Nigeria: Customs and Nigeria's Future Beyond Oil

27 January 2020

Globally, revenue from Customs Duty constitutes large chunk of funds for financing governance. Although accruals from natural resources like oil is important as well, countries of Europe and America rely heavily on earnings from Customs sources to finance governance. This is more so when it is considered that natural resources are finite and subject to external manipulation, hence over reliance on them can portend great risk for any economy.

The contribution of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) had been a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the ugly until a non-carrier Comptroller General, Col Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd), was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari on August 27, 2015. Ironically, the man who was confronted by unprecedented challenges from vested interests upon assumption of office is, today, being applauded by Nigerians. President Buhari is also receiving kudos for his decision to insist on Ali as Customs boss.

Col Ali has moved the Nigerian Customs Service to an unimaginable level of efficiency. Recently, it was announced that the NCS now generates average revenue of between N7billion and N8billion daily since the borders were closed.

When the Col Ali-led NCS insisted in August 2019 that closing of the Nigerian land borders with its neighbours remains the only panacea to ameliorating the many challenges facing Nigeria, the fear of many was that Nigeria's revenue was going to drop. This singular move has left smugglers from neighbouring countries with no choice than to bring their goods through the ports, which they pay duty on.

Recently, Col Ali noted said, "There was a day in September 2019 that we collected N9.2billion in one day. It has never happened before. This is after the closure of the border and since then, we have maintained an average of about N4.7billion to N5.8 billion on a daily basis which is far more than we used to collect".

Ali's magic wand is simple: with the border closure, all those smugglers who used to ship cargoes to Benin Republic and then discharged and smuggled into Nigeria have no choice now that border is closed. They are forced to bring their goods to either Apapa or Tin Can Island where the required duty will be collected.

Under Col Ali's watch as the Customs boss, there has been a significant reduction in the amount of fuel consumed daily in Nigeria. Before his transformation of the NCS, Nigeria was assumed to be consuming about 10.2 million litres of fuel every day, but with the border closure and re-invigorated Customs, it has been discovered that huge chunk of the 10.2 million litres of fuel is smuggled across the Nigerian border.

Today, the NCS has provided another life line for the Nigerian Farmers. After the border closure in August, Col Ali advised Nigerians to bear the temporal pains. "We don't have to eat rice every day. There are other alternatives. I assure you that the price will stabilise and the ordinary farmer will have value for his farming business."

His decision on the border closure is premised on many factors. One of it is to preserve the health of Nigerians who were been fed daily with expired and re-bagged imported rice. With Ali's turning around the Customs, all the junk food items that were hitherto dumped in our country that causes cancer everywhere have been curtailed. Importers polish the rice with chemicals and retag it for unsuspecting consumers to eat.

Before Ali became the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service, one of the hallmarks of the Nigerian Customs identity was corruption and sharp practices, which left Officers leaving in affluence while government revenue grow lean. But immediately after his appointment, Col Ali vowed to sack any officer who cannot live within his or her remuneration and gets involve in illicit ways to acquire wealth.

To motivate officers to put in their best, about 2,508 Officers where recently promoted to various ranks. Despite the controversies generated, locally and internationally, in favour and against the border closure, rice and poultry farmers are smiling to the banks due to bumper sales.

Until now, the Nigerian Market and border space were taken over by smuggling activities to the obvious disadvantage of the farmers, traders and Nigeria's economy. Nigerians' insatiable appetite for foreign goods and corruption should be blamed for aiding this illegal business over the years. Consequently, this has made it very difficult for successive governments to change the narrative.

The unprecedented step came on August 21, 2019 when the federal government announced the closure of all its land borders to tackle dumping and smuggling of goods into the country. The policies and interventions were meant to redirect the nation's focus from being heavily dependent or a consumer of foreign goods to a more productive nation that consumes its products.

Nigerian Customs demonstrated the needed determination to wean the country from the clutches of powerful and highly influential traders and dealers who have kept the masses of Nigerians hostage to foreign consumption and condemned the youths to perpetual unemployment.

The border closure was long overdue. We may say the present action came too late because one anticipated it to have come a little bit earlier, but it is better late than never.

According to World Bank, about 80% of imports into Benin are destined for Nigeria. Nigeria banned the importation of rice from Benin in 2004 and from all its neighbours in 2016, but that has not stopped the trade, hence the drastic action.

Expectedly, there are reports that the ban is affecting trade across the region, but the truth is that Nigeria's economy has witnessed a bullish turn around since the action was taken.

A week after the borders were closed, the same rice millers' association said that all the rice that they had in their warehouses have all been sold. Indeed, a lot of people have been depositing money in their accounts and they have even been telling them, 'please hold on don't even pay money yet until we finish processing your rice.

The benefit is that it has helped to create jobs for our people. It has helped to bring integrated rice milling in the country back into business again and they are making money. Nigeria's rural communities are bubbling because there are activities; rice farmers are able to sell their paddy. The poultry business is also doing well, and also maize farmers who produce maize from which feeds are produced are also doing business. These are the benefits.

Ahmed Abdullahi wrote from Abuja.

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