By stephen Ubanna
Barely three years after President Muhammadu Buhari initiated fiscal policy measures to boost export of made in Nigeria goods and Agricultural products, the much expected balance of trade between Nigeria and its trading partners in Europe, North America, Asia and East Africa is yet to be achieved.
This is evident going y the weekly export and import report at the nation’s premier, Apapa, cited by the Magazine last Friday, April 13, 2018 at the port. The record showed that in one week alone, Nigeria exported Cocoa beans, rough wood, Indomie, Seasonals and approved Agricultural products to the Asian countries of China and India, United States, Netherland, Belgium-Luxemburg the traditional trading partners .
Given an insider information of the total goods , bother manufactured and Agricultural products loaded into Containers, both ”20” and ”40” that passed through the port to Asia, Europe, North America and African trading partners between January and March 2018, Nkeiruka Nwala, an Assistant Superintendent of Customs and the Command Public Relations officer, in a Statement confirmed that the Command recorded a total of about 280,000 tonnes of various exports with a total Free On Board, FOB, value of 115.09 million dollars.
Henry Clime, General Manager, ports and Terminal Operators, Nigeria Limited, PTOL, attributed the low cargoes export from the country to the traditional trading partners to the fact that Nigeria exporters cannot compete in the international market because of the high cost of handling the Commodities earmarked for export in the country’s seaports, warehousing and automated method of loading.
Clime cited Ghana and Cote D’ Ivoire, where the estimated cost of handling a palm kernel cake vessel of Gross Registered tonnage of 2, 861 is $23.64 per tonne covering Stevedoring, trimming, haulage , warehousing and shifting from the warehouse to the shipside. He disclosed that in Nigeria, exporters pay as much as $30-$35 per tonne for the same services.
The PTOL General Manager stressed that there is need for the systems and logistics in the nation’s seaports to be critically examined for improvement to reduce the cost of shipment to make the country’s exporters Competitive in the International Commodities market.
The Magazine learnt that within the particular week in question, 3,500 imported Containerized cargoes passed through the port. It was gathered that out of the 3, 500 Containerized cargoes imported through the port ,about 2000 Containers , were transferred to the bonded terminals under the supervision and control of the Command. The fallout of the high import volume through the ports and other ports within the country may have been much talked about of the increased revenue collection by Customs formations throughout the country to meet the target set for it by the government this year.
Clime had made it clear to those that care to listen that ” a country that does not export but depend only on imports as a major source of revenue is doomed to suffer economically and not make progress. This is the common thread that run through the ports, Customs Commands celebrating the huge import duties collected for the government at the ports. From Apapa, Tincan Island, Onne, Port Area 1, Port multiservices terminal limited, PTML, Kirikiri lighter terminal, Ogun, Oyo, Kaduna/Katsina, the story is the same: celebrating import duties collection , if the monthly target is met or surpassed or better than the amount collected within the same period in the previous year.
Jibril Musa, the Apapa Command Comptroller confirmed that the collected and paid into the Federation Account about N82 billion covering duties on imported cargoes, 7percent Port Development Levy for the Nigeria Ports Authority, 5percent tax for federal Inland Revenue Services, FIRS, . one percent Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme, NDDC levy and other charges for other government agencies. The Impressive revenue collection of Apapa Command within the first quarter of 2018 was not different from the declaration of other Commands. Take the case of Tincan Island Command. Baba-Musa M.A. , the Comptroller disclosed that the Command generated about N77 billion in first three months of 2018. The amount , according to Uche Ejesieme, a Deputy Superintendent of Customs and the Command Image maker was about N15 billion higher than the amount of revenue collected by the Command within the same period last year. The Command , under the then Comptroller, described in Customs as a Computer guru was said to have collected for the government a total Sum of N 61 billion.
Ejesieme attributed the improved revenue collection of the Command despite low volume of cargo import through the port to the ”innovations and reforms”, introduced by the Comptroller” towards rejigging and re-engineering the consciousness of the officers / men of the Command towards enhancing efficiency and productivity in line with the statutory mandate of the to collect revenue for the government.
