By Stephen Ubanna
In spite of the criticisms that had bedeviled the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, under the close watch of Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel, over the ‘‘non remittance of its yearly operational surpluses to the Federation Account’’, the Customs Comptroller General was said to have told the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff recently that it had generated N573 billion between January and May, 2020. This ought to be a cheery news to the Committee members.
Ali was said to have told the Senate Committee that the revenue generated within the first five months of the year was an indication that ‘‘it will surpass the N957 billion target set for the agency by the government’’.
He had said that all identified areas of revenue leakage and free flow of cargo traffic for importers during the lock down necessitated by the Wuhan Town in Hebei Province of the Asian country of China emerged coronavirus, popular COVID 19, had been blocked.
This is evident going by what is happening At the Lagos port of Tin-can Island, where Abdullahi Musa, the Area Comptroller, who was said to have used his experience of working with about twelve former Deputy Comptroller Generals of Customs , DCGs, on Trade and Tariff, at the Customs Headquarters where he was said to have served 18 years to block areas of revenue leakage at the port.
Note that Tin-can port is the first port where Musa was said to have ever served as an Area Comptroller but making appreciable impact in its monthly revenue generations
. While other Customs Comptrollers are complaining of drop in the volume of traffic and drop in their revenue , the situation is diferent at the Command. It was said to have made a surplus revenue of over N12 billion compared to what was generated within the same period last year. He attributed the achievement to team work whichh facilitated the blockage of all identified areas of evenue leakages at the port.
It is instructive to note that despite the five-month impressive revenue collection by the service between January and May, not all the members of the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff, were said to be happy with the government revenue generating agency.
Ade Fadahunsi, a retired Assistant Comptroller General of Customs, ACG, who had served under the Ali led Customs Management at the early stage of the Administration before venturing into the murky waters of Nigerian politics had hit hard on the service.
The Osun state born politician may have spoken as an insider when he accused the agency of ‘‘not reflecting the surpluses in their annual reports before the Committee for approval’’. He was said to have cited the 2019 report in which the Service made a surplus of N34 billion which was not reflected in the 2020 report .
Sanusi Abubakar Umar, a Deputy Comptroller General, DCG, of Customs in-charge of Human Resources who was said to have represented the Customs Comptroller General at the interactive session with the Committee had justified the decision of the Service not to return unspent surpluses from the Revenue Allocation and Fiscal Mobilisation Committee, to the Federation Account.
He was said to have made the members of the Senate Committee on the Customs , Excise and Tariff , to understand that ‘‘Customs is a performance based agency and not a treasury sponsored agency’’, and therefore, not under any obligation to return to the Treasury any surplus not spent back to the treasury.
The argument of the Committee members was that the Service has never experienced any shortfall in its demand but had exceeded its yearly targets and therefore, should return such unspent surpluses to the Treasury.
The Customs Comptroller General had expected that if he says that the Service had made 28,844 Contraband seizures between 2015 and now, he would win the heart of Fadahunsi and other members of the Committee.He He got it wrong.
While Ali, the Customss helmsman and his Management Team are still struggling to wriggle out of the allegations against the Service by the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff, of keeping back its unspent surpluses instead of returning it to the Treasury, it still has Emeka Akabogu, an expert in the field of Maritime Law and policy in Nigeria to contend with.
The legal luminary was said to have alluded to the fact that when the Customs boss appeared before the Senate Committee on finance to make a presentation on its public hearing on Customs , he spoke his mind showing that he was ‘‘against ‘the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement/Facilitation , because it will affect the Service revenue generation’’’.
In apparent reaction to the maritime Lawyer’s comments, regarding the presentation of Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, at the Public hearing, Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller of Customs, and the Service Spokesperson, said he was grossly misrepresented.
‘‘The attention of the Nigeria Customs Service has been drawn to a gross misinterpretation of the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col.Ali, rtd, on his presentation at the public hearing of the Senate Committee on Finance’’, he had said.
According to him, ‘‘a write-up by such a supposed learned personality on Maritime matters, going viral on the social media, unfortunately had misrepresented the CGC’s position on Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement and thus, erroneously misinforming the public’’.
He stated that the Customs Comptroller General was in support of increased local production of goods for the nation to benefit from the forthcoming African Continental Free Trade Agreement, ACFTA.
The Customs Spokesperson, who could not hide his feelings had explained the implications of the ACFTA on the Service revenue generation, stating that as all imports and exports from member countries will be duty free, the nation must encourage local production for improved Excise duty rather than Import duty which will drastically drop soon.
Given an insider information of the CGC presentations at the Senate Committee on Finance, public hearing, he revealed what he had said: “I would rather collect Excise duty than Import duty, because for every import,’’ you are taking money out’’.
As clear and emphatic as he was at the Senate Committee public hearing on preference f’or excise over import, he noted that ‘‘it is hard to understand the reasons for the Lawyer’s twist and dangerous misrepresentation, of facts’’.
An aggrieved Attah, the Customs Spokesperson had said that the author’s attempt to link the CG’s comments at the public hearing to the issues of scanners, partial border closure and ending with almost recommending single window system as a viable means of growing Customs revenue collection shows a total loss of the understanding of theCGC’s presentations.
He believes that the Maritime Lawyer does not obviously to know that the amended Customs and Excise Management Act ,CEMA, has not been passed into law and seems not to be aware that NCS is not the procuring agent for new scanners, hence cannot be linked to any amount he was said to have quoted in relation to the scanners.
Describing as laughable the Lawyer’s attempt to have recommended a bit of the Information Communication Technology, ICT to an organization whose processes are mostly automated and was informing the Senate Committee about the readiness of the Service to commence end to end e-Customs shows his lack of understanding of the Service operations, Attah, insists.
The Customs Image maker was said to have told those that cares to listen that ‘‘the NCS is not against the implementation of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS protocol or any other protocol that Nigeria is a signatory to’’.
He had asserted that the NCS role is ‘‘to implement and provide input that might help policy formation in the interest of Nigerians’’.
We strongly believe that Nigerians have a right to know the implications of ACFTA and actions that must be taken to benefit from it and not becoming a dumping ground for other countries goods, he had said.
He stressed that twisting and giving it a different narrative relating to Import duty is not only dangerous but mischievous misrepresentation of facts but will do the nation no good.
This may have informed why he called on Nigerians ‘‘to discountenance reading such a misleading piece and focus on what we must do to benefit from ACFTA’’.