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ISSUES: HOW NIGERIA CUSTOMS IS KILLING OUR AILING ECONOMY, NEED TO APPOINT A NEW MINISTER OF FINANCE

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By Dr Kayode Farinto Collins

The events happening in the maritime sector has compelled me to write this piece. I am not a pessimist, neither do I hate the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) as some may want to believe. But, I want our customs to exhibit professionalism which is the bedrock of any revenue cum trade facilitation agency like others . Nigeria has been privileged to have professionalism in Customs particularly during the era of late Comptroller General of Customs (CGC), Alhaji Dikko Inde Abdullahi (even though he was not appreciated as many would believe that he stole money).

His work as the Comptroller General of Customs projected and illuminated professionalism as it grew in the Nigeria customs Service. His introduction of modernization into Nigeria customs with six – point agenda which was followed religiously made revenue generation in Nigeria to jump to about over Seven Hundred Billion Naira then. Meanwhile, the exchange rate was less than three hundred Naira to a Dollar.

Late Abdullahi Dikko Inde (OFR) engaged all relevant stakeholders particularly licensed customs agents/ freight forwarders and it was like a magic wand. This was because the level of compliance began to increase then as he preached against duty evasion, sanctioned officers and defaulting agents whenever it came to lime light. I do not want to enumerate his achievements, but above all, one of the instruments that have formed the main document for cargo clearance was his introduction of the Pre – Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) which became stabilized despite the teething problems.

The Federal Government’s intention to bring the current CGC Hammed Ali (Rtd) a military man was initially criticized by many, including people like me. One expectation by Nigerians of customs is to have improved on more professional way of revenue generation and trade facilitation. But I want to say emphatically that the Service (Customs) remains static and even retrogressing from the achievement by the previous management team. Col Hammed Ali (Rtd) started well but, relapsed like a patient that has cancer and was responding to chemotherapy treatment, who all of a sudden relapsed into coma.

WORLD BANK RATING:
The World Bank continuously rolled out data on how each Country stands and since the inception of Col. Hammed Ali (Rtd), Nigeria’s rating has continuously been bad. The logistics performance Index (LPI) of a country is being measured using six key principles.
•Efficiency of the clearance process (i.e. speed, simplicity and predictability of formalities) by border control agencies which customs is one of them. Everyone will agree with me that we have never had it so bad on issues of customs clearance.

a.The issue of customs arbitrarily slamming their own data on the trading public has been militating against cargo clearance. Issuing / slamming (25%) twenty five percent penalties on any infractions even when it is not intentional. Relying and misinterpreting (on) section 164 of Customs and Exercise Management Act Cap 45.

b. When an individual, a DCG, queries most declarations made throughout the country with impurity and unchecked, it is uncustoms.

c.The supervising ministry, which is Federal Ministry of Finance, can no longer regulate nor make her circulars issued binding except being subjected to an individual amongst the management team. An example is the issue of Import Duty Exemption Certificated (IDEC) which has been automated, but still subjected to queries by the office of the DCG Tariff and Trade which is gradually allowing importers, particularly on project cargoes, to pay demurrages and storages on their imports.

d.Flagging-off many declarations, this not less than (90%) ninety percent by putting incessant alerts by other departments of customs for pecuniary gain. (About 7 alerts on most declaration i.e., Valuation, CIU, DC Enforcements Customs Police, DC Terminals, Comptrollers office etc.).

e.Many Comptrollers in the western ports have created another office called “Monitoring Units” to extort and
arm-twist customs brokers and freight forwarders to either succumb to arbitrary Demand Notices (DN) or settlement as the case maybe, if you must have a seamless cargo clearance.

f.The issue of joint examination even though may be said to be working in theory is not pragmatic. This is because, an officer of a Unit in customs may subject any cargo to re – examination to frustrate the agents to dance to their tune (i.e. settlement).

g. Deliveries of cargo: This has been another herculean task. After the cargoes/containers are eventually cleared out of the ports, the Nigeria Customs Service had again mounted a road block just fifty meters (50m) to the port thereby subjecting the same cargoes that have been duly released to another round of examination or the agents are compelled to part with money, by the under mentioned Units. Usually, it used to be twenty thousand Naira (N20,000) per TEUs per unit of customs.
•The CG’s Strike Force
•The CG’s due process
•The Federal Operations Units Roaming Van
•The Federal Operations Units (SWAT)
• The Customs Police.

From the above, it only means that for any container to get to the consignee’s warehouse, the consignees must pay about One hundred thousand Naira (N100,000) per container as pocket money to have easy access. This becomes a norm, where the clearing agents become helpless and are tired of complaining because anyone that cannot meet up finds his/her container at FOU where there are over twenty – five tables ( 25) to get your container back. This is outside subjecting the said container to examination where customs at FOU have colluded with their labourers working for them to extort examination money from agents (20 ft attracts mandatory payment of N50, 000) fifty thousand naira. Majority of such jobs are slammed with Demand Notice (DN) which cannot be defended in this Unit and once a DN is issued, you can’t challenge it at FOU. The above is just the first criteria by the World Bank on measuring Logistics Performance Index (LPI) of any country.

The second criteria is “The quality of trade and transport related infrastructure (e.g. ports, railroad, road etc.): You will agree with me that the Nigeria government cannot even be scored 20% on this area.

