- Customs sets up anti-smuggling units, redeploys senior officers
Ndubuisi Francis in Abuja and Eromosele Abiodun in Lagos
As the federal government’s ban on the importation of vehicles through the land borders came into effect on January 1, the Association of Nigerian Customs Licensed Agents (ANCLA) has cried out that several vehicles on their way into the country were stuck at the borders before the deadline elapsed.
This is just as the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) has promised to make sure that the borders are well manned to fish out smugglers and tuesday announced the redeployment of eight Assistant Comptrollers-General (ACGs) and 238 Deputy Comptrollers (DCs), including its former spokesman.
The agency, in a statement, said the redeployment was carried out to strengthen operations and reposition the service to meet the challenges of the new year.
In a phone chat with THISDAY tuesday, the Public Relation Officers of the nation’s busiest land borders, Seme and Idiroko, said the Customs Service, as an organ of the federal government, was duty bound to enforce any directive from the government.
The federal government last year had prohibited the importation of vehicles, new and old, through land borders effective January 1, restricting all vehicle imports to Nigeria seaports only.
Speaking on activities at the Seme border yesterday, Customs PRO, Seme Command, Taupyen Selchang, said movement along the border was normal, adding that the agency was well prepared ahead of the take off date.
According to him, nothing special happened yesterday as far as vehicle importation was concerned. “No vehicle was brought in, our enforcement teams are on patrol and well armed.
“Customs is an arm of the federal government we have been given the mandate to enforce the policy and I assure you that we will do so.
“Any vehicle brought in through the land borders will be seized and the importers will be prosecuted,” he added.
He said the command had set up anti-smuggling and enforcement units in preparation for the take off of the policy.
On his part, Customs PRO, Idiroko Command, Modees Usman, said stakeholders in the command were fully aware of the implication of violating the order by the federal government.
According to him, “The Area Comptroller, Idiroko Command, held a meeting with all stakeholders before Christmas to sensitise them. They are well informed.
“As we speak, our anti-smuggling architecture is fully in place to deal with smugglers. So far, since the first of January, we have not recorded any case of smuggling.”
In an interview with THISDAY recently, the Customs Area Comptroller of Seme Border, Victor Dimka, disclosed that there was massive push to import vehicles into Nigeria last month.
“Absolutely, there is so much activity in terms of vehicles coming into the country legally and being handed over by Benin Republic Customs and also individuals bringing their vehicles to pay duty.
“For instance, on December 20th, we received 130 vehicles which has never happened before and prior to that, we also received 99 that came in.
“If you go to the car park, the whole place is filled up and so we are saying without fear of contradiction that we are up and doing not only in Nigeria but Benin Republic which is aware to see that they get these vehicles here for duty payment before the deadline of January 1, 2017.”
However, ANLCA at the Seme border said yesterday that so many vehicles that had tried to beat the deadline were trapped at the border posts.
The chairman of ANLCA, Alhaji Bisiriyu Danu, said as of Friday, December 30, 2016, the Customs Service had asked the agents to stop payment of duties on vehicles by 5 p.m.
Danu said the association was not aware of any circular countering the ban.
He said that so many vehicles that were un-cleared by customs agents were still trapped yesterday morning at the ports of neighbouring countries.
The customs agent said that the association was engaging with some government representatives to get a three-month grace period, adding that the grace period would enable ships carrying vehicles to berth for clearance before implementation of the ban.
The customs agent said the ban would render many car dealers around Badagry and its environs idle and this could be a dangerous trend.
He further warned that the enforcement of the policy would increase smuggling across the borders.
Danu said that the policy would also increase unemployment among youths in the area.
“The Seme border is extremely porous and the situation has been managed properly by Customs officials, but this policy is going to increase smuggling.
“All the unapproved routes would be exploited by smugglers. So smuggling would be on the rise with this policy that the government has put in place.
“Also, it would increase the rate of unemployment of youths in this area, as many people rely on this as a means of livelihood.
“The government should consider all these factors and lift the ban on vehicles through the land borders,” he told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
A major stakeholder in Seme, Chief Sam Maduike, also pleaded with the federal government to lift the ban.
“The policy is going to bring untold hardship on the masses, as the average Nigerian cannot afford to buy a brand new car.
