In an effort to further reduce the menace of false cargo declaration and tighten the noose on smugglers and economic saboteurs, the management of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, has directed its Headquarters Strike Force to remain vigilant and take the fight inside the ports if it becomes necessary, to bring down the scale of violations and curb further loses of revenue.
The order reference NCS/ENF/ABJ/058/S.23 and contained in E11/2019/CIRCULAR NO.002 with the subject matter: 100% EXAMINATION OF CARGO AT THE SEAPORTS authorized the Strike Force to henceforth intervene in all matters adjudged inimical to proper customs due processes and customs documentations, including entering the ports and possibly making seizures.
The circular which was signed by the Deputy Comptroller General in charge of Enforcement, Investigation and Inspection, DCG A. Chidi on behalf of the Customs Comptroller General, Col. Hameed Ali, Retired, was addressed to all Area Controllers and heads of various Customs formations.
Port stakeholders including clearing agents and freight forwarders has however lamented that the action may create further burden on trade facilitation. But the public relations department of the service has said such fears were misplaced, assuring that the new directive is calculated to achieve a tidier process at curbing the challenges of releasing non compliant imports.
Commenting, National Publicity Secretary of Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Mr. Adumaza Joe Sanni urged customs management to adopt a sustainable deterrence approach to the matter through stakeholders engagement and through genuine sanctions.
“There are three issues at stake that needs to be addressed urgently in this back and forth tangoing within and outside Nigeria Customs Service. Customs must now begin to sanction its defaulting officers for such lapses to deter others, reward honest import/export/declarations for compliance, and put defaulting importers/exporters out of business, withdraw licenses of collaborating Customs Brokers/Agents, after due diligence/process, to establish facts behind the acts.”
Reacting to some media reports and comments on social media, the Customs National Public Relations Officer, deputy Comptroller Joseph Attah said rather than read funny meanings into the directive, importers and their agents should applaud the development tailored to achieve better and faster objective. Attah enjoined port users and the business community to show greater fidelity to the collection of government revenue and anti-smuggling fight.
His words: “There appears to be deliberate misinterpretation of the recent circular from the Customs Headquarters to suit some individuals or group interests. A circular that insists Strike Force Team should be involved in the examination of suspected containers or those with strike force alert is now being given exaggerated meaning to include “sweeping powers that erodes Area Controllers’ powers.
“The circular only reaffirms the power of the team to intervene only on suspected containers and not all and certainly not the day to day running of any command which is the prerogative of the Customs Area Controllers.
“It’s only fair not to exaggerate on legitimate strategic step being taken by NCS management to ensure compliance and protect national economy and security”.
Insiders’ sources hint that some alerts raised by the Strike Force in the past were ignored by Area Controllers, giving the team the additional burden of having to look out for such suspected consignments. Quite a number of consignments eventually intercepted by the men of the Strike Force have been discovered to be released based on false declaration or duty evasion; or with intent to smuggle concealed prohibited items.
It will be recalled that the Strike Force team has generated tons of debit notice, DN, transforming into billions of naira, since inception. The team has also recovered over N10m from underpayments in single transactions that were released from the ports after alerts issued were believed to have been ignored. In 2018, the Strike Force made seizures with Duty Paid Value of N13.7b, in addition to recovering over N1b.