Customs:Not Business As Usual

By Stephen Ubanna

When President Muhammadu Buhari, appointed Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Services, NCS, with a mandate to improve on the revenue collection of the Service and reform and restructure Customs nobody gave him opportunity to succeed.

This is because of people’s  perception of him as a non career  officer   who  find it difficult to penetrate the ranks of  the officers and men of the Service to know what they are doing at the seaports , airports and land border stations. They got it wrong. Ali was said to quickly  blended with the officers  in the last three years that he could speak the Customs language: Revenue generation and anti-smuggling.

In spite of the initial challenges  faced within the period of his appointment  Ali  according to Customs sources remain focused.. Wale Adeniyi, the then Customs Public Relation officer, now a Comptroller and his 2/ic, Joseph Attah, now a Deputy Comptroller  and Head of the Unit were said to have played  major role to stabilise him in office  and accessible to the public. There was the initial fears that the Service yearly revenue generation would drop because of the  loopholes at the seaports, airport and the land border areas.

Aware that he cannot afford to fail the  fail the President to sustain the tempo of Customs revenue generation he had set his eyes at the seaports and land border stations to force the officers to cue into his policy of eliminating fraud in the clearing process. This is He had vowed to ”prosecute Corrupt  officers, Importers and clearing agents involved in shady  deals”.

He may have sent signals  to the officers and men of the Service  that the” era of cutting corners and denting the image  of the Service  has ended”, forcing many  to go underground.  The tough talking Ali may have created the impression that he is a hard nut to crack from the  onset. His hard-line position  may have informed the officers that they needed to sit up and ” do things right” to avoid falling into  his trap.

As a prelude to  improved  revenue generation of the Service he has automated Customs operations from the seaports, airport to the land border station.  The automation was said to have covered the transfer of Containers from the seaports to the terminals  which was a major source of fraud in the past.

His actions may have sustained the revenue record set by his predecessor in office. Last year, the Customs  paid into the Federation Account  about N1.3 tn. That much was confirmed by Attah, the Customs Spokesman. The high revenue generation may have forced the government to set a revenue target of N1.5tn for Customs this year. Ali has assured the President that the Customs would  still deliver as expected.  His optimism is informed by the quarterly revenue  generation of the Commands which is very impressive. Take for instance, Tin can Island Command  which generated N76.78  billion as against N61.9 billion in the first quarter of 2017.

The gains in Customs revenue generation, according to Attah  was also reflected  in the area of anti-smuggling.  Aware that the Comptrollers at the land border areas  could not fight the battle against the vehicle or foreign parboiled rice smugglers alone, Ali was said to called on the Comptrollers of federal Operations Unit and the   then Headquarters Compliance team to support in them in driving the  smugglers out of business. The Customs  image maker disclosed that” once  the Comptroller General know that an officer know what he is doing he gives him an opportunity to do so’.’ It is not surprising why he gave Muhammed , Comptroller of FOU, Zone A opportunity to excel.

Ali’s major worry was that more than 90 percent  of the vehicles  imported  through Republic of Benin are normally on transit to Nigeria market.             he Magazine learnt that over 10 000 vehicles imported to neighboring countries, particular Republic of Benin,  were trapped at Seme and other  land border stations with the enforcement of  the government fiscal policy measures  banning the importation of vehicles, processed vegetable oil  and foreign parboiled rice through the land border.

With the support of the Comptroller General, to   Muhammed  Comptroller, FOU, Zone A, and his counterparts at Seme, Ogun and Oyo/Osun Commands the have found the need  to go after the smugglers in their areas of jurisdiction without compromise. The arrow head of the Command operations and Lagos Roving  team, Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs and his team members are on the road 24 hours daily  and have  not stopped making seizures of exotic vehicles and parboiled rice.  The performance of the FOU, Zone A. may have appealed to Ali that he was said to have giving both  written and verbal appreciation  to the  Command Customs Comptroller and his officers .

Given the volume of seizures  made by the Command both vehicles , foreign par boiled rice, vegetable oil and second hand clothing,  Ali, the Comptroller General had visited the Customs Training School, Ikeja, last year to see things himself. He was surprised at the exotic vehicles parked at the open field awaiting clearance by the owners .

Critics had argued that there was no basis keeping the  seized items to waste in the  Customs warehouse when Customs could make good revenue for the government by issuing Demand Notice, DN, to the owners.  But the Customs claimed that that it has being DN to importers who deserve it and those who have  paid it have  been allowed to take delivery of their vehicles.  The importers who are said to be having problem taking delivery of their vehicles  detained at FOU, Zone A. Ikeja are It was learnt that those who were able to produce their Customs papers  had recovered their vehicles  while those who could not still have their vehicles detained at the Command..

But the seized vegetable oil, foreign parboiled rice and second hand clothing at the Customs warehouses and other warehouses across the country on the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari were said to have been taken to Internally Displaced, Peoples, IDP,  Camps in Adamawa, Borno , Yobe and Edo states. This is evident by the volume of vegetable oil, Foreign parboiled rice and second hand clothing that were carried from  the Customs warehouse, Ikeja alone between January and May this year.

It is not surprising why the Customs Spokesman  could beast his chest that  the ”new Customs  under Ali  is focused and will not give in  to any distraction”. Appealing to media Practioners not to allow themselves to be used by disgruntled elements within and outside  the Service to  pursue their personal agenda”.

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