The last criteria is “Timeliness of shipments in reaching destination within scheduled or expected delivery time”
Finally, Nigerians should expect that our rating as a country will not be favorable again this year because as at 2018, Nigeria was rated 2.8 which is very low, whereas other countries like Benin, Ivory Coast have better ratings than Nigeria. It is rather unfortunate that seventy percent (70%) of the blames goes to the modus operandi of Nigeria Customs Service deliberately flouting many international conventions which have been domesticated and this is done for pecuniary gains and extortion. (Among this is the valuation act), which states six principles on how to arrive at an acceptable value on commodities.

The law stretches further that, “it must be in agreement with the importer or his representative – World Customs Organization (WCO). However, we have a situation where the Nigeria Customs Service, out of laziness, generates self-imposed targets (1) and (2) have many times thrown caution to the wind. If late Dikko Inde administration generated over Seven hundred billion Naira at the twilight of his administration, about seven years ago, when the Naira was less than Three hundred Naira to a Dollar, one wonders what the heck is this management team celebrating to have generated One trillion Naira, when Dollars is over Five hundred Naira now.

The economy of the country is sliding to an abysmal level, courtesy of NCS refusal to go professional. The issue of trade facilitation has been jettisoned while importers are continually being arm-twisted to pay arbitrary Demand Notices on imported goods. The worst part is the non – uniformity in the clearance of vehicles. Vehicles of the same year are make to pay different duties in all the ports, even though the legal notices allow for wear and tear or discount as per year of manufacture. Despite the facts, we met the Comptroller General on several occasions that agents are tired of giving bribe, let us have uniform value on vehicles. Some management officers making their preponderance money from this avenue refused for it to be implemented.

We also proposed the Ghana version, using VIN number already computed and once you make your declaration with G – NET or Ghana Customs, your duties to be paid is shown and there is uniformity. Despite what agents go through to clear these vehicles, We still have many Units of customs to contend with. As soon as these vehicles are exited, many Customs Units still intercept these vehicles claiming that agents have paid a compromise duty. This led to the shooting of our member by a drunk Customs officer recently. We are bleeding. This issue has gotten to a level that younger agents may resort to self-help should this extortion by Nigeria Customs officers continues.

AUDIO SEIZURES:
The recent media seizures by the Nigeria Customs Service needs to be investigated. We now have what is called “Audio Seizures”. Since they know the CGC is (ignorant of what is going on), you find some Comptollers calling press conferences for “audio seizures”, i.e seizures that never existed or repeating some seizures already shown to the public few years/ months back. This is not only uncustoms, but a disservice to the nation which requires a probe panel.

THE FEDERAL MINISTRY OF FINANCE SHIRKING IN ITS RESPONSIBILITIES :
The Honorable Minister of Finance has shirked in her responsibility and has completely failed Nigerians. We have put up letters on several occasions to demand for clarifications on certain issues as regards import guidelines. On these occasions, the minister has failed to respond and where she did, she is unable to put NCS on her toes to abide by instant laws or directives or policies of the Federal Government.

A recent vivid example is the customs flouting Federal Government policy on importation of commercial aeroplane/ plane and its parts. Nigerians will recalled that the CEO of Air Peace Airline protested publicly on the customs intention to collect 7% surcharge on aeroplanes when there is total duty exemption on this import. What such cargoes ought to pay is 0.8% ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (0.5% of FOB) and other charges.

CENTRAL BANK OF NIGERIA ( CBN)
Even though the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Act made her to be autonomous in monetary policy, but that does not confer any legality on her to dabble into fiscal policy. The Central Bank has continually bastardized our economy by dabbling into fiscal policy which, by extension, has been affecting volume of importation into the country.

The Federal Minister of Finance has an explanation to give to Nigerians by not acting when CBN started by slamming Forex prohibition on about thirty two (32) commodities from accessing Forex. Where importers have sourced for the Forex in the black market, they must still obtain clearance letter from CBN before importers are able to open Form “M”.

SOLUTION
First and foremost, it has been evidently established that we need to rejuvenate the Federal Ministry of Finance by appointing another technocrat to move our economy forward and we need an honorable Minister of Finance that will be able to supervise and direct the new management team of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to be reconstituted. The first panacea to revamping our economy is to appoint a vibrant and versatile economist as Honorable Minister of Finance because the present one lacks the ability to move our economy forward post the Covid19 pandemic.

Secondly, the Federal Government must assist the economy, if Nigeria will not be doomed economically by appointing from the crop of intelligent young Customs Officers from the Comptrollers rank that will move the economy forward and not amongst these ones that have not only eaten the forbidden fruits, but are infected by the current leadership in power. Like in Covid19 infections, we now have a situation where one individual is rated as the most powerful in the management of Customs than the honorable Minister of Finance. We have a Comptroller General of Customs that is evasive, he sees no evil, hears no evil. How can he know what his men are doing on the field and when he eventually decided to see a some members of stakeholders association he continues to defend the misdemeanor of his officers.

The Federal Government should begin to think of inter modal transportation system to assist the dependent on road. What a shame?

Dr. Kayode Farinto Collins is the
CEO Wealthy Honey Investment and the
Vice President, Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA).

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