By Stephen Ubanna
When Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, said the Federal government depend on the service to generate revenue, he knew what he was talking. The government had set N5.97 trillion as the revenue from the non-oil sector this 2023 , Fiscal year.
The Customs Comptroller general had charged the newly appointed and deployed Assistant Comptroller Generals, ACGs, and other promoted officers to various ranks to do everything within their powers ‘’to ensure trade facilitation that will bring in the revenue’’. This may have informed why he had said that they would be ”giving assignment that will get them to be more responsible to generate the revenue”.
Over the last seven years, Apapa, Tin-can Island, Port Multi-services Terminal Limited, PTML, Port Harcourt Area II, Harcourt Area II, Onne and PortHarcourt Area I, Commands, had generated much of the revenue target set for the service.
Take for instance in the 2022, Fiscal year, the Apapa Command under the close watch of former Compt. Ibrahim Malanta Yusuf described as a revenue mobilizer and now an ACG, at the Customs Headquarters and deployed to Information, Communication and Technology, ICT/Modernisation, Department, had generated and paid into the Federation Account , N1.02 trillion, Tincan Island Command manned by ICompt. Kunle Oloyede, N574.2 billion, and PortHarcourt Area Command, Onne, generated and paid into the Federation Account about, N242. 1 billion.
Even PTML, which had former Compt. Ibrahim Bomai as the Area Controller and now an appointed ACG, assigned to Customs Board, and PortHarcourt Area I, were said to have also taken advantage of the volume of cargos that passed through their port in 2022 to generate and pay into the government coffers about N230 billion and N92.3 billion respectively.
Perhaps, to sustain the revenue generating profiles of the five top Customs Command , may have informed why Ali, the Customs Comptroller General had appointed officers that are believed can do the ob with little or no supervision. It was not surprising why he has deployed Comptrollers Mohhamed, former Area Comptroller of OPortHarcourt Area II, Onne to Apapa Command, Mahmud Ibrahim, PTML, and Dalha Cheldi Wada, from Katsina, which is an Interventionist Comand to PortHarcourt Area I.Insiders said he had put his close tab on them because the government is looking up to him to generate more revenue from the non-oil sector because of the down turn in the international oil market.
Comptroller Mohammed, who has been known to be very hard working that he had successfully blocked all the areas of revenue leakage at the Onne port that importers with their agents who were used to doing bad jobs by compromising officers in the past could no longer have a breather but forced to do the right thing: make honest declarations and pay the appropriate duties and charges on all their imported Consignments.
Notwithstanding the impressive revenue generation of Comptroller Muhammed in the 2022, Fiscal year, the argument in both official and official circles was that it was not a guarantee that he will do the same thing at Apapa Command that controls the Apapa port which handles over 70% of the volume of cargos that in passes through the nation’s seaports.
Indeed, Comptroller Muhammed had left no one in doubt that he is stepping into big shoes at the Apapa Command but that he is fully ‘’prepared for the job’’. He asserted that he will do his best to justify ‘’the confidence reposed on him by the Customs Comptroller General to deploy him to the Apapa Command’’.
He may have gladdened the heart of Nigerians when he said that though he was coming from a small Command to the biggest Customs Command in the country but will mobilise his officers to ensure that they double and triple their efforts to do what they did at Onne that had led to the remarkable improvement in the Command monthly revenue generation in all his years as the Area Controller.
He may have sent a message to the importers with their agents and other stakeholders at the port that it is no longer going to be business as usual when he declared that the Command is going to introduce due process to facilitate cargo delivery at the port.
He may have also read the riot act to the releasing and exit gate officers at the port that in taking decisions to whether cargos should be ‘’suspect and stopped from exiting the gate or non-suspect, ‘’the officers, must exhibit high sense of responsibility , to avoid making the mistake of releasing an uncustoms cargos’’.
The former Port Harcourt II, Command, Area Controller may have alluded to the situation at the Onne port exit gate , when the then Deputy Comptroller Ibrahim, who has been promoted to the elitist rank of Comptroller and deployed to PTML, and his officers had tighten up security that it was very difficult for fraudulent importers with their agents to fly Containers. This is because suspected cargoes were transferred to the Government warehouse for physical examination and Demand Notice issued or the cargo seized as a deterrence to others who may want to indulge in such act in the future.
Now as Area Controller of PTML, Comptroller Ibrahim, who had served at strategic positions in various Customs Commands including the Customs Headquarters , Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, in the past and who is guided by the mandate of the Customs Comptroller General to ensure trade facilitation and generate more revenue for the government may have encouraged him ’’to urge the officers and importers with their agents to sustain their level of discipline and improve on the Command revenue generation’’.
The PTML Customs Comptroller was said to have made it clear to the industry stakeholders that ‘’discipline is the key to other virtues of productivity like honesty , punctuality and dedication to duty,’’, stressing that with collective efforts and support of the security agencies personnel, and other port users , he has ‘’the confidence of achieving higher collection of duty for the government ‘’.
Acting ACG, Bomai, a former Comptroller of the Command , who had described Comptroller Ibrahim as an ‘’experienced officer with three notable attributes had said that he is ’’well exposed in Customs Administration having spent a good number of years at the Headquarters, excellent in revenue collection from different Commands of the service and uncompromising in enforcement’’.
He is right. As a former DC, overseeing the Tin Can Island, Command, Compliance Unit, during the Administration of Comptroller Musa. MBA, now Acting ACG, Trade &Tariff, at the Customs Headquarters, he had ensured that vehicle and other cargo importers make correct declarations and pay their appropriate duties .
An insider told The Value News that agents who were caught in the act trying to short change the government would never forget their experience in a hurry as they were issued DN, by the Area Controller , on advise of the then DC. Ibrahim, as the officer In –Charge of the Compliance Team.
It was gathered that when some of the fraudulent importers with their agents who realised that they could not Compromise him or his officers to bend the rules, were forced to join the genuine traders to do the right thing.
Those who knew his antecedents at Tin-can Island and Onne ports, may have learnt that the only way to avoid playing into Comptroller Ibrahim’s hands is’’ to do the right thing’’ as he does not compromise on government revenue.