The Comptroller, who is a World Customs Organization and World Trade Organization, Valuation and Classification expert , from the outset had introduced the Time Release Study , to remove the bottlenecks associate with trade facilitation at the ports. The policy measures put in place, based on the time release study appears to have facilitated the timely release of cargoes through the port with the government time of 48 hours and less, if the importer make the correct declaration .
Aminu Dahiru, an Assistant Comptroller General and NCS, Coordinator, Zone A, Lagos, disclosed that most importers experience problem in the release of their cargoes at the port because of false declaration, incorrect Valuation, alteration to import documents, noting that if they could make the correct declaration, they are have o reason not to take deliveries of their imports within the 24 hours set by the government. This is because Comptrollers at the seaports, airports and land border stations, he said, are working round the clock in implementing the Presidential order on the ease of doing business in the country to attract more cargoes into Nigeria ports.
The reasons adduced by Dahiru for importers major problem with Customs officers may have been responsible for the duely released Containers from Apapa, Tincan or Port multi-services terminal limited, PTML, which fell into the waiting hands of Comptroller Muhammed Uba Garba led Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos Roving team between January and March 2018.
In January , alone , the Customs Enforcement Unit was said to have recovered about N91.34 million from Containers that were released from the ports which fell into the waiting hands of the Command Lagos Roving team. This is revenue that could have been lost both for the vigilance of Muhammed’s men on the road. Two Containers , that could not be asses because of the level of fraud involved were said to have been seized by the Command. The first Container, a 40”,GATU132358/4, according to Muhammed was seized for false declaration. The Container, the Comptroller said was found to be carrying 537 cartons of India Whisky as against yeast declared in the SGD form by the Importer.
Many had expected other importers with their agents to have learnt their lesson from what happened to collegues to do the right thing , but instead they perfected new strategies to cheat the government through wrong classification, transfer of value and underpayment. This may have resulted in the good number of Containers released from the ports which was intercepted by the Command Demand Notice, DN, raised after re-examination. The Command was said to have recovered for the government through the DN raised on the intercepted Containers about N68 million within the moth. The situation was also not different in the month of March.
An aggrieved Muhammed was not happy that importers and their agents were not ready to change their bad attitude of doing business because of amount recovered from them for the government. He confirmed that the Command recovered over N166 million for the government and seized four Containers for contravention of the government fiscal measures.
Given an insider information , he disclosed that were ”40” and a ”20”. The Container no. of the seized ”20” was CSNU 106087/4. It was found to have carried 2,260 cartons of Gonca Spaghetti that was made in the European country of Turkey and an additional 530 package of energy drinks made in another European country but falsely declared as baking powder by the importer in the SGD .
one of the seized ”40”, Container no. PCIU86505/1, was said to have been seized for carrying 200 cartons of ladies shoes, 134 cartons of children’s own as Computer keyboard declared in the SGD. The second, ”40” Container no. FCIU80992/0 was said to have been seized for carrying 2,300 cartons of tiffany crunch and cream biscuit as against Tapet for fuel pump complete that was said to have been declared by the importer. Indeed, a common crime was said to have been committed by the importers whose Containers were seized: False declaration. The question on the lips of most people is: can importers and their agents ever learn from the mistakes of their colleagues who had lost both the duties paid and their goods to government? .” Only the importers can answer it, an officer remarked”. There is no gain saying the fact that releasing officers at the various Customs Commands and terminals in Lagos are guilty of collaborating with fraudulent agents to cheat the government going by the good number of Containers intercepted by FOU , Zone A, personnel, and transferred to the Command for re-examination. the Headquarters Strike Force have further exposed the rots at the ports by the millions which it had also recovered for the government in less than one year of its operations in Lagos. The job of the Customs Strike Force to track goods released from the port without going through proper import process with the back of the Customs Information Communication Technology, ICT , center at Apapa. All the Commands are said to be hooked to the center.