Revenue: Anti-Government Policies Forces Customs Comptrollers Into Thinking

By Stephen Ubanna

until last  May, 2018, there was no sign that  the  Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Tincan Island Command could leave up to expectation with its ranking  as a major revenue generating Command  of the Service  . This is because of the drop in the volume of cargo traffic at the port and the self assessment of imported vehicles policy of the Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and the Customs Comptroller   General.

The low volume of cargo traffic  had been attributed  to the anti-trade policies of the  former President Goodluck Jonathan Administration  which was made worse  by the  barring of importers  of 41 items including foreign parboiled rice  from accessing the foreign exchange market by  President Muhammadu Buhari .

Muhammed Uba Garba, Comptroller, Federal Operations  Unit, FOU, Zone A, reportedly said  that  between  July, 2015, and now, the government had saved  over N15 billion  from  the 41 items barred from assessing  the forex  market revenue. That much was confirmed by a top official of   the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.

The  items, according to   Customs sources are high  yielding    going by the country’s fiscal policy measures, particular rice. Between June 2017 and now, the CBN, the source further said  had not  issued import license to  any rice importer   in the country as most of the terminals  at Apapa and Tin can island  are currently operating at half capacities despite  the Execute Order on the ease  of doing business at the nation’s ports .

The implication was the drop in the Customs Commands monthly revenue generation, thus, forcing  the respective Area Comptrollers to put on their thinking cap on how to boost their revenue generations.

Given his Valuation and Classification knowledge   obtained from  World Customs Organisation, WCO , and World Trade Organisation, WTO, and Human Relations, Musa Baba Abdullahi, the  Tincan Island boss was said to have  set the ball rolling by devising strategies to reverse the downward trend of the monthly revenue of the  Command inherited from his predecessor, Bashar Yusuf, now Comptroller Pre- Arrival Assessment  Report, PAAR, at the Customs Headquarters Abuja.

Another  major  factors that was said to have  affected   the monthly revenue of the Command was the implementation of the Customs Information Integrated System Platform, NCS, 1, on imported vehicles . Importers with their agents and their Customs collaborators at the port and the Customs Headquarters were said to have  exploited the loopholes in the platform to shortchange the government.

Muhammed Uba Garba: Forces Customs Officials At The Ports To Sit Up
Muhammed Uba Garba: Forces Customs Officials At The Ports To Sit Up

The Magazine learnt  its effect on the revenue generation of the Command  started with the release and exit of imported vehicles   f. It was learnt  once the importer makes a duty  payment  which is confirmed in the bank  based on self  assessment, it would  trigger off at the shipping Company and the Customs Command  for  release and   exit.

It was gathered  that only  importers  found wanting in their  duty assessment   were referred to the query Seat .

insiders informed the Magazine  that agents and their Customs collaborators were making brisk business  as exotic vehicles which could have attracted   millions of naira as  duty, pay pittance to Customs and take delivery of their imported vehicle.  Some of the exotic vehicle importers were said to have paid as low as N250, 000.00 or less per unit.  They were said to have  forged the payment receipt to facilitate the delivery of the  vehicle while the country bleeds.

Signs that the Customs Command was being shortchanged    manifested in November in 2017 and spilled over to the first quarter of 2018. It was not surprising that the Command made an unimpressive  revenue generation of N62 billion  in the first quarter of 2018.  This was a far cry from the N354 billion , revenue  target set for the Command this year.

Many  believe that  the revenue drop became worse  because  of the removal of Customs Valuation Seat officers in the Valuation of the imported vehicles. This may have forced the Command to return the Valuation Seat  with a mandate to assess all imported vehicles  and other cargos to Customs through the Command.

Investigation by the Magazine  shows that while the NCI had been fraught with loopholes, the NCII , appear to be worse as it was found  to be based  on ”Compromise duty”. This is because  the Valuation officials and  the importer’s agent , according  to a source  would agree  on the  duty that  could be paid . The differential in duty payment were said to have been shared  among them from the Examination,  Valuation,   Release to the exit gate  officials.

Worried by the poor revenue collection of the Command in the first quarter  of 2018,  the Tincan Island Customs boss, who was instrumental for  the  return of the  Customs  Valuation of imported vehicles  and the Command  data  base  was said to be working round the clock  to improve on the revenue collection of the Command.

The  Source learnt that the customs  automation of the Data base on  imported vehicles  may have  facilitated the use of the VIN  number which  gives out all the necessary description  of the imported vehicle  to guard the Command Valuation unit. The VIN  number,  the source confirmed gives  out information on the capacity of the vehicle, country of origin, type, brand and the value for proper valuation. This may have translated to improved revenue  generation of the Command in the second quarter of 2018.

The Command was said to have generated over N100 billion , with much of the revenue coming from  imported vehicles, thus putting the total revenue generated by the Command between January and June 2018, to about N163 billion compared to N136 billion collected   within the same period in 2017.

Given an insider information , Ejesieme Uche, a Superintendent of Customs , and the Command  Spokesman  disclosed  that  the impressive revenue  generation could be  achieved  in the last six months because  the Area Comptroller, has successfully repositioned the port  as the  most  ”business friendly  where all compliant  importers  who make correct declarations  were dully” compensated  and given special preference”.

He may have spoken the mind of the Comptroller when he gave an insight into the deployment of   the multi-layered approach is used in addressing the  issue of  trade compliance and ensuring  that compliant  importers  were given expeditious  attention in line with  the Presidential directive on the   ”Ease of  Doing  Business”.

Perhaps, one area which the Command appear to have made much impact  in the last six  months  was  in anti-smuggling operations. Past Comptrollers  of the Command   and the Deputy Comptrollers in-charge of the Command Enforcement Unit, were said to have  paid little or no  attention to anti-smuggling operations , believing that it was the responsibility of the FOU, Zone A, to do so, thus, giving the officers of the Command Operations and Lagos Roving team ample opportunity to ambush imported vehicles and other cargoes released  at the seaports.

Abudullahi may have known the importance of curtailing smuggling activities at the port that he is not giving a breathing space to fraudulent importers with their agents . He confirmed that the Command  made spectacular seizures ranging from  used clothing, children toys,  assorted furniture, bogs of foreign parboiled rice, shoes, handbags to used vehicles.  The Duty Paid Value, DPV, of the seized items  was put  at about  N138.75 million.

It would be recalled that the Command also made a seizure of large quantity ammunition and other military hardware during  scheduled examination.  Given  his  hard-line  position against unrepentant smugglers at the port,  the Tincan Island Comptroller has vowed  that the Command  will not lower its  guards in ensuring that such illicit  Consignments does not pass through  to the  Command.  These are are items which  may have fallen into the waiting  hands of the FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos Roving team.  Last month the Command was said to have detained 21 exotic  vehicles without Customs  duties  with about five of linked to Tincan Island port. As at Wednesday Aught,13 other exotic vehicles  were said to have been detained at the Command  . A source confirmed that  most of the exotic vehicles were released from  Tincan Island.  This is where Abdullahi and  his Enforcement officers may have sit up to stop the fraudulent agents  from  giving the Command  bad name as the FOU, Zone A, officials would always  get a them through  its large array of informants scattered all over the south west geo-political region.

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