By Kingsley Anaroke
Assistant Comptroller of Customs(ACG) Malanta Yusuf has bowed out of Apapa Customs Command, Lagos in honour and gallantry having set a new record of revenue generation in the history of the command and Nigeria Customs Service(NCS).
Revenue generation seems to have been adopted by the Service as a performance standard for customs officers; not trade facilitation. But while Customs celebrate revenue mop up to meet their annual targets, maritime and trade experts bow their heads in anger and shame because it negates the numerous trade conventions and agreements signed at global and regional levels under the World Trade Organisation(WTO) premised on trade liberation. Nigeria is a member of WTO and so a signatory to its agreements.
Trade facilitation is synonymous with borderless trade because it encourages the flow of illicit and legal trade without undermining the powers of any Customs administration and the sovereignty of the nation. So, the social change has moved from revenue collection to trade facilitation which has strong appeal to the neoliberal school of thought.
This, nonetheless, presupposes additional burden and work load for customs administrations which seek to generate revenue for the government while keeping their eyes on global competitiveness.
According to Compt. Ben Nkem Oramalugo in his book, Customs Administration In Nigeria, trade facilitation is an holistic approach aimed at reducing complexity and cost of trade transaction processes which ultimately ensure that all trade activities take place in an efficient, transparent, and predictable model anchored on international best practices.
However, there is really no known template by NCS for trade facilitation as they have always resorted to methods that suit their fancy. In the last two decades, they have been going back and forth from benchmark to valuation methods, leaving the larger trade space to officers’ discretion, a last resort system that encourages human interference and corruption.
The emerging Nigeria Customs modernization that is gulping billions of dollars contemplates trade facilitation with innovative automation tools but much is still expected to be pulled through by customs officers. A senior customs officer had divulged that there cant be 100 per cent automation process in Nigeria trade environment where compliance level is still a cause for concern. Is this controvertible?
ACG Malanta has severally argued that there is a marked difference between trade facilitation and circumvention of the trade rules and fiscal policies of the government. This explains why he managed freight agents and shippers in matters of duty evasion of all sorts which could come under under-declaration, concealment, among others.
ACG Malanta’s reign in Apapa Customs Commnad will remain a case study for Customs administration in Nigeria, perhaps could be improved upon for a model and adoption of a symmetric approach and template for revenue generation in trade facilitation, especially with the emergence and commencement of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement(AfCFTA).
While many customs officers are still gearing to embrace the ideals of trade facilitation, ACG Malanta had since imbibed and schooled himself in the new trade order and this explains why his 23 months in Apapa Area 1 Customs Command was dotted with seamless trade flow and unprecedented revenue rakes. While cynics could argue that steady disparity in exchange rate was in his favour, they forget that cargo throughput at some point took a nosedive against his collections. Some may also argue that the anti-smuggling campaign at land borders which influenced the routing of some goods to seaports and border closure may have contributed to his sterling revenue performance. Can this be argued?
The focus, determination and discipline adopted must not be undermined. It takes an effective and proactive manager and leader to envision and manage these variables. He emerged a Star command controller, ultimately. And he got the recognition from the Comptroller General of Customs(CGC) Col. Hammed Ali(rtd), who rewarded him with an Award of excellence.
Notwithstanding, the take away here is that ACG Malanta facilitated trade yet set records in seizures of illicit items and contra-bands as much as left a big shoe in revenue and administrative performance. The highest annual revenue record at the command before his coming was N518 billion in 2020 but he left the scene, closing 2022 with N1.02 trillion.
Unfortunately, Nigeria Customs administrative system lacks records of trade facilitation. So, he can’ t possibly be scientifically assessed to ascertain the level of deliberate trade facilitated in relation to the revenue generated. But he introduced many measures that aided trade flow such as dispute resolution desk; open door policy to shippers’ and stakeholders; good media and stakeholders’ relationship management for a viable feed back mechanism; continuous stakeholders’ engagement and robust inter-agency collaboration; boosting the morale of workers and creating an enabling work environment.
Realizing the importance of work environment to performance, he built a multi-purpose hall and remodeled the valuation centre to create a work atmosphere.
ACG Malanta came to Apapa ready for work as CAC having worked there for years as ASYCUDA Programme Manager(APM). So, he has a firm grip of Customs automation process and schooled in information technology. No wonder, the management found him relevant as the new ACG Information, Technology and Communications(ICT) and Modernization.
