By Stephen Ubanna
For years, the Federal government had been losing billions of naira to importers with their clearing agents and Customs collaborators at the seaports, airport and land border stations. The importers were said to have been shortchanging the government through wrong Classification of goods, transfer of value and under-payment. The rot may have been exposed by Muhammed Uba Garba, Comptroller Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A who took the battle to the areas.
A senior Customs officer told the Magazine that Muhammed and his officers may appear to be winning the war against the dubious importers with their agents and Customs collaborators in the south west because there is no fraud that could be committed at the seaport , airport and land border stations without the involvement of an officer to give a clue to it .
The officer disclosed that the day Customs officers would turn their back on agents , government would be geenrating the appropriate revenue from the non oil sector. The officer said Hameed Ali , a retired Colonel and Comptroller General , Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, had not helped matters , particular at the seaports, as importers who have the money and are well connected could take delivery of their goods with ease notwithstanding whether it complies with the government fiscal policy measures or not. The situation , according to a source is worse at the bonded terminals in Lagos.
Given a half year report of the Command, Jerome Attah, an Assistant Superintendent of Customs and the Command Image maker disclosed that importers with their agents who had been shortchanging the government over the years would never forget their experience in a hurry in the last six months, particular those whose Containers or exotic vehicles fell into the waiting hands of the Command personnel on the road.
Attah averred that but for the vigilance of the Command’s Operations and Lagos Roving team and other teams set up by the Area Comptroller to put a close tab at what is happening at the seaports, airport and land border stations, the revenue loss to the government would have been monumental disaster in the last six months.
It is not surprising why Maritime analysts had described the FOU, Zone A, as the Economic and Financial crimes Commission , EFCC, arm, of the current Ali led Customs.
They noted that the work which the Customs Comptroller and his officers were doing were not quite different from what Ibrahim Magu, a Commissioner of Police and acting Chairman of the EFF and his team were doing in seizing suspects property, mostly houses and exotic vehicles , worth billions of naira f including cash which are transferred to government coffers.
Given an insider information, the Customs Image maker confirmed that the Command impounded 167 units of exotic vehicles ranging from Lexus, bullet proof, Toyota C-HR, Toyota Prado Jeeps, Toyota Hilux, Ford F150, Pajero to Mercedes Benz vehicles, ranging from 2015 -2018 models respectively.
The interception of the exotic vehicles may have exposed the rot on the Vehicle Seats at the sea ports and land border stations since the ban on the importation of vehicles through the land border last year. There was the initial fear that the fire in Muhammed in going after importers with their agents and smugglers would burn out fast because agents have way of penetrating Customs ranks to perpetuate fraud at the seaports. They may have met a match in the FOU, Zone A, Customs boss, who , sources said had remained unyielding to their demands.
Investigation by the Magazine shows that agents and officers were working together to break down the FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos Roving team personnel by bribing their way. Indeed, agents in the past , according to a source, blackmail their importers that they needed to bribe the FOU personnel to be able to take delivery of their goods which may have contravened the government fiscal policy measure from the seaport without trouble on the road .
The source disclosed that the importers fell for such blackmail and, thus were going about with the impression that the FOU, Zone A, were not saints as people were made to believe. The officer disclosed that it took most of them time to realise that they were being duped by their agents when they started getting information of their Containers being arrested on the road and transferred to Customs warehouse for re-examination and issuance of Demand Notice, DN. The DN, an agent confirmed run into millions of naira, which must be paid by the importer or forfeit the Consignment to the government.
Those who could not afford to abandon their cargoes at the Command premises had no option but to pay the DN. It is not surprising why Muhammed could beat his chest that despite heading a purely anti-smuggling Command, the Command still recovered over N400 million for the government between January and June , 2018.
He is optimistic that with the support of Ali, the Customs Comptroller General and the entire customs Management team including the Army Police and the Department of State Security , DSS, leadership. ,the Command would do better in the remaining six months of this year.
The indexes, he said, are already clear that the Command would do better going by the scores of Containers being transferred to the Customs warehouse daily by the Command Customs Operations and Lagos Roving team headed by Riks Lura, the Bauchi state born Chief Superintendent of Customs. The Containers which usually intercepted by the team , a source said are based on intelligence report or advice from Customs Headquarters of having contravened the government fiscal policy.
A document made available to the Magazine shows that the N405 million recovered by the Command in six months was part of the Command’s N8.6 billion total revenue that was said to have been generated for the government within the period. Much of the money were said to have accrued to the Command based on the calculation of the duty paid value, DPV, of the goods impounded from smugglers mostly foreign parboiled rice, vegetable oil and second hand clothing.
At present, the Command warehouse and the mechanical workshop which had been converted into a warehouse are filled with impounded Containers , truck laden goods and thailand parboiled rice, that could take about 58 trucks to load. The foreign parboiled rice seizures in the Customs warehouse awaiting the Presidential order to be evacuated to the Internally Displaced People’s IDP, Camps in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states in the North east geo-political region including the IDP Camp in Edo state , south-south geo-political region.
in spite of the huge revenue generated for the government and the items seized from smugglers ,across the six states in the south west , Muhammed may have been enthused by the number of suspects apprehended by his men. At the last count in the month of June, 2018, no fewer than 17 suspects were in their net . Some of them were said to have been dragged to Court in connection with some of the impounded goods and exotic vehicles while some were granted bail. The good news, according to a source , was that the suspects were apprehended without the input from the Comptroller General’s newly established Customs police, meaning that the officers in the Unit should endeavour to make their services available to the Commands for proper Coordination.