RE: INHERENT ABUSE AND COMPROMISES IN CUSTOMS CARGO EXAMINATION A THREAT TO INTERNATIONAL TRADE AND SECURITY: MATTERS ARISING

February 4, 2016

The Comptroller General
Nigeria Customs Service
Wuse Zone 3
Abuja.

Dear Sir,

RE: INHERENT ABUSE AND COMPROMISES IN CUSTOMS CARGO EXAMINATION A THREAT TO INTERNATIONAL TRADE AND SECURITY: MATTERS ARISING

Reference is hereby made to what we consider as unethical, unprofessional and lacking in moral values, the manner with in Customs arrest, detain and even seize goods duly and properly examined and released by the proper officers of the Nigeria Customs Service in our seaports, airports and border stations of Nigeria. It is an approved standard procedure that goods imported or exported through the approved entry points of Nigeria undergo Customs examination at the marked and approved examination bay of the area commands.

We are all aware and conversant with the facts that Customs examination is targeted towards making a dutiful comparison between what was declared in the single entry form for Customs purposes against what is seen physically in the container.

Under normal circumstance the examiner is to cross check the declarations made in terms of description, quantity, marks and numbers, and country of origin and supply. Matters of value question, regulatory undertakings of product sampling, restrictions and prohibition are also given consideration. And where every terms are in conformity in all material respect the examiner shall go ahead to release the cargo to the owner for delivery out of Customs control. And where there are infractions to the cargo, the examiner will refer it to the appropriate section of the authority for further action before release is finally authorized.

We are also conversant with the platform of scale of examination for large imports which of course must be homogenous in the case of physical examination or automation. Even at that, it is to the discretion of the proper officer to adopt such measures with a view to facilitating trade and save time. This does not or may not remove any liability from the proper officer in that regard in terms of security related matters and or revenue loss that may arise thereafter.

May we therefore ask the Comptroller General of Customs whether the rule for Customs examination and its objectives have changed. We are constrained to ask because it has become increasingly worrisome because of the activities of the Enforcement Unit of Customs and in particularly the Federal Operations Unit interception of properly released goods along the city highways of Nigeria.

Our CGC Sir, without prejudice to goods that may have entered into Nigeria through unapproved routes, the interventions of the Federal Operations Unit are valid due to their findings and discoveries of untrue declarations. Even though that it may be in the public eye that goods coming into Nigeria through unapproved routes may be equally known to Customs officers, it is not the subject of this letter but some other time we shall address you on that with a view to nipping it in the bud.

To us in NAGAFF, it appears that Nigeria Customs Service maybe acting in breach against those who come to do business with them in the Customs ports and approved border stations. We have to feel this way because over time, the officers who actually carry on with this level of compromise against the Customs law are left to serve in the same command unduly and for three years as the case may be before they are moved out of the command.

We are very much aware that the Federal Operations Unit has been compiling the names of such officers but nothing has happened. The public who come to do business with Customs are asking questions as to the system Customs adopt to ensure discipline in the Service. And for the avoidance of doubt, over 95% of imports are alerted by the system audit, the local alerts of the APM, CIU, Valuation etc, and yet the exploits of the Federation Operations Unit on matters of untrue declaration are sustained and valid.

What seems germane and puzzling here seems to be that after all these seeming alerts and due diligence at the ports, 95% of properly exited goods from the ports still get apprehended by operatives of the FOU for some unexplained infringement of the Customs law. We believe that the time is now right to begin to ask questions by the trading public as to why after going through the rigours and stress of clearing goods from the Customs ports and such goods are supposedly properly cleared by proper Customs officers, they are intercepted on the highways by another set of Customs officers? The trading public is meant to undergo this double checkings whereas the officers who supposedly properly released these goods are not queried or indicted.

Whereas we are worried over what we consider as abnormal at the south west and eastern operations, we want to congratulate you over the development at Jibiya Border where the monopoly of just one person has been broken after several years of impunity. We congratulate you Sir with your management team for doing things differently this time around.

We are happy to inform you that the NAGAFF members operating at the North West are most grateful to you and Mr. President who started the liberation struggle with us even before he became the President. The expectation of practitioners are very high in the South East and South West operations. The examiners must be made to be effective and proactive to reduce incidences of double handling and the relevance or otherwise of Federation Operations.

The point herein canvassed is to state the obvious that if the examiners are professional in their duty call the Federal Operations Unit will only but spend their time to checkmate smugglers coming through the unapproved routes. The undue expenses and unwarranted seizures shall be eliminated at the various intervention units. There is no doubt that the issue of untrue declaration for Customs purposes are usually initiated at the traders zone of ASYCUDA platform. However, that is expected because they are business men and women who wants to maximize profit. We therefore urge you to realize that it is very easy for you to control your officers to protect and serve the interest of the Government as their employers than conniving with the trading public to cheat the same Government they ought to protect and serve. Without prejudice to the law of giver and taker of bribe being guilty of the offense, it is in the opinion of NAGAFF that the law is obsolete and of no consequence if we want to tackle corruption in Nigeria. We hope to draw the attention of the National Assembly in this regard.

As it stands the most notable difficulties confronting the Service operation is the compliant level of traders and freight forwarders on matter of genuine declaration for Customs purposes which is not encouraging as it is in the abuse of Customs laws. However under the ideals, principles and characteristics of destination inspection, the application of Sections 27, 28, 29 of CEMA and ensuring proper Customs examination, the Government revenue shall be adequately protected and secured. It has been established that corruption is usually initiated at the traders zone of the ASYCUDA platform, in that regard effort should be made to increase education and enlightenment of stakeholders to be compliant to import and export regulations.

Before we drop anchor, may we remind you that we have said that corruption seems to be higher at the moment because of lack of transparency and systemic obstacles placed as human elements against seamless operation and trade facilitation. The concept of seizure of traded goods over minor trade offenses should be stopped and the various commands like Ijora Container Terminal with redundant officers should be shut down or cargo stemmed to it to justify their earning. The Federal Government unlike the courts should not be a father xmas with the state of our economy at the moment.

Thanks for reading us.

Accept the assurance of our esteemed regard.

Yours faithfully,

FWDR. ARTHUR IGWILLO
Secretary General

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