However, he handed over officially on Friday to Compt. Mohammed Auwal, the newly redeployed Comptroller for the Apapa Area Command of the NCS, who has tasked officers of the command on due process in their operations.
Auwal gave the charge on resumption of office to take over the reign of affairs at the command from the outgoing area Controller, Comptroller Malanta Yusuf.
He explained that due process simply means carrying out responsibilities with due diligence and without blemish and advised the staff against compromise.
“We know how far we have gone in this area command, how the service and Federal Government are relying on the officers working in this command to generate revenue.
“I know the shoes I am stepping into and I assure you that I am prepared for the job.
“I am assuring you that from where I am coming from, though much smaller, we have done our best there and I am going to double and triple what I have done in my last area command,” he said.
He said that the command had been structured for excellent performance.
Auwal said that he would sustain the tempo by contributing to the remodelling of the port as well as the command.
“I am going to cooperate and encourage you and legitimately support you. I am appealing to you not to relent on your efforts, and give me the total cooperation you accorded my senior colleague,” he said.
He urged stakeholders to make a thorough and proper declaration to ensure the smooth passage of cargo.
In his remarks, Yusuf noted that he had a memorable stay in Apapa and urged officers to extend support to the new area controller.
“I came in here 23 months ago, and I am so glad that I have perfected my work and I am going to hand you over to the new area controller.
“It’s not an easy task, but with your support, perseverance, and zeal, determination to achieve our mandate, we have successfully fit into that shoe and I urge you to support the next area controller.
“The responsibility of a leader is to mentor and ensure compliance and along the line build up a successor that can be groomed and become a leader of tomorrow.
“I have seen a lot of hope in the officers, so many of you will be going to a long place and many of you have a very high passion for the job, please do keep it up, don’t relent and avoid disruption by any means,” he said.
Yusuf urged the officers to carry out their duties diligently without compromising standards.
“We have successfully made lots of achievements, we met the command with a revenue figure of N520 billion. With your determination and effort, we were able to generate N820 billion in 2021, from there to N1.02 trillion in 2022, a feat achieved by you all.
“We made some classical seizures of pentagon drugs, cocaine, tramadol and others.
“In the year 2021, we made 103 seizures and in 2022, 125 seizures, which are containerised cargoes. These cargoes could have found their way into the society without your intervention and other government agencies in the port.
“We have a coordinated synergy within ourselves here, we track and trace every illicit drug in this command, so kindly keep it up and continue with this. Apapa is a no-go area for any illicit importation,” he said.
He also urged illicit traders to be aware of losing their investments.
“I am sure it will be tougher with them with the incoming controller.
“I want our new controller to continue with the modeling in the command as it has made officers work more productively.
“I thank all stakeholders who contributed immensely to the re-modeling in the command and this shows the kind of synergy between customs, stakeholders and other government agencies in the port,” he said.
Similarly, Area 2 Customs Command, Onne Seaport in Rivers has raked in a total sum of N242,090,629,309.29 in the 2022 fiscal year.
The Comptroller, Mr. Auwal Muhammad, had stated this on Thursday in Onne, during his official handing over to the newly deployed Comptroller, Mr. Baba Imam.
Muhammad said that the figure represented an increase of 28.3 percent.
Highlighting some of the command’s achievements, Muhammad attributed his administration’s success to robust synergy among officers and relevant stakeholders in the command.
According to him, the Nigerian Customs Service, Onne port is a revenue-generating command with statutory function covering vast anti-smuggling activities and also serving as an export point for goods.
“Comparatively, when I took over in Sept. 2020, total revenue of N118 billion was generated by the command, and in 2021, an improved revenue to the tune of N188.6 billion representing more than N54 billion increase was generated by the command.
“This constant increase became possible following the introduction of improved revenue generation structures which has enabled the command to achieve as much as the total sum of N242,090,629,309.29 in 2022,” he said.
The Comptroller also attributed the successes so far recorded to aggressive operational activities where all cargoes are subject to 100 percent examination except where interventions became necessary.
“Our ability to thoroughly examine containers has also helped us prevent passage of contraband and unwholesome goods, as well as record high profile seizures by the command.
“The command recorded a total of 51 seizures with a duty paid value amounting to N1,764,303,008.9 in 2022,” he added.
Responding, the new Comptroller promised to leverage existing cooperation aimed at promoting the agency’s mandate.