The reputation of Nigeria as a credible exporter of agricultural goods is being put at risk as some exporters continue to circumvent stipulated standards and exporting goods using fake phytosanitary certificates.
In many cases, unscrupulous exporters, without the knowledge of owners of the agricultural goods, ship such consignments out of Nigeria without the appropriate export certificate being procured. In other cases, no export certificate is even procured at all, and this only becomes evident when the shipments get to the destination and encounter challenges. At this point, either of two options become available; return such goods to Nigeria, or destroy them at the destination port.
Vincent Isegbe, director general, Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Servcie (NAQS) in an exclusive interview, bemoaned this practice that contributes to Nigeria getting a bad reputation in the international community, while also resulting in monetary losses for the owners of agricultural goods.
“Some exporters just print the certificates (on their own) in order to avoid quarantine, and the owners of the consignment don’t usually know what has been done,” said Isegbe. According to him, National Plant Protection Organizations from several importing countries frequently request for verification of the phytosanitary certificate for consignment sent to their country. “Where those goods did not pass through quarantine, we say we don’t know about it. Once the quarantine says we are not aware, the exporter is left on his own,” he explained.
“By implication either the commodities are sent back to the country or destroyed at the point of import, which does not augur well for Nigeria and the person who has suffered to package these things for export,” Isegbe added.
According to the quarantine boss, when exported agricultural goods are rejected and owners approach the agency, it is discovered those goods did not pass through quarantine at all. As he explained, the reason this illicit activity thrives is because the agency is not allowed at the ports, hence, ensuring certificates presented at the point of export are authentic has become impossible.
“People are faking certificates because quarantine is not there and customs will not know which certificate is genuine or not,” said isegbe. “If customs sees any certificate, they will assume it is a genuine certificate from quarantine and they are bound to honour it. So that linkage will have to be corrected.”
According to him, there is some measure of conflict of interest in administration of the ports and performance of requisite inspections. “Customs has a target revenue figure which they will meet,” he said. By implication, it is less important what is going out or coming into the country, as higher rejection rates will imply lower revenue for the customs service. Isegbe however expressed the view that there should be synergy and a process where quality becomes important; for the integrity of Nigerian exports, and the safety of what is imported for Nigerians to consume. There has to be complete harmony, such that quarantine will be able to say, “Customs, this one we are sure of it, let it go.” But where that is not existing, unscrupulous exporters will continue to ship out agricultural goods using fake phytosanitary certificates.