The camp of violators of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) policy on imported regulated products, may have been jolted by the full implementation of e-certification policy of the agency at the nation’s ports. Already, sharp criticisms are pouring in from quarters considered by commentators as harbouring interest of perpetrators and beneficiaries of the old order that was fraught with compromises and illegality against the commencement of the policy.
A recent newspaper report blaming NAFDAC for congestions at the seaports and credited to a group in the clearance of cargoes is seen by some stakeholders in health as representing outward manifestation of shattered dreams of promoters of the age old illegality. In a report published last December 2019 by Punch Newspapers and titled “Port Congestion Worsens as NAFDAC Conducts E-Certification”, the National Secretary of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Mr. Babatunde Mukaila, was quoted as confirming that e-certification had led to cargo congestion as many importers were stranded at the ports in attempt to facilitate pre-arrival documentation processes. But in a swift reaction to the publication, NAFDAC says that the content of the report especially with regards to the comments credited to ANLCA national secretary were “completely untrue, baseless, and a bid to mislead the general public on the clearance of products at the various seaports in the country.”
NAFDAC clarification came as the National Coordinator, Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders (SNFF), Dr. Osita Chukwu blamed the congestion at the ports on agents and importers who failed to do what they were supposed to do. According to the Punch Newspaper report, Dr. Chukwu said that importers and their agents were supposed to conclude all documentations and NAFDAC certification before the arrival of their cargo, but noted that most of them would leave many things unattended to because they wanted to cut corners.
He reportedly blamed some importers who would refuse to pay their clearing fees or pay half of the amount – hoping to get the Bill of Lading sent to them so they could manipulate the process and take away the goods without making payments. Rising in defence of its policy, NAFDAC in a statement explained that as part of the ongoing modernisation reforms by the Federal Government at the ports, it has assiduously worked towards the automation and digitisation of the agency’s processes and licenses respectively just as it said, “This has resulted in the development and deployment of NAFDAC e-licenses for utilisation in the clearance of NAFDAC regulated products.”
To further justify its e-certification policy, NAFDAC said that prior to the deployment of the e-license on 9th September 2019 it had held sensitisation workshops for importers and Authorised Dealer Banks (ADBs) in 2018. This, the agency noted, was meant to prepare importers of NAFDAC regulated products on the need to digitise any documents that were not in electronic formats while the processes for issuance of new NAFDAC licenses was automated and processed on the Federal Government Single Window for trade which is a “one-stop portal for various agencies operating at the ports.” In the past, NAFDAC remarked that documents were physically scanned and attached to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Form M platform and as a result the ADBs and Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) were not able to verify and authenticate submitted NAFDAC documents.
“This gave room for unscrupulous importers to forge and use expired NAFDAC licenses to process their Form Ms. With the commencement of the e-license era, NAFDAC integrated her licenses with the Form M platform such that importers are no longer required to scan and attach NAFDAC licenses but only input their Approval Reference Numbers which would be auto-verified by the Form M platform during processing. As a result, many importers who were used to utilising unapproved licenses could not process their Form Ms,” NAFDAC said.
“It is also important to note, that it is against the Federal Ministry of Finance Import Guidelines Procedures and Documentation requirements under the Destination Inspection Scheme to ship any consignment without opening Form M. Form M cannot be validly opened when you do not have a valid license from the Agency regulating the product. Those in this predicament have been violating this Import procedure for years and they are now caught up because of this integration. It is therefore, misleading, deceptive and baseless for any importer or agent alluding that the congestion at the Ports are due to the e-certification processes of NAFDAC.”
“Indeed, this is a means of perpetrating evil and attempt to continuing in dirty and unscrupulous procedures in clearance of regulated products. Their attempts can be considered as frustrating trade facilitation,” NAFDAC said.
By Chigbu Nwaobia