC said.
Another benefit is the transmission of email notification of progress of completed processes directly to clients’ emails at the submission of requests, issuance of NAFDAC electronic invoices, issuance of NAFDAC electronic receipts, issuance of queries and compliance directives, issuance of Endorsement Notification for physical inspection at ports or importer warehouse and the issuance of consignment release notification.
Other benefits, NAFDAC, revealed, include auto generated release notices with release codes and QR codes that can be verified by the Nigeria Customs Service and Importers using website and QR code technology respectively. This is specially developed to eliminate the previous scenario where some unscrupulous clearing agents fake NAFDAC Invoices, Receipts and stamps and present same to importers and the Customs; provision of simple step by step pictorial user manual for the submission and processing of transactions on the NAFDAC portal for goods clearance at the ports and process monitoring and evaluation system with entrenched Key Performance Indicators for monitoring processing time for transactions and handling of complaints.
“APFFLON is known to have a penchant for discrediting sincere and innovative systems put in place by Government agencies because these systems tend to eliminate all the sharp practices of document faking, compromise of officers, bribery and corruption which used to exist with manual procedures that created room for contact with officers,” the statement noted.
In response to one of APFFLON’s claim that, “for all consignment that require NAFDAC authorization before clearance at the ports, it is now online. Besides, it is posing a great deal of problem to access the website let alone process the platform for the first and second stamping,” the agency explained that: “The NAFDAC Portal is a very simple user-friendly platform and because many licensed clearing agents employ unprofessional semi-literate staff to process clearance of goods, they do not have emails or cannot even use a simple computer system. The era of unprofessionalism is over as NAFDAC is going ahead with the modernization of all processes within the Agency.”
NAFDAC further said that: “Processing of clearance of goods cannot commence with NAFDAC until declarations are made to the Nigeria Customs Service with the generation of the Single Goods Declaration (SGD) form which is transmitted to NAFDAC via the Nigeria Customs Service Nigeria Integrated Customs Information System (NICIS). NAFDAC requests for SGD Reference Numbers for the processing of NAFDAC regulated products at the ports.
“For clarity, an SGD Reference number is generated upon payment of Customs duties as a unique identifier for processing of consignments. So, we do not understand how NAFDAC processes prevents the payment of Customs duties.”
Reacting to the allegation of using touts who extort people at its offices, NAFDAC said: “This is a gross display of misinformation. We do not understand how touts can be used in a process that is completely online.
“A system where we have records of importers resident within and outside Nigeria who clear their consignments without any physical presence in our offices. NAFDAC does not, in any way, use camp boys and no non-NAFDAC staff is permitted into the NAFDAC Port offices except on invitation.”
NAFDAC insisted that it as a customer focused agency, and that it will always receive and accept constructive criticisms, “but will not accommodate criticisms that are clearly deceitful and misleading to the general public.
“We have previously received some recommendations for better service delivery from credible importers and clearing agents which we have entrenched and we are continually committed to embracing more suggestions and recommendations that would keep improving the way we carry out our mandate, functions and activities.”
NAFDAC, therefore, advised the general public “to disregard the misguided statements and outcry of the APFFLON group who want to undermine the genuine efforts of NAFDAC as a responsible regulatory Agency that is making all efforts to facilitate trade, curb corruption and comply with the Federal Government’s reform agenda for the various ports.
“Our current drive is to always encourage compliance, be customer-focused and improve the ease of doing business while ensuring that safe and quality regulated products are available for public health use.”
NAFDAC, therefore, called on Nigerians to report any unprofessional conduct or activities of its officers related to port clearance through