By Stephen Ubanna
Abdullahi Musa, a World Customs Organisation , WCO, trained Valuation and Classification officer and now Comptroller, Tin-Can Island Command, appears to have found an answer to one of the major sources of revenue loss in the Command: Underpayment of duties.
Musa was said to have unveiled his plan to separate the good from the importers with their agents by categorizing the list of importers using the Tin Can Island seaport to take delivery of their cargoes shipped into the country into Compliant, semi Compliant and non -Compliant group, for the purpose of trade facilitation.
The Customs Comptroller may have been forced to take the decision because of his basic understanding of the activities of the Importers with their agents and their Customs Collaborators at the seaports over the years leading to the government losing billions of naira annually.
The situation was so bad at the Command that he was forced to set up a Compliance Team Headed by Mahmud Ibrahim, an Assistant Comptroller, regarded in Customs Circles as a revenue Czar. The Assistant Customs Comptroller who has a vision of ensuring that appropriate government revenue were collected from importers was said to have put down his experience to work. The Ibrahim led Compliance team work may have been simplified with the categorization formular of the importer’s list by Musa, the Command’s Comptroller.
This is because the Comptroller was said to have mandated the Compliance team members to ensure that importers on the Compliance list take delivery of their cargoes with ease in the spirit of trade facilitation.
Uche Ejesieme, a Superintendent of Customs and the Command Spokesperson reportedly said that what the Command had done was simply to’’ restrategise and fine tune its operations to ensure that Compliant importers enjoy the full benefits of the government policy on trade facilitation instead of giving them equal treatment with the non-Compliant importers by allowing their cargoes to undergo the same clearing process at the port.
The Value News learnt that Cadbury, NESTLE, Coca Cola Bottling Company plc, Nigerian Breweries, Guiness and other Multi-national Companies , which had been known to make the correct declarations and pay the appropriate duty for their Consignments over the years, had been separated from other importers for the ease of trade facilitation. It is not surprising why the identified multinational Companies operating in the country had been allowed on the orders of the Customs Comptroller to take delivery of their Cargoes on arrival at the port on Fast Track without delay to their warehouse, awaiting examination by Customs personnel and other agencies .
The Customs Comptroller may have told the various Departmental Heads of the Command Enforcement Unit, Valuation and the Compliance team, to treat the importers listed on semi- Compliant group with fairness as they are ready to work with the Customs Authorities by turning a new leaf. The Tin Can Island Command Comptroller may have discovered through his findings that the errors found in such importers documentation which necessitated the issuance of Demand Notice, DN, may not be out of their own making but ostensibly due to inadequate information on the Classification and the value of the imports. The Value News learnt that these category of importers are ready to pay the DN slammed on them by the Compliant office without argument.
The non- Compliant Importers , who were said to be mostly Nigerians, Lebanese and Chinese, according to Maritime watchers may have been major target of the Tin-Can Island Customs boss to force them to do the right thing.
They described the group as the nosiest at the various seaports across the country and ever ready to do anything to force the Customs Valuation and Releasing officers to do their biddings. They may have gotten it difficult to penetrate the ranks of the Command Compliance team to do the wrong thing as heavy DN, were said to have been slammed on those whose documentations have been found to be defective.
The Value News learnt that there had been several attempts by these category of non-compliant importers with their agents who could do anything to circumvent the country’s fiscal policies to force Ibrahim, an Assistant Comptroller, in-charge of the Command Compliance Team to tamper justice with mercy with by reducing the DN burden on their client’s Consignment. Their argument was that they never knew that the clients Containers had K-leg as the cost of clearing the goods did not cover such extra costs. The question on the lips of most people is: who is to blame for the lapses, Customs or the agent? Those who were said to have tried to push the Assistant Customs Comptroller to his limit of patience would never forget their experience in a hurry as they were said to have left his office more frustrated and with a message to go and do the right thing.
An agent who spoke to the Magazine said they have never had it so bad in taking delivery of their client’s cargoes at the port as Musa , the Tin Can island Customs Comptroller has successfully thrown his weight behind the Compliance team who were said to have recovered billions of naira which could have entered into private pockets through issuance of DN.
Unconfirmed report shows that the revenue generated by the Command in the month of July alone, had never been generated by any former Comptroller of the Command over the last ten years, an indication that the era of short changing the government in payment of duties was over.
The agents may have known that they are in for a rough time, particular, the non- Compliant importers, that the leadership of the Association o of Nigerian Liscensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Western Zone, were forced to hold a closed door meeting at the Command Boardroom, with the Area Comptroller and his management team on Wednesday, July 31, 2019 The outcome of the meeting remained a closely guided secret.
There are indications that the leadership of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, who not ready to see most of their forced out of the Freight Forwarding profession because of unbearable DN on their clients suspected Containers to follow the footsteps of ANLCA, to dialogue with the Command on the Controversial policy. The agents Association officials may have thread with caution in pushing Musa, the Comptroller to do the unexpected as he was said to have told those who cares to listen that there was no going back on the policy. He has his reason of not having any plan whatsoever to review the policy because of its revenue target, which runs into billions of aira , which had to be met. The Comptroller knows that Ali, the Customs Comptroller General would not take any excuse for an answer if the Command 2019 revenue target were not met. Tin Can Island is the Customs second highest revenue generating Command , next to Apapa Command.
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