By Kingsley Anaroke & Ajibola Adedoye
· How officers aid excise duty evasion
· Distillers confirm complicity
· Compt. Shaahu to Compt. Ogbudu: “You were not fair to me!”
The Nigeria Customs Service(NCS) will begin to seal up over 20 companies alleged to have been evading Excise Duty payment following the expiration of the 14 days ultimatum given to them to pay up.
Meanwhile, findings also revealed that these companies compromise some gullible and unpatriotic Customs officers who connive to aid evasion of duties.
According to Customs, most of these non-compliant companies are members of the Association of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employers(AFBTE), some of whom were said to be located in Sango-Ota, Ogun State and Lagos State produce alcoholic bitters.
AFBTE is a business organization that serves as the platform for the protection of the interest of members against any development in the macro-economic environment that threatens business survival.
The new Customs Area Controller(CAC) of Lagos Industrial Area Command, Festac Town, Compt. Queen Ogbudu had alerted the nation of the evasive attitude of over 20 companies to excise duty payment at a stakeholders’ meeting on May 27th,2022, threatening that defaulters would be dealt with according to the law on expiration of the 14 days window of payment.
In an exclusive interview with the immediate past CAC of Lagos Industrial Area Command, Compt Monica Shaahu(rtd), she confirmed that a good number of the erring companies were manufacturers of alcoholic bitters with a mention that Intercontinental Distillers Limited(producers of Action Bitters) is one of them, when asked to mention names.
“Over 20 factories were not paying excise duty. In fact, I just came across a big one that I handed over to her before I exited and advised her to backdate the payment. While going after these people I involved FOU that provided a team because some of these companies have members of Odua Peoples Congress(OPC) boys as security for the factories and they foment trouble to scare officers away,” Shaahu said.
She confirmed that some Customs officers are complicit in the evasion of excise duty payment. “I used to threaten those boys working with me on the need to apprehend those errant companies and make them pay, but they would tell me,’Madam, nothing is happening’.
One of the major challenges she had is,“I didn’t have staff while working there. I was working with borrowed members of staff and a lot of them left for Tin Can Island Command. Even the guy that used to help out with monthly revenue collation was borrowed from Onne Command.
In spite of these challenges, she was still able to profile over 20 companies as excise duty defaulters, who she handed over to her successor who swung into action immediately on assumption of duty at the Command to enforce compliance.
Narrating her challenges, she disclosed that a critical change she made in staff management almost at the twilight of her stay at the Command revealed all her subordinates had hidden from
her, adding that against all the odds she was still able to maintain a revenue stream of between N1.2billion and N1.5 billion and above throughout the year 2021.
Advising her successor, Compt. Ogbudu, Compt. Shaahu said, “For you to succeed, you must have a team that is willing to support you and work with you. If you have officers that think of themselves alone and not supportive it is going to end in disaster.”
“Nothing serious was happening in the Command until I brought a lady and asked her to go and learn, ‘the one you don’t know I would teach you’ and she went to town, started going round and started capturing them and I captured few, then some started paying duties.
“Some said now that they have paid duty, if they do not open up and tell me about others, they would be the only one paying while others would have advantage over them. It is not only Action Bitters producers that has refused to pay, there is one other one called Jedi Jedi. This one is insisting on not paying”, she affirmed.
Shaahu said she expanded the coast of responsibility for Ogbudu to exploit as her duty now covers alcoholic beverages and carbonated drinks to help her generate more revenue but Ogbudu gave an impression that she met nothing on ground on arrival, adding that it is unfair.
Efforts to reach the Managing Director of Intercontinental Distillers Limited, Engr. Patrick Anegbe, who is also said to be the President of AFBTE failed as usual because of his evasiveness. But his Personal Assistant, Mr. Sumaila Umogani, in a display of arrogance said, ‘If we owe Customs, we don’t MMS Plus”. This was after days of calls and email enquiries. Even the question of compromising officers to evade payment of excise duty was affirmed in the process on recorded interview.
With this bout of excise duty evasion, the National Public Relations Officer(PRO) of NCS, Deputy Comptroller Timi Bomordi has said that the proposed $3.2billion Customs modernization project would upscale all the excise duty monitoring activities and put import and export at par.
According to him, connecting factories across the country and creating a single monitoring system, checking daily production is a herculean task, apart from the added brief of monitoring taxes on more sophisticated platforms like telecom operations.