“Also many people rely on buying used vehicles as their means of livelihood, but this policy is just going to worsen the situation in the country.
“The government should consider all these and lift the ban,” he said.
A resident, Mr Tunde Apata, pleaded with the government to lift the ban, adding, “I helped people to buy cars from Cotonou and I have been doing that for several years. So, basically, this has been my only source of income.
“With the ban, I do not know how I would cater for myself and family. I am doomed,” he said.
Apata said the Customs Service was complying with the directive of the federal government on the ban.
The President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, Mr. Lucky Amiwero, also told NAN that the federal government should inaugurate a committee to look critically at the implications of the ban on vehicle imports through the land borders.
He said that government should also look at the risk to the lives of Customs officers because there would be a rise in smuggling.
Amiwero said that the question that should bother the government is: “Are Nigerian ports friendly to accept vehicles?”
He urged government to address the high cost of doing business at Nigerian ports.
“Our draft level should be increased to accommodate bigger ships carrying vehicles.
“The most important thing is for government to provide a way for ships to sail easily into Nigerian ports and reduce the costs of doing business at the ports,” Amiwero said.
The Customs agent said shipping costs, terminal operators’ handling costs and other costs make the importation of vehicles into Nigerian ports expensive and uncompetitive, compared to other ports in the sub-region.
He said port costs, the value of the vehicles and the procedures of clearance were very key to getting the policy right.
Amiwero recalled that in 1998 and 1999, he fought to bring back cargoes through the land borders because government was losing a lot of revenue to neighbouring ports.
“We have porous borders and we do not have the tools to check smuggling,” Amiwero said.
He said operators of car assembly plants should also be provided with a conducive environment to operate.
However, the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) said it supported the ban.
The National Publicity Secretary of the association, Mr. Stanley Ezenga, told NAN that the association’s support was borne out of the economic benefits that the policy would bring to the nation.
Ezenga said: “This is in terms of revenue and improved capacity for local automobile manufacturing.
“We support the new policy to ban vehicles through the land borders in its entirety because of the obvious economic benefits to the nation.
“First, activities are at their lowest ebb at the various ports due to the diversion of cargoes to ports in neighbouring countries and we believe the policy will make our ports busy as vehicles will now have to come in through the ports.
“Also, there is the government’s Automotive Policy in place and designed to encourage local capacity in the manufacturing of vehicles.
“So, we believe the policy would prevent dumping and smuggling through better monitoring.”
On whether the policy took off effectively on January 1 as announced, Ezenga said he would need feedback from his men at the border posts to be sure.
“The National Assembly once called for the suspension of the policy but I do not know if the federal government is going ahead or backing off.
“It is still very early in January. Our men are in the field and we will know with time if the policy is going ahead or not,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Comptroller-General of the Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd), has approved the redeployment of eight ACGs and 238 DCs of Customs.
The Customs Service said yesterday that the redeployment was carried out to strengthen operations and reposition the service to meet the challenges of the new year.
The redeployment, which is with immediate effect, saw ACG Charles Edike moved from Zone A to Human Resource Development (HRD); ACG Ahmed Mohammed from HRD to Zone B; and ACG Aminu Dangaladima from Zone B to Enforcement.
ACG Francis Dosumu was moved from Enforcement to Zone D; ACG Augustine Chidi from Zone D to Excise, Free Trade Zone and Industrial Incentives (Ex, FTZ, & II); ACG Monday Abueh from Ex, FTZ, & II to Zone A while ACG Umar Sanusi was moved from the headquarters to Zone C.
Also, ACG Abdulkadir Azerema was redeployed from Zone C to the headquarters.
According to a statement issued by the Customs Services’
Deputy Public Relations Officer, Joseph Attah, the redeployment of Deputy Comptrollers of Customs affected its Public Relations Officer, DC Wale Adeniyi, who was posted to Apapa Customs Area Command, Lagos.
“As all the affected officers report at their new zones and commands, the comptroller-general reiterated the federal government’s ban on the importation of rice and vehicles through the land borders.
“He charged all officers and men of the service to ensure maximum collection of revenue and strict implementation of the fiscal policy of government,” the statement added.