Logbook for vehicle clearance’ll breed corruption, falsification of documents

By Steve Agbota                                    [email protected] 08033302331

“The decision of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to demand logbook for clearance of used vehicles would encourage corruption and falsification of documents, as freight agents may be forced to begin to falsify logbook, while Customs officers on the field could also use the dearth of logbook to extort importers and freight agents.

“The last time logbook was used in Nigeria was between 1993-1994 and innovation has scrapped it while 99 per cent of vehicles coming into Nigeria now do not have logbook.” These were the words of the Vice President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Dr. Kayode Farinto.

In other climes, maritime nations have adopted the use of technology through massive investment to turn their ports into “modern ports.” These ports are using automation and new technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, Internet of Things (IoT) and block-chain to improve their performances. Part of these benefits of this technology is to reduce human interface, to enhance efficiency, collection of data and processing, enhances competitiveness and boosts revenue.

This explains why the Federal Government approved $3.1 billion for the automation of the operations of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), which expect to boost trade facilitation and impact positively on the country’s economy.

Bizarrely; recently, NCS in a circular dated April 23, 2021, and signed by the Deputy Comptroller General (T&T), TM Isa, and obtained by Daily Sun, stated that Vehicle Logbook will be a mandatory requirement for the clearance of used vehicles after a grace period of 90 days.

“Vehicle Logbook is now mandatory requirement for the importation of any used vehicle into the country. This is in consonance with the provisions of Customs and Excise Notice No.30 of December 6, 1971.”

“Consequently, a grace period of 90 days, effective from the date of this circular, is allowed to enable all importers who must have entered into trade transactions before this circular, process and clear their vehicles,” the Customs document states.

However, the decision of NCS to return the use of vehicle logbook as a mandatory requirement for the clearance of used vehicles in Nigeria has been stoking fire among the importers and the clearing agents in the nation’s ports.

The stakeholders argued that Customs should withdraw the circular that they cannot return Nigeria to the medieval age of 1971 mode of vehicle clearance in this 21st century of technological advancements and innovation.

Now, the question is that why would NCS return to the primitive ways of clearing used cars after the Federal Government has invested huge money on modernization of Customs operations (e-Customs)?

Speaking with Daily Sun, Farinto described the idea of logbook for vehicle clearance as obsolete, saying that the world has evolved beyond logbook, as it is being replaced by Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which serves as the vehicle’s finger number.

Conversely, he called on the NCS to withdraw the circular on the ground that it was outdated against international best practices and would create an avenue for corruption

He explained that the relevant data NCS intends to get from the logbook could also be obtained from VIN when entered into a VIN decoder.

According to him, VIN is a unique code, including a serial number, used by the automotive industry to identify individual motor vehicles and it could reveal the year of manufacturing and model of vehicles, which are vital data for Customs. He, therefore, called for the review of the Customs and Excise and Management Act (CEMA), which supports the utilisation of a vehicle logbook as a requirement for clearance of used vehicles.

 Farinto argued that the relevance of having the logbook in the past was to ascertain the model of the vehicle, year of manufacture and repair history. He said over the years technological advancement has seen VIN replace the need for logbook.

Farinto expressed fear that the directive would generate a situation where freight agents would start resulting to producing fake logbook because the officer on the field would insist on having a logbook and invariably, it would encourage corruption.  “This directive of Customs that it is mandatory for any vehicle that must be cleared at the nation’s ports to have logbook is wrong. It looks like the management of Customs is taking us backward, and we are not in medieval period. I know that the relevant section of the law quoted by the DCG was enacted in 1971 and it says if you are going to clear any vehicle in seaport, you must have what is called a logbook.”

“The relevance of having the logbook then was to ascertain the model of the vehicle and year of manufacture. However, over the years in Customs operations viz aviz; World Customs Organisation (WCO) procedure, a lot of things have been put in place to ascertain the manufacturer, the year of manufacture and the body of the vehicle and that thing is called VIN,” he explained.

He said that over 70 per cent of the logbook are not even written in English because they are usually from vehicles coming from Europe; meanwhile, most of the imports of used vehicles today arrive from United States of America (USA) and other non-European countries.

He also lamented that stakeholders were not consulted before Customs came up with the directive, adding that the idea would have been squashed if proper consultation was done.

“One of the seven key principles of Customs harmonisations, which were given to them by the former Controller General of Customs, Dikko said that if you are confused, consult your colleagues. Ordinarily what this DGC who issued the circular on the logbook should have done was to consult her colleagues to look at what it is in line with the international best practice.

If the WCO hears that Nigeria Customs Service is asking for logbook in this 21st century, it would become a laughing matter. We do not want Nigeria to be a laughing stock in the comity  of nations. We advise Customs to look inward to withdraw the circular and advise itself so that there would be a better sense of direction, he added.”