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How Customs Management Keep Sharp Practices Aglow In Cargo Clearance

How Customs Management Keep Sharp Practices Aglow In Cargo Clearance
  • Freight Agents lament exorbitant Customs duties on ambulances, medical equipments
By Kenneth Jukpor & Ayoola Olaitan
The management of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has been indicted for the unending bottlenecks at Nigerian ports resulting from sharp practices by officers at several Commands and border posts across the nation.
Absence of punitive measures by Customs management on officers involved in the release of consignments later intercepted on the roads, has led to an increase in fraudulent practices at the ports.
Industry observers have repeatedly condemned the nonchalance of Customs management in meting out severe sanctions on officers who ignore global best practices and collaborate with freight agents to unvalue items later intercepted outside the ports by other Customs units such as the Federal Operations Unit (FoU).
This obscene practice sees Customs units rake in colossal sums for personal gains as well as Debit Notes for the federal government.
Freight agents, importers, as well as other port users have condemned this corrupt practice which has defied the anticipated anti-corruption strategies of the Comptroller-General of NCS, Col. Hammed Ali (Rtd).
Speaking with MMS Plus newspaper last week, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Mr. Stanley Ezenga, argued that the problem has defiled all solutions.
Ezenga told our correspondent that Customs units such as Federal Operation Units (FOU) have only been focused on generating additional Debit Notes and seizing importers’ consignments without holding the releasing officers accountable.
Giving insight into some of the sharp practices that have evaded Ali’s Customs management, he stated that Customs officers hide under the guise of overzealous drive to generate revenue to disregard the 5 percent duties for medical equipments and extort more.
His words: “For instance, you could import a medical equipment like a medical bed that comes with a locker, drawer and mattress; but the Customs would rather interpret these items individually as if they are for distinct purposes.”
NSC generates several hundreds of billions annually and crossed the N1trillion benchmark in 2019 whilst the Service parades itself as trade facilitator; nevertheless, wrong practices within the system has reached the climax.
Also speaking with our correspondent last week, a former President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) Chief Ernest Elochukwu condemned Customs leadership for the continuous interception of cargoes already released by their officers.
He stressed that the multiplicity of Customs units was a confirmation of the eroded values and standards of officers of the NCS.
According to him, the onus was on the Customs management to sanitize the Service in order to restore sanity, transparency and fair practice in cargo clearance at the nation’s ports and border posts.
“How on earth, could proper officers, go through the process of clearing and exit the cargo and then another group of officers say that it was not properly valued? First and foremost, there should have been queries to those who valued it initially. If they didn’t do their jobs right, NCS management ought to punish such officers so that others learn.”
“When I was President of ANLCA, I was privileged to meet the then Nigerian President, Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo. One of the issues I stressed was that Customs having numerous units doesn’t solve the challenge of inefficiency. If one Customs unit at the port can’t do the ideal thing in clearing a consignment, having ten units wouldn’t take away the problem,” Elochukwu said.
This problem was also reiterated by the Chief Executive Officer of Lexzy Peter’s Nigeria Limited,  Chief Lexzy Nwangwu during an exclusive chat with MMS Plus last week.
His words: “Where are the officers that released the numerous consignments intercepted by FOU Ikeja and other units across the country? Why should such officers be allowed to go Scot-free while the importers, freight agents and truckers suffer after the seizures on the highways?”
Efforts to reach the National Public Relations Officer of NCS, Mr. Joseph Attah on the punitive measures meted on Customs officers involved in fraudulent practices were futile until press time.
Meanwhile, NSC Public Relations Officer (PRO) Tin Can Island Command, Mr. Uche Ejesieme, told our correspondent that some NCS officers at the Command had been queried and some releasing officers losing their access.
Although Ejisieme couldn’t give details of the number of officers who have suffered such sanctions, he maintained that the Service had sufficient punitive measures to checkmate overzealous and corrupt Customs officers.
He, however, argued that no human system is perfect. “Talking about infractions, this is not peculiar to a particular port. The issue of smuggling and trade infraction is a global phenomenon and we are happy that we have different layers for checks in the Customs”
“Every command from the headquarters to other units, there is investigation and inspection department. They have the disciplinary seat to treat every matter that needs to be handled. So, there are several ways of sanctioning of officers who are not disciplined”.
Ejesieme pointed that it wasn’t inappropriate for any consignment that could not be seen by the eagle eyes of the schedule officers from any port, to be intercepted by the Strike Force, FoU and other units.
He however, called on port users to be compliance and truthful at every point in time so that erring officers can be disciplined.
In another development, freight forwarders have admonished the federal government to reduce the 35 percent customs duties on ambulances and medical equipment.
MMS Plus obtained a letter from African Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria (APFFLON) written to President Mohammadu Buhari, titled; “Letter To President Mohammadu Buhari On The Need  To Slash 35% Customs Duty On  Ambulances, Medical Equipments  Amid COVID-19 Pandemic.”
The association decried the high Customs duties for medical equipments and ambulances which should aid the country’s fight against the spread of the pandemic.
The letter signed by the APFFLON National President, Mr. Frank Ogunojemite, reads in part “Freight forwarders under the aegis of APFFLON as well as colleagues across board, health professionals and the entirety of Nigerians are concerned with the unfortunate realities of high duties levied on ambulances and other medical equipments at a time the world tilts towards relaxing levies on such essential items in this pandemic era”
“We, therefore, urge the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 and the Finance Ministry to intervene in order to reduce the Customs duty on ambulances or avail zero duties to aid more hospitals acquire these assets and empower the nation’s fight against COVID-19”.
Meanwhile, NAGAFF through its PRO, Mr. Ezenga also called on the federal government to reduce customs duties on ambulances and medical equipments at this crucial time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Anything medicament should pay zero duties because this would enable common citizens access to these items. This will help Nigeria at this trying time. Customs rate ambulances in the category of vehicles and as such the charge is 35 percent for duties. Until they begin to look at ambulances as things built for medical use and emergencies, the duties remain 35 percent. On the other hand, medical equipments pay 5 percent customs duties,” he said.
Mr. Ezenga, lamented that Customs rate ambulances in the category of vehicles and as such the charge is 35 percent for Customs duties. Until they begin to look at ambulances as things built for medical use and emergencies, the duties remain 35 percent. On the other hand, medical equipments pay 5 percent customs duties.

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