Tin-Can: Non-Compliant Importers Face Tough Times Ahead

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.

Abdullahi Musa: Comptroller, Tin-Can Island Command

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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