Customs: FG’s Corrupt Money-Spinning Machine
Last week, the Minister of State for Transportation, Senator Gbemi Saraki blamed the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) for constituting itself into a hindrance against trade and only after generating revenue.
Saraki said this at the 2020 Ministerial Retreat of the Federal Ministry of Transportation (FMOT) in Lagos, but industry experts have noted that Customs were not given an opportunity to explain itself, even as some analysts posit that such Ministerial retreats should also have a window for industry operators to make contributions on the burning issues in the sector.
Saraki blamed the NCS for Nigeria’s loss of cargoes and revenue to the ports of neighbouring countries while also criticising the management of Customs for entrenching manual processes at the ports, rather than embracing automation.
While these accusations are true, Customs also generates enormous sums for the government and the revenue accolades seemingly makes the agency ungovernable as the federal government remains unperturbed by the yearnings of industry operators as long as Customs keep raking in enormous revenue.
“Recently, the Customs declared over one trillion naira revenue collected within six months; what I will like to ask is, at what cost did the Customs collect that much revenue?”
“Customs has proven itself to be a hindrance to trade facilitation. We cannot compete because we are not efficient, while the Benin Republic and Cote d’Ivoire are using scanners, we are still opening containers and doing 100 per cent examination of cargoes,” the Minister said.
Customs has continued to meet and exceed the target set by the federal government through several unfriendly and anti-business activities such as arbitrarily charges, delays in cargo clearance, insisting on 100 percent examination, multiple alerts, reckless interception of containers after legitimate clearance, among others which consequently impedes trade facilitation.
Speaking on this issue, a former President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu expressed worry at the Ministry’s retreat without the participation of stakeholders, especially Customs and licensed Customs agents that would have explained the severity of the issues.
According to the veteran freight forwarder, an avenue for stakeholders’ contribution at the recent retreat would have given credence to what the Minister has rightly said and also given it a push as the sector attempts to correct the unfortunate trend.
“It is like Customs see themselves as a different entity not under anyone’s supervision. It appears that the Minister of Finance can’t talk to Customs and that’s why everything is being done just to generate revenue at all costs. They’re beginning to give an impression that as long as they generate revenue for the government everything is good.”
“If the government itself is milking its citizen in order to get money via Customs, then why do they blame shipping companies and terminal operators for doing the same thing? It shows that government is empowering corruption. When federal government gives target to Customs and also gives them the latitude to behave without discretion in a bid to meet the targets, they would generate revenue by whatever means,” he queried.
He, however, urged the Ministry of transport to synergize with the Ministry of Finance and the stakeholders in the maritime industry in order to end the menace.
A look at the World Bank Logistics performance index (LPI) of Nigeria shows that the nation has continued to decline in this index. Today, neighbouring countries like Benin, Cote d’ Ivoire, Ghana, among others have better ratings when compared to Nigeria and Customs excesses also play a role in this problem.
Meanwhile, a comparative study of the revenue collected by Customs before Covid-19 and during Covid-19 shows that there’s a significant increase despite the state of the economy which is of great concern to stakeholders.
What magic does Customs use to collect more revenue on fewer imports, if not excessive extortion? Industry observers query; but Customs say the feat is a result of blocking the loopholes and avenues for revenue leakage.