· Why Police, Customs use syndicates
· 90% of Nigeria’s import is fraud–Aniebonam
Strong indications have emerged that President Mohammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption battle is being compromised by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) headed by Col. Hammed Ali (rtd), the Comptroller General of Customs (CG) following series of activities that have been taking place in the agency.
The League of Maritime Editors, which comprises seasoned journalists who have contributed to the development of the maritime sector and the economy made the clarification in their quarterly state of the nation’s review.
For over three and half years as Customs CG, sitting on several billions of naira as annual budget, Col. Ali has awarded contracts to cronies in NCS in contravention of the due process and in the absence of a constituted customs board and does not ever report to the Minister of Finance, who should be the supervisory minister. He singlehandedly awards contracts with President Buhari’s approval sometimes, as claimed. No Customs contract has ever been openly tendered for since Col. Ali assumed office, findings have shown.
A Customs affairs analyst, in a chat withMMS Plus, said: “How can you be talking about reform or fighting corruption in Customs service when the CG sits on over N120 billion every year as budget and 7% statutory accrued revenue from the source and singlehandedly awards contracts and reports to no one? Who are the beneficiaries of these contracts? How can one man sit and conduct promotion exams and promote officers and you expect the exercise to be transparent? The Customs board statutorily ratifies the senior officers’ promotion- from one star, that is, Assistant Superintendent of Customs (ASC) to the Comptroller cadre. But one man now presides over this! The customs management is only empowered to promote people from Customs Assistant cadre to Inspector cadre but once it is above the inspector cadre, it is the responsibility of the customs board to conduct and approve promotion on these cadres. Ali has never been answerable to the Federal Ministry of Finance because he has direct access to PMB who has mandated him to raise money for 2019 elections”.
Investigations show that goods on which import duties have been paid are intercepted on the roads by the officers of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) and the CG’s Strike Force headed by his Principal Staff Officer (PSO), Brigadier-General Buhari. The only exemption is when the importer or his agent “settles” the officers.
The CG’s Strike Force collects N100,000 per 40 feet container to cover for under-declaration, concealment while contraband containers pay as much as N1million before being allowed to exit both Lagos and Eastern ports. 20 feet containers pay N600,000. The PSO allegedly singlehandedly nominated members of the Strike Force and insists that the coordinator reports to him.
The FOUs, it was gathered, have organized syndicates made up of clearing agents who collect money illegally on their behalf to avoid interception of containers. In Lagos, a leader of a leading freight forwarding group based in Lagos represents the FOU Zone ‘A’. Importers and agents drop between N100,000 and N150,000 with the syndicates for the FOUs.
Also, the seeming high revenue generation by the service has been a ruse as there has been a drastic fall in inward cargo throughput coupled with the depreciation in the value of the Naira, presupposing that N1.01trillion generated in 2017 fiscal year and previous years’ figures loomed large because of the exchange rate difference and policy distortion.
Although the vision of the CG through the task force is to stop the extortion of money, the outfit has compromised its objective as the CG relishes the distortion premised on huge returns to both personal and government coffers.
On valuation, the service has also compromised itself as officers collect certain amount of money from importers, a development which promotes underpayment by importers and their freight forwarders, hence the seizure of most released goods from the ports. This creates rooms for extortions by both the FOU and the ‘Strike Force”.
The findings by the League of Maritime Editors have also shown that the Benchmark policy on imported vehicles is rooted in corruption as customs officers toy with the intelligence of importers and their agents even as thee is systemic corruption arising from wrong classification of import duty rates.
Observing that the NCS is supposed to be facilitating trade as enunciated in the World Customs Organization (WCO) policy for customs administration globally, the League noted that the NCS has failed to deliver this value at the seaports with its adverse effect on Ease of Doing Business policy of the Federal Government.
It is on record as recently corroborated by the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman that the NCS has refused to comply with the Ease of Doing Business policy in cargo delivery process.
Speaking to MMS Plus on this, the Public Relations Officer of FOU Zone A, Mr. Jerry Attah, said that NCS would not sacrifice compliance on the altar of Ease of Doing Business, arguing that containers are intercepted on the highway after release at the ports by FOU officers when they are not compliant with the import rules, however he couldn’t explain why the releasing officer(s) who compromised their positions are not arrested and prosecuted, instead only the importers and agents are made to part with money.
The League of Maritime Editors’ investigations have equally shown that Customs authorities still allow prohibited export items such as thick wood and scrap metals for export in Apapa,Tin Can and Onne ports.
Findings have also revealed that despite the Federal Government’s claims that it has stopped importation of foreign rice in to the country, foreign rice still flood the local markets because rice are now mainly being imported through containers via seaports, no longer land borders. They are declared as fishing nets, mosquito nets and building materials in collusion with the Strike Force and FOUs and are cleared unhindered at the seaports. Recently, some importers brought in One hundred containers of rice at once, a customs source disclosed.
It was gathered that the issue of closure of warehouses in the Lagos industrial areas of Ilupeju, Ijora, Amuwo-Odofin, Iganmu, among others, that drew the attention of Alhaji Ahmed Tinubu, the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress(APC), who called on the attention of President Buhari was also as a result of the extortionist tendencies of the Customs officers.
On the strength of the strong allegation of closure of warehouses and billions of naira allegedly extorted from their owners who had contributed to the emergence of Buhari as the president, the President had directed the CG to step aside following Tinubu’s complaint and condition handed down to PMB over the CG.
However, the CG rather than step aside went on plea spree, using other power brokers to plead with the President and Tinubu.
In an exclusive interview with MMS Plus, the founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Boniface Aniebonam lamented that 90 percent of import to Nigeria is non-compliant, arguing that this is the justification for the Customs and Police persistence on cargo interception and seizure after release from port by customs officers.