Thursday, 17 November 2016

Food exporters and airport security agents


Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper

The many government agencies and individuals, who play over-lapping roles at the airports, were recently reported to be extorting farmers and other exporters of food products. This is coming at a time Nigerians are being encouraged to engage in productive efforts for exports, a major source of foreign exchange earner for the country. Government’s specific policies are being refocused to increase non-oil exports and agricultural production generally. It is sad, therefore, that government’s agencies and officials whose duty it is to ensure accomplishment of government’s policies in the interest of the people are those perpetrating these illegal acts.

These airport officials who often exhibit excesses and corrupt practices even when foreigners are involved, should be called to order by their parent agencies. In plain terms, this is yet another failure of regulation. Why is there no organisational structure for the airport security administration?

Why are there so many agencies checking the same goods or doing the same thing at the nation’s gateways? Why would there be representatives of all the military, security and intelligence and even paramilitary agencies at the international airports? Why can’t there be some sense of sanity and organisation within our security and intelligence networks?

This story of sabotage in Nigeria’s export drive is not different at our seaports where a former finance minister had had to intervene at a time to clear the confusion but only for reassigned officers to come back to their beats after a short while and continue business as usual. This confirms a long suspicion that there is indeed more to posting to airports and seaports than meets the eyes. In any case, heads of security organisations, paramilitary institutions and indeed those charged with the responsibility of regulating and promoting export and revenue generation should get cracking immediately to ensure sanity in this connection.

These unwholesome practices have promoted corruption which the government is doing so much to contain.In all of this, it is the economy that suffers. The immediate implication, according to report, is that export products from Nigeria are becoming the most expensive abroad because of the unintended costs incurred at the nation’s ports through illegal tips. Consequently, goods from Nigeria have remained uncompetitive in the open international market.

Government cannot afford to allow these ugly practices to continue at the country’s strategic gateways. Specifically, the supervising ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) in charge of these uniform operators should be made to address the issue of overlapping roles at the airports. A quick survey of what obtains in other airports, especially those of our neighbours where goods from Nigeria are being smuggled to and exported with ease, should be conducted with a view to imbibing useful lessons. In fact, there should be real move to reduce the number of agencies at the airports or at least streamline their roles to deliver good service.

Since agriculture produce or products are involved, a re-introduction of produce inspectors for quality control may not be out of place.

On their part, concerned exporters should seek knowledge of what is expected of them at the domestic and international markets. At all times, they should adhere to government’s set standards and obtain international certifications where needed, to ensure that their products get the right recognition, acceptability, prices and patronage within and outside the country.

Rather than resorting to smuggling their goods across the borders, they should engage and voice their constraints and challenges to the relevant authorities and other stakeholders that can offer help. While whistle-blowing is encouraged to curtail incidence of corruption, the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), the apex agency in this regard should not stand aloof as an innocent bystander when other little foxes spoil the vines of exporters at the airports.

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