CEMA  2023: Importers, Agents Groan Over Increase In Customs Duties And Penalty On Infractions

 By Stephen Ubanna

 The review of the Customs and Excise Management Act, CEMA Cap 2004, and the subsequent signing into Law of the CEMA 2023, by former President Muhammadu Buhari, appears to have laid down appropriate punishment for importers with their agents who Contravenes the Federal Government Fiscal policies including Officers who compromise their positions at the seaports, airports and Land border areas in the guise of doing their jobs.

That much was confirmed by Compt. Dera Nnadi, a graduate of Nigerian Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Jos, Plateau state and who at various times had served as Customs Area Controller, Ogun I, Idiroko, and Seme Commands, and now overseeing Tin- can Island Command.

Cmpt. Nnadi Delivers Customs Position Paper On CEMA 2023 And It Implication On Trade At LOME 25th Anniversary Celebrations

 Compt. Nnadi who had represented Bashir Adewale Aeniyi, MFR, the Customs Comptroller General, who was said to have travelled outside the country on official engagement to speak on ‘’ CEMA, 2023 and Its Implication On Trade’’ at the League of Maritime Editors, LOME, 25 anniversary and presentation of awards to 16 Corporate Organisations and   Industry players may not have disappointed those who were at the event as they repeatedly  nodded their heads as he quotes various sections of the Act and its implications to trade.

The Customs Compt. May have sent a message to importers with their agents including Customs personnel who collaborate with fraudulent agents to commit infractions at the ports and Land border areas that it is no longer going ‘’to be business as usual’’ when he dropped the bombshell about the stiff penalty that awaits those who commit infractions at the ports and Land border areas ranging from under declaration, under payment, to Concealment going by the provisions of the CEMA 2023.

Prince Olayiwola Shittu, Patron, LOME, , and Compt. Nnadi , Aramaligu and others Others

The Tin-Can Island Customs Area Controller was emphatic that the CEMA 2023, had spelt out the needed punishment to be meted out to the  fraudulent importers with their agents and their Customs Collaborators , who commit infractions at the port  which exposed them  to the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos , the nation’s Commercial nerve centre or FOU, Zone C, Owerri, Imo state officers,  positioned at strategic locations various  between the ports and the importers’ warehouse at the South west, south east and south-south geopolitical regions .

 Going by the provisions of the new CEMA 2023, the Interventionist Commands have been mandated by to   issue of Demand Notice, DN, to the defaulting importer a through the agent to recover the lost revenue which could have entered into private pockets.

This is in addition to the payment of   25% penalty of the value of the duty paid on the imported product and a flat rate fine of two million naira or risk going to six months jail depending on the crime committed.

 The new CEMA 2023, may have approved the stiff penalty to forestall importers with their agents from taking short cuts to short-change the government as such infractions may  turn out to be a cause to them if caught in the act  by Acting Comptrollers. Kehinde Hussain Ejibubunu, Area Controller, FOU, Zone A or Kayode Kolade, FOU, Zone C.   

Under the old CEMA, Cap 2004, importers with their agents who were said to have committed infractions at the ports ad Land border areas were made to pay a paltry sum of N600.00 as fine, which maritime analysts had said was responsible for the increased cases of fraud and at the ports, particular.

This is evident with the frequent interception of Containerised cargoes released at the Lagos ports of Apapa , Tin can Island, Port Terminal Multi-services Limited, PTML, or  the south eastern ports of Onne and Rivers ports by which fall into the waiting hands of  FOU, Zone A and Zone C , Patrol Team officers  Patrol Team Officers  on the road and at the  Checkpoints.

The number of Containerised Containers intercepted between the Lagos ports and Mile 2,  on a weekly basis bear eloquent testimony to the rot at the  ports and how Ag Compt. Ejibunu’s men on the road have not allowed such suspected Containers to escape their eagle eyes  and which were said to have been transferred to the Command premises for proper physical examination.

. The no nonsense Tin can Island Customs Area Controller may have shocked Nigerians when he disclosed that some officers from the Command had at one or the other been invited by Acting Compt. Ejibunu, of FOU, Zone A, described as the anti-smuggling Czar in Customs circles, to come to the Command to write statement over alleged involvement in infractions that had been linked to them.

 He had confirmed that the Command Enforcement Unit already, has a list of such officers invited to FOU, Zone A, to make statements which remains a closely guided secret. This clearly shows that he is not ready to shield any officer who commits any offense or collaborate with importers with their agents to commit infractions at the Tin Can Island port under his Leadership.

He was said to have also taken advantage of the LOME 25 Anniversary celebrations and presentation of Awards to open up on the Command activities, noting that its daily revenue collection has jumped up to the all-time high of N3.3 billion, the highest ever to be collected by the Command in its operations over the last decade. This is because all areas of revenue Leakage at the port has been blocked.

The Tin-can Island Customs boss was said to have also used the opportunity of the LOME event to speak about the impact of the government’s Monetary and Fiscal policies being implemented by the Customs on the prices of goods and services at the Nigerian Markets and why.  

The National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, had reported that between July, 2023 and now, the prices of goods, both locally produced and imported products had been on rise due to the free fall of the naira to the North American country of the United States, US, dollar, at the foreign exchange market,

 Note that US dollar, is the major foreign currency widely accepted in international transactions for payments. He had alluded to the fact that as at June,2023, when the Customs Commands had used the Central Bank Of Nigeria, CBN, official exchange rate of N410.15, to the US dollar, for calculations of duty payment for all imported goods into the country prices of goods and services were relatively cheap and affordable.

   The Tin Island Customs Area Controller noted that the unification of the official and the parallel, popular black market exchange rates by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on assumption of duties on May 29, 2023, thus floating the naira at the forex market, which had encouraged the NCS, to adjust its rate of calculating import duties and which had been done several times was instrument mental to the increasing of prices of goods and service at the Nigerian market.

He averred that this is after the apex bank under the close watch of Olayemi Michael Cardoso , who incidentally was a former Commissioner, Economic Planning and Budget under Tinubu as  governor of Lagos state and Head of the Citibank of Nigeria had floated the naira at the forex market.

Compt. Nnadi   had confirmed at the LOME event that Tin-Can Island   and other Customs Commands at present are using the current official exchange N952.00 to the US dollar to do the calculations on duty payment   on imported cargoes into the country. The adjustment, was said to have been reflected on the NCS portal to align with the bank’s decision to authorise Money Deposit banks, MDB, to sell forex at the market determined rates and could change at any time if the naira appreciates or depreciates at the forex maarket.

There is no gain saying the fact that following the increase of the country’s exchange rate    for calculations of Customs duty payment on imported cargoes  from the CBN, official market rate of N783.00 to the US dollar to the current N952, the NCS, formations across the country, particular, the Tin-can Island Customs helmsman,  appears ‘’to have identified  efficient  a and speedy ways of operations  to improve on the Command revenue collections and minimize the plight’’ being experienced   by importers  with their agents in taking delivery of their cargoes at the  port.

  pNote that plans by freight Forwarders and the trading Community to down tools at the Tin can Island port may have encouraged Compt. Nnadi, to take the bull by the horn to address the agents on the morning of Thursday, December 6, 2023 before attending the LOME event same dam, where he had presented the Customs position paper at Ikeja.

 He was said to have reassured the aggrieved agents   that ‘’the Command on its part will ‘’optimize its service delivery efforts  to facilitate trade   so as to reduce the impact of the frequent   increase in exchange rate at the country’s  official  forex market  which may have reduced the tensions at the port as the agents were said to have  returned back to work  to take delivery of their clients’ cargoes giving him the Confideence to attend the LOME event at Ikeja .   

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