By Nwangwu Uba and Ambrose Okehi
Until Hameed Ali a retired Army Colonel was appointed Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, late August 2015, the Service could hardly could meet its yearly revenue targets.
This is because of the many revenue loopholes that existed at the seaports and land border areas through which importers with their agents, Customs personnel and security operatives defraud the government. The situation was so bad at the seaports which ought to generate over 90 percent of the revenue needed by the Service to pay into the Federation Account yearly.
Ali may have been discouraged by the revenue profile of the Service presented to him on assumption of duties, he felt something urgent needed to be done to change the situation for the better. His worry was that the Customs was not generating enough revenue to pay into the government coffers despite the volume of cargoes passing through the nation’s seaports and the border areas.
He may have made up his mind from the onset with the support of his informants, who turned themselves into the Customs cabal at the early stage of the Administration to block the various revenue leakages to ensure that the Customs revenue generation improved.
The Customs Comptroller General was said to have read the riot act to officers and men of the Service to sit up , warning that any officer found to have compromised his position to cover an importer’s false declaration , transfer of value or underpayment would be arrested and prosecuted. The fear of playing into the Army Colonel’s hand who had already made sweeping changes in the management team and appointed some new Comptrollers who were quickly deployed to the Commands prepared the ground for improved revenue generation for the Service. More so, the Ali appointed Comptrollers knew they cannot afford to fail because of the confidence reposed on them by the Customs boss.
Muhammed Uba Garba, one of the new Comptrollers who was posted to FOU, Zone C,Owerre , Imo state, may have exposed the rot at the Onne seaport and other ports in the south south
The sanity introduced at Onne port and the other seaports in the region may have prepared him to do the same thing at the seaports in Lagos when he was deployed to FOU, Zone A, in 2017. Importers, agents and their Customs collaborators at Apapa,
The fallout was that most of the stakeholders were forced to stop inducing Customs personnel to take delivery of the cargoes when they saw how their importers’ Containers duly released at the port or truck laden goods from the land border station were intercepted by the Command Operations and Lagos Roving team Headed by Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs and transferred to the Command for proper examination. Millions of naira which could have entered into private hands were said to have been recovered for the government. The recovered funds may have forced the Comptrollers overseeing the seaports to put a close tab on their
The Army Colonel may have given a signal to Buhari, that the Customs has joined the league of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC and the Nigeria Inland Revenue Service, NIRS, to hit the trillion naira revenue target when the 2017 figure was presented to him.
Between 2016 and 2018, the Service was said to have paid N3.137 trillion into the Federation Account. Joseph Atta, a Deputy Comptroller and the Customs Spokes person said in a Statement that the Service under the guidance of Ali, the Comptroller General , generated N1.202 trillion in 2018 alone. Note that the Service paid into the Federation N898 billion in 2016 and N1.037 trillion in 2017.
The Customs may have generated this much despite the removal of 41 highly yielding revenue items from accessing the forex market by the government. Rice , according to Attah, which had raked about N56.8 billion or 5.8 percent of the total revenue generated by the Service in 29014 , could not even contribute up to half a billion to the total revenue.
recall that the government had banned the importation of bulk cargo such as foreign rice and vehicles through the land border but only through the seaports. the government may increased the duty and imposed a levy on the item as a way of discouraging importers to protect local rice farmers. Many rice farmers who could not the bear the high cost of patronising local ports were said to have relocated to Cotonou port port and other ports in the West African sub-region which were smuggled into the Nigerian markets through unapproved routes.
An elated Ali said the improved revenue collection by the Service in the last three years was as a result of the ”dogged pursuit of what is right rather than being populist by compromising national interest on the altar of individual and group interests”.
The Customs boss noted that the government reform programme have impacted positively on the Service on all fronts as the Integrated Customs Information system , NCSI,has been upgraded to NCSII which has ”blocked areas of revenue leakages in the Service.
He also attributed the improved revenue generation to strategic deployment of manpower to the Commands and strict enforcement of extant guidelines by officials of the Tariff and Trade Department at the ports and border staions. Indeed, this may have resulted into more robust stakeholders engagement to increased compliance as no importer or agent wants to play into Ali’s hand that could exposes their Customs Collaborators . The importers of the 59 Containerised tramadol drugs through Apapa, Tincan Island and Onne ports last year would never forget their experience in a hurry as they forfeited the drugs to the government.
Appealing to the” International trade actors to ensure they do the right thing”, Attah pleaded with them to make 2019 a better year in terms of revenue generation for the service. He may have gladdened the heart of importers and agents when he said the Service” appreciates all the compliant stakeholders for their ”support to the service in 2018 to hit the N1.202 trillion revenue target.
Another area, Ali may have made appreciable impact in the Service in the last three years was in anti-smuggling operations. That much was confirmed by Attah, the Customs Spokes person. Given an insider information Attah confirmed the Customs anti-smuggling operations yielded a total of 5, 235 seizures with a Duty Paid Value of N61.54 billion in 2018 alone.
The major seizures were foreign parboiled rice and vehicles. The FOU, Zone A and the Headquarters Strike Force, particular the Lagos Zonal Command overseeing Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti and Ondo, the six states in the south west geo-political region, under the Command of Salisu Shuaibu, an Assistant Comptroller. The 8090 Kg bags of foreign parboiled rice seized by the Zonal Command in one month last year speaks volume.
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