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.
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.