By Kenneth Jukpor
Sir Tony Anakebe is the Managing Director Gold link Investment Nigeria Limited, and a member of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). In this interview with MMS Plus newspaper, he speaks on the recent plan for the concessioning of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and other pertinent issues in the maritime sector.
What’s your take on the recent call for the concessioning of Nigerian Customs Service?
The issue of customs globally cannot be undermined by any government. In most countries, Customs collect revenue for the government and it’s well managed. But our problem in Nigeria is corruption not only corruption but the management of resources and the way people are being appointed. For more than a decade we have been calling for one-stop shop, and that one-stop shop will make everything very easy for us, rather than this multiple division and the excess of making agents or importers to come in contact with Customs officials thereby creating avenues for corruption. This corruption can’t be stopped unless that opportunity for contact is removed.
So E-Customs is the best, where the government appoints technocrats who will harness the potentials of the Service. There is no need for any importer or agent to enter the port unless if there is any container or goods that are suspicious and their attention has been called for physical examination. At such times, all the necessary agencies must be there to examine the container and then post their findings or result online.
Technocrats who are seasoned customs officers are needed to transform the service. Such veteran would be better placed to handle this revenue generation and be keen to facilitate trade. We have serious customs officers who know their onions in THE field, but this political appointment in customs sometimes bring in people who don’t know what it takes to be in that office.
Does this mean you are also advocating for the Single Window platform at the ports?
Yes, I completely support the Single Window platform. When you go to Dubai you don’t see agents coming into the port, the port is sealed; you cannot come into the port because they do their transactions online. They also update their documents online; meanwhile the container has been scanned before coming down from the ship. However, on the proposed concessioning of the Customs, there is no way the government can concession revenue on importation. If they concession it, what will Nigeria benefit? Nigerian ports were concessioned more than 10 years ago, but what have we gained from this? It is true that a lot of money is being made in the port but the concessionaires are sending it out of the country.
What’s your assessment on the ease of doing business initiative of the Federal Government?
At the moment, we cannot talk about any ease of doing business in Nigerian ports because nothing is working. In fact for the past two to three years that port processes have become cumbersome while it seems to generate more money for the shipping companies and the concessionaires.
Recently, World Bank released a report where Nigeria moved up 15 places compared to its previous position on the World Bank index on Ease of Doing Business. Does it mean you don’t agree with this?
The World Bank can say anything or rate any country as they like, documentation doesn’t mean everything is working 100 percent. You should also know that the World Bank is not on the field in Nigeria, it relies on information such as the reduction in documentation processes. If there is an improvement in our documentation, it doesn’t mean things are moving normal in the port. Yes, there has been an improvement in documentation and revenue generation in Nigeria actually got higher, but things are far from okay at the ports. So, in my opinion, that World Bank index isn’t a reflection of Nigeria’s port situation.
What do you have to say about the recent faceoff between a Nigerian Custom Officer at the airport and a Nigerian who came in recently from abroad with a personal effect that cost more than N50, 000?
I heard the Customs spokesman say goods worth more than N50,000 must pay duties and this is an embarrassment to the nation. Anything one buys for personal use around the world doesn’t attract duties. You can go into any country with it, but if it is in a commercial quantity then they can charge you duty on it. Somebody has bought a single product and Customs is saying that because the product is valued at N50,000 or more such person should pay duty on it, I think it’s not reasonable and this can only happen in Nigeria.
Do you think appointment of a non-Customs officer as the Comptroller General of Customs could be responsible for the recent call for the concessioning?
There is no way we can say that Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd) has not tried because he has done his best. However, his best isn’t the utmost best. Ali has done a lot in increasing the revenue. He is generating trillions in an environment worse that all the CGs before him. So, we can expect that the revenue will continue to rise.
However, what we are saying is that if you are a military man as Ali is, what you know will be about military. As a career officer in Customs, there are loads of administrative trainings one should go through. One must have gone through several conferences in the field, attended various programmes on generation of revenue as well as other pertinent areas that require trade facilitation. It is a simple matter to picture why a seasoned career officer would fare better.
Trade facilitation is the major responsibilities of Customs. Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) is what empowers Customs to regulate the management and collection of duties. It is entirely a civilian matter. In as much that they are carrying guns, they are not military men.
What’s your assessment of the presidential task force assigned to see to the free flow of traffic in and out of the Lagos ports?
We have been talking about the port access roads for more than eight years and we are getting frustrated and tired. Why should we keep repeating the same thing over and over again? The government said it awarded the road to Julius Berger, but the pace is as slow as anything. This kind of road is something they should work on day and night with all the necessary security provided for them so that the construction will end as quickly as possible. What is happening in Apapa in the last ten years in terms of the port access roads has been terrible. Only God knows the trillions the country has lost so far?
How have you been able to remain afloat in this business despite all the infrastructural and human challenges you face at the ports?
Nigerians must bring in their goods, several industries must import their raw materials, but the problem is how many agents have we lost to the comatose state of the port access roads? How many transporters have died or suffered severe physical and fiscal damages as a result of these issues? We can’t number the deceased; neither can we quantify the colossal losses.
It’s a great risk everyone takes to come to Apapa. Most of the Apapa residents have relocated. Take time to go round the buildings in Apapa and you will see that most of the buildings are for sell, the risk is so much but everybody manages and keep praying to God for protection.