Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: Can Customs Stop Smuggling, Drug Peddlers?

For decades the Nigeria Customs Service has maintained that despite the manning of the nation's seaports, airports and the land frontier posts by its operatives, there must still be checkpoints, roadblocks and mobile patrols in the name of crack squad, speed fire, CG's squad and the likes aimed at rechecking and possibly arresting goods cleared at the entry points that were not supposed to enter the country.

Several questions were asked on the legality of Custom operatives clearing goods at the ports of entry only for another Custom team in whatever name it is called to station itself several kilometers away from the port of entry to intercept the same goods and either charge another fee before it is allowed final entry to its destination or even confiscated for alleged wrong clearance by Custom officers that cleared the goods at the port of arrival.

In most cases, such goods that include motor vehicles, textile materials, furniture, electronics, used compressors and frozen birds among others that are mainly in the prohibited list are cleared by Custom officers at the seaports and border posts are intercepted at checkpoints where most of them are either seized or destroyed and little or nothing is done to punish officers that initially cleared the goods wrongly at the point of entry.

A maritime operator and importer, Alhaji Sani Kwalli, said the transformation of the Nigeria Customs Service has brought a lot of sanity into the system and has drastically reduced smuggling activities in the country, adding, "The present leadership of the Nigeria Customs has actually reformed the service and sanitized the system. Our Custom style of goods clearance is now in compliance with global standards.

"In the past, when you import goods into Nigeria, after doing the necessary clearance at the port, your goods are still not safe. Even after leaving the port, goods can still be intercepted along the road. In some cases, they can even be traced to your warehouse and intercepted by Custom operatives. But now, there is a lot of sanity into the system. Goods are thoroughly checked at the entry point. But when they are cleared, no further embarrassment again," he said.

Mrs. Roseline Ugwo is an importer who said she was importing her goods through Cotonou in Benin Republic when the system was too nasty at the Nigerian seaports, adding, "For almost three years, in fact, since the present Custom boss took over as Comptroller General and reformed the system, most Nigerian importers doing business at Cotonou relocated to the Nigerian seaports.

"The e-custom system has also checked corruption in the system. You now pay all your charges into the bank. Nobody can hike your charges or collect your money and refused to remit to government. Nigeria Customs is now totally reformed," she said.

When contacted for comment, the Deputy Public Relations officer of the Nigeria Customs Service, Mr Joseph Attah, an Assistant Comptroller, said the problems the service had were known to all those that led it except that the approach was what differed, adding, "The present Comptroller General decided to approach the problems by providing permanent solutions through technical and professional solutions in a holistic manner.

"Shortly after he assumed office as Comptroller General about three years ago, he ensured that the Nigeria Customs Service acquired the status of e-customs. By this status, every operation of the Customs has been configured and computerized. The NCS has a whole department dedicated to ICT formerly Asycuda version 2.7 but now upgraded to version 3.0 (Asycuda++) which sees to all aspect of e-customs that is e-transmission of manifest, e-declaration through the introduction of Direct Trader Input (DTI), e-release of cargo, e-payment, e-remittance of duty collection by commercial banks to the Central Bank of Nigeria and e-reconciliation.

"The Service in the last three years formulated policies and strategies for the enhancement of national revenue collection and the facilitation of World trade.

The introduction of self-assessment and up-front e-payment in 2010 was meant to curtail serial avenues of revenue leakages by making sure that all import duties are promptly paid up-front and Risk Assessment Reports (RARs) fully utilized.

"Promotion and facilitation of trade within onshore and hinterland were enhanced by pruning down the number of agencies at all entry points and dismantling of all Customs check points within the country. Transparency of Customs operations through the single window system with relevant stakeholders in the Maritime business was introduced.

"The introduction of Risk Management and Post Clearance Audit (PCA) in the clearance process and Fast Track Clearance for Compliant Traders Authorized Economic Operators (AEO) had drastically reduced the hitherto upsurge of sharp practices among maritime operators.

The post clearance Audit will unearth any dubious transactions no matter how long. The setting up of special teams to check the rampant abuse of ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) through site inspections of factories in member countries to ascertain eligibility of products is very commendable," he said.

On the effort the service is doing to recover difference of inappropriate payment of duties, Mr Attah said, "The investigation of non-payment of appropriate duties with a view to collating same for payment yielded encouraging results that run into billions of Naira were recovered for the Federal Government of Nigeria.

To boost border securities against smuggling of unauthorised goods and arms, the CGC deployed massive operational vehicles and Scanners to the borders and all other entry points into Nigeria.

"The constant arrests of smugglers and illicit drugs and substances peddlers through our entry points are a clear manifestation of a dogged fighter for a moral rebirth and attitudinal change," he said.

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