“Customs twisting laws to extort importers, agents – Nweke
By Eguono Odjegba
Leading freight resource person and maritime analyst, Dr. Eugene Nweke has accused the Customs Comptroller General, Col. Hameed Ali, retired, of distorting the Customs Excise Management Act, CEMA, for ulterior motive.
In an open letter to the NCS helmsman, the former President of National Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, alleged that the Ali led management is engaged in fraudulent policy twist that allows the Customs Service to extort importers.
He urged the customs boss to purge himself of his undemocratic tendencies, respect the articles of customs trade, and desist from using internal memos as weapon of extortion.
This is even as he said that the CGC’s Memo of September 2021 on second hand import items is a barefaced extortion of importers and clearing agents.
Nweke also accused the customs boss of appropriating policy issues that are clearly outside its purview, and urged him and his management to respect the rules of engagement and to stick with the provisions of the customs extant laws.
The letter titled “PASSIONATE APPEAL TO UPHOLD THE SANCTITY OF RULE OF ENGAGEMENTS IN THE IMPORT VALUATION APPLICATIONS”, Nweke averred that the import benchmark application linked with the PAAR Ruling Centre Administration is causing unnecessary conflicts in documentation.
He added that the documention stampede has created avoidable delays in the smooth flow of import clearance process.
His words: “May I respectfully refer to an earlier private Memo to Management on the 22nd September, 2021, via the office of the NPRO, NCS HQ, titled: “USED ITEMS IMPORTS VALUATION QUAGMIRE – An Appeal To Save Traders Souls”.
“Following the internal directive to benchmark goods imported into the country by the management to the PAAR Ruling Centre. In practice the memo implies initial imports documentation before the issuance of PAAR certificate; in lieu of:
i. #2 million payable surface duty benchmark for a 20feer Container and ii. #3 million as payable surface duty benchmark, excluding other taxes.”
“I am concerned that this act now causes documention stampede in addition to the associated delays in the smooth flow of import clearance process.”
He argued that the directive on used items imports valuation has displaced trade flexibility/fluidity, and in it’s place created trade high handedness and subjectivity, as importers and their imports are stampeded in the Customs ports – terminals, more so at the Lagos ports.
“Through pains, they accept the obnoxious value application in other to salvage their imports in the face of the exorbitant demurrage and storage charges by both Shipping Lines and the Terminal Operators.
“Whereas some other importers who can not access credit facilities had helplessly abandoned their cargo, other importers now depends on the financial solidity of their agents, as your directive has inflicted unbearable customs trade pains; eliciting official high-handedness and hopelessness.”
According to the chartered freight forwarder, checks he embarked upon at the port to cross check and compare notes, confirmed the inappropriateness of the directive; presently causing operational abuses.
“I can say categorically, that this uncommon and arbitrary internal directive by all standards of import value applications, defiles known universal Customs Valuation application.
“This internal directive is of a general character, whereby used import items of non determinable import value are as well compelled to pay same benchmark as new items.
“Last check on the imports prohibition lists, used items (dismantled vehicles parts, electronics, bicycles, sewing machines, etc) are not on the list, making them legitimate ( non offensive) imports to the country.
“This internal directive defiled the rule of trade engagements, as there was no formal ‘payable import value increment pre-notice or grace period issued to the trading public other than that it is an internal directive issued to the PAAR RULING CENTRE for immediate implementation starting from September, 2021.”
Nweke noted that the directive is contrary to universal customs practice, and that it should be reversed.
“By the provisions of the *CEMA Cap. C45; FIRST SCHEDULE – “Value Of Imported Goods”.* The schedule provide that , the “Transaction Value of imported goods” remains a unique general principle of application.
“For emphasis, it states: “The Customs value of goods bought or imported for use in Nigeria shall be the transaction value of the goods adjusted in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 7 (1) of this schedule, provided that…
“However, by application where there is disputes or argument over import value: it provides 6 other methodology or options to follow so as to arrive at agreeable and consistent value of imported goods, and this methodology must be applied in sequential order.
“It is obvious that this internal directive does not only fall short but negates the whole essence of the provisions of this first schedule in its entirety, therefore, it constitutes a major breach to the rule of trade engagements.”
Further condemning the directive, he
said the whole thing was done in bad faith, and as an act of official recklessness.
“Take note sir that the said internal directive is not in compliance with the principles of utmost good faith in trade treatments and dealings, and I can tell you for free that the directive is generally seen as “trade ambush.
“Usually, following the conclusion of trade inquiry (proforma invoice), the importers had already opened their Form Ms and has shipped their imports to the customs ports at destination, only for the same importer to discover that he or she has been ambushed.
“Again changing the rules or changing the goal posts while the game is on speaks volume of unfairness ( talking about official rascality, high handedness, bad faith and unfair practice).”
He appealed to the Customs boss to reconsider the directive and to readapt to the rules of engagement, and spare importers and freight forwarders the unwarranted pains caused by the September 22, 2021 circular to customs formations, nationwide.