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Customs Board: To Be Or Not To Be

Customs Board: To Be Or Not To BeBy Kenneth Jukpor

Anytime you play a game, you would observe that there is a set of rules that control how the game is played. Each player cannot do whatever he wants. The rules tell each player what he or she can and cannot do so that the game is played fairly and that no one player has a bigger advantage than another to win. Just like there are rules when we play games, the branches of the Nigerian government have a set of rules they must follow, the same applies to government agencies as well as privately driven organizations.

These set of rules exist to ensure that no branch of the government becomes too powerful and the structure is called the system of checks and balances. In other words, each branch of the government is ‘balanced’ because each branch has its own set of authoritative functions and responsibilities. However, each branch also has within its abilities ‘checks’ that limit or prevent other branches from becoming too influential.

Recently, the Nigerian Minister of Finance lamented that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had become too autonomous; but most of these problems may have been resolved with the Federal Government’s recent move to appoint the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) board.

Similarly, the Nigeria Customs Service has come under serious scrutiny as a result of the lack of Customs board. The Customs Excise and Management Act (CEMA) stipulates that a Customs Board should be established under the control of the Federal Ministry of Finance, a Board to be known as the Nigerian Customs Service Board (in this Act referred to as “the Board” which shall be responsible for the administration of the Custom and Excise Management Act.

Although the Customs work with the CEMA Act, it has decided to ignore certain parts of the CEMA Act.

Following the recent promotions at the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the absence of the Customs board has become an issue of debate among maritime stakeholders. Whilst, there are insinuations that the Comptroller General of Customs, Col Hameed Ali (Rtd) is enjoying the absence of the Customs board as it affords him the freedom to run the Customs Service as a sole administrator and his relationship with President Mohammadu Buhari.

According to the CEMA, the Customs Board must be housed and controlled by the Federal Minister of Finance as provided in the Act. This ensures that there is ease in the formulation of policies and regulations as conferred on the  Minister of Finance under Section 2, 3, of the Nigeria Custom Service board Act and  4, 5 18, 26-(4) 36, 57, 74, 81, 116, 120, 138 and 156, of the Customs and Excise Management act.

The Customs board also has the onus of promoting officers, reposting and reshuffling.

The  Customs Service Board by the provision of Section 4-(1) 5-(1) is subject to the general control, authority, management, direction of the Federal Minister of Finance as state here under: 4-(1) The Board shall, subject to the general control of the Minister, be charged with the duty of controlling and managing and administration of the Customs and Excise Laws and shall collect the revenues of Customs and Excise Laws and account for them in such manner as may be directed.

The functions of the board include; the formulating the general policy guidelines for the Nigeria Customs Service, administering the Customs and Excise Management Act and, accordingly, control and manage the Administration of the Customs and excise laws.

Despite the enormous benefits of having a Customs board, there are indications that the Comptroller-General of Customs wants the status quo to remain  same so that he works directly with the president receiving Presidential briefs and acting as a Sole Administrator for the Customs.

While speaking during an exclusive chat with MMS Plus, the National Public Relations Officer (PRO) Mr. Joseph Attah dispelled claims that Ali was kicking against the inauguration of the Customs board.

“Once there is no board, the issues that require the attention of the board is usually referred to the President for approval and all such actions have been duly referred and approved.”

“The press statement we published clearly stipulated that the promotions were as a result of the Presidential approval and there are many other organizations without board and they refer their issues to Mr. President. The Service has been complying with this before any decisions are made.” The National spokesman said.

Mr. Attah also added that there was no vacuum in leadership as the promotions went through Mr. President and was approved before the Comptroller General released it.

Were the pioneers of CEMA wrong in their arrangement for a Customs board? Should the President be called into minor issues of postings, promotions and transfers of officers which should have been deliberated upon professionally by the Customs board? Why do the Customs choose to use the CEMA Act in some areas and not fully implement it in all areas? Does Col Hameed Ali see himself as a sole administrator rather than the Comptroller-General of Customs?

The Nigeria Customs Service Board, has powers to appoint persons to hold or act in all the offices in the service, including power to make appointments on promotion or transfer and to confirm appointments and to appoint persons to hold or act in all the offices in the Service, including power to make appointments on promotion or transfer and to confirm appointments and dismiss and exercise other disciplinary control over persons.

All appointment, promotion, transfer, disciplinary, control and dismissal is the sole responsibility of the board chaired by the Federal Minister of Finance who must rectify any dismissal, promotion, transfer, etc. of the any officer.

According to the President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Mr. Lucky Amiwero, the provision as contained in the Nigeria Customs Service Board Act, requires the Board to administer the Customs and Excise Management Act, rectify any appointment, promotion, dismissal, disciplinary control of staff and policy directive released by the Minister of Finance as Chairman of the Board and the regulatory power on import, Export and Excise under the Customs and Excise Management Act Section 18, 26-(4) 36, 57, 74, 76, 81, 105,111,116, 120, 138 and 156.

Amiwero argued that  there is the urgent need to give the service direction through the legally constituted Board under the Chairmanship of the Minister of Finance in line with provision of the Nigeria Customs Service Board Act and the Customs and Excise Management Act C45 of 2004 by compliance with the provision as contained in the Nigeria Customs Service Board Act. (N100 L.F.N 2004 and the customs and excise management act C45 of 2004.

Meanwhile the Acting National President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Chief Increase Uche lamented that the state of the Customs Service at the moment has become problematic.

“First, one begins to wonder what motivated the president to bring an outsider to man the Customs Service. Although, the President may have his genuine decisions but it has led to the circumstances we have in the Customs today. The absence of the Customs board means the Minister should act but we see Col. Hameed Ali acting as a military officer working directly with Presidential briefs. However, we are confident that the Customs would give us the best as freight forwarders.” Uche said.

There is the urgent need to give the service direction through the legally constituted Board under the Chairman ship of the Minister of Finance in line with provision of the Nigeria Customs service Board Act and the Customs and Excise Management Act C45 of 2004 by compliance with the provision as contained in the Nigeria Customs service Board Act.

Despite the seemingly genuinely inspired promotions and transfers by Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd) one can question the legality of the process? What has stopped the constitution of the Customs Board? It can’t be the statutory responsibility of Mr. President to approve promotions at Customs, amidst his busy work schedule. How soon would Col. Ali drop his military toga and begin to go about the Customs job by adhering strictly to the CEMA?

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