The Mess By Customs at the Border


By  Yemi Adebowale

Phone    08054699539


 I was left depressed after listening to the acting Comptroller-General of Customs, Adewale Adeniyi, speaking on the smuggling of petroleum products and revenue generation at a press briefing in Abuja last week, organised to mark his first 100 days in office. I heard the man that is supposed to be leading the team protecting our borders giving needless and childish excuses for the unending smuggling of petroleum products. He said his findings showed that the quality and price of Nigeria’s petrol were the key factors causing the persistent smuggling of the product to neighbouring countries.

Adeniyi, the man saddled with the responsibility of tackling the menace of smuggling, was lamenting instead of taking action to tame the danger. It is even more painful that he was telling Nigerians the same old story. It was so annoying listening Adeniyi saying he had discovered that the low price of Nigerian petrol “is responsible” for the smuggling of the products. I’m sure he was just joking. Adeniyi is also pretending to be unaware that regardless of what the prices of petroleum products are in Nigeria, there will still be smuggling to neighbouring countries because Nigeria remains the only source of these products to many communities bordering her.

Recall that one of the factors that led to the removal of petrol subsidy last May by President Bola Tinubu was the massive smuggling of the product to neighbouring countries. An estimated 50 per cent of petrol imported into Nigeria is smuggled out. The rise in the price to between N568 and N650 per litre following the withdrawal of subsidy only reduced smuggling by an estimated 30 per cent. That’s what we were told. The temptation to smuggle out petroleum products will always be there regardless of the price or quality in Nigeria.

In any case, the job of Adeniyi and his boys is to halt the smuggling of these products; not giving us reasons why trafficking of Nigerian petrol is attractive. Precisely 110 days after the emergence of Adeniyi as acting Comptroller-General of Customs, nothing has changed. This is the truth that must be told. It is still business as usual at Nigeria’s borders with all our neighbouring countries. Smuggling of petroleum products is still booming. This is because those we have charged with the responsibility of policing our borders continue to compromise. Their leader, Adeniyi has decided to regale Nigerians with the story of Mungo Park instead of acting fittingly. At another function a few weeks after his assumption of office, Adeniyi admitted that the smuggling of petrol was persisting, “though it had reduced when compared to what was obtained in the past.”

Stopping the smuggling of petroleum products should not be a big deal if the Nigerian Customs are really committed to their jobs. Unfortunately, they are committed to their pockets. Adeniyi should be working on protecting Nigeria’s borders with technology. We are in an era of protecting borders with surveillance/attack drones. That is the standard in developed societies. Nigeria should not be left behind. This is the club Adeniyi should take the Customs into.

Nigerian Customs are not just messing up with the smuggling of petroleum products to neighbouring countries; they are messing up with the smuggling of so many other things into and out of Nigeria. Take the case of Rice whose importation was banned years ago. Notwithstanding, daily, loads of foreign Rice slip into Nigeria with ease. We have more foreign Rice than local ones in our markets. The Customs guys at the border are always looking the other way. Well, for reasons known to all of us.

Allegations of sleaze in the NCS pour daily. Two years ago, I remember the then Vice-Chairman, Senate Committee on Customs and Excise, Francis Fadahunsi, calling for the removal of the then boss of Customs, Hammed Ali over alleged massive corruption in the agency. Fadahunsi is a retired Assistant Comptroller General of Customs and surely knew what he was saying then.

Fadahunsi remarked: “If the Buhari regime could suspend the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala-Usman, for alleged fraud, it should also be bold enough to suspend the NCS boss. Massive corruption is going on under Ali’s watch and the country is losing so much money due to this.”

Fadahunsi, who represented Osun East District in the 9th Senate and currently in the 10th Senate, also cited non-remittance of proceeds of seized goods and those auctioned to government’s purse, saying “there is the need for the NCS to be thoroughly investigated.”

He adds: “Concerning the seizure and disposal of contraband goods, Ali has not rendered any returns in the past six years. The amount estimated from these runs into trillions of Naira. He has also not made any public auction according to the Auction Sales Code. The CG has not audited his accounts in the past six years. If he says he has done that, let him publish the audited report. Let him also publish what he has made on the auction of seized goods since he resumed. That should be subject to a forensic audit. He has never told us what he made from overtime cargoes and containers.”

This is the Customs inherited by Adeniyi. Massive corruption is real in the NCS. This is why millions of litres of petroleum products are smuggled out daily. This is why tons of foreign Rice enter this country daily. This is why Nigeria’s borders are in the club of most porous in the world. This is why arms, ammunition, deficient pharmaceuticals, illegal drugs, and other forbidden goods that pose serious dangers to Nigerians slip into the country with ease. Adeniyi has to work very hard to reverse this ugly trend. Yes, he has been part of the filthy system for so long, I expect him to see his elevation to the position of CGC as a new beginning; an opportunity to build a new Customs where corruption and ineptitude will be drastically reduced.

Smugglers are not invincible. Adeniyi and his men know them. They can end smuggling of petroleum products if they wish to do it. Adeniyi and his men must be held accountable. This is the truth that must be told. His “100 Days” were not impressive. Enough of this mess at Nigeria’s borders. Enough of the smuggling of petroleum products abroad.

Also, at the “100 Days” briefing, Adeniyi celebrated the rise in revenue generation by the Customs “with an average monthly collection of N202 billion in the first half of the year, surging to an impressive N343 billion in the past two months – July and August.” He said the growth amounted to a remarkable 70.13 per cent increase in revenue collection. With this, Adeniyi said the service had surpassed its monthly revenue target of N307 billion. Well, there is an improvement, but this is not where the Customs should be in terms of contribution to the Federation Account.

I strongly believe that a well-managed and corruption-free NCS can generate at least N10 trillion annually for this country. Unfortunately, it has not been so because of corruption. I still remember Itse Sagay, the then Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, remarking that “it is still business as usual” at all Customs formations across the country. That was two years ago. Nothing has changed. The bulk of the revenues that should come from our ports still go into private pockets. This is why the Customs can’t amass N10 trillion in a whole year for Nigeria. In this light, I think this government should start thinking about privatising the collection of Customs and Excise duties as being done in some developed countries. This is the only way forward for our country.

This country has no business taking loans to fund its budgets if the revenue-generating agencies are well managed. The failings of the revenue-generating agencies like the Customs have been pushing the federal government into seeking loans to finance infrastructural development. State governors should also show interest in the activities of federal revenue generating agencies like Customs because they are co-owners. These agencies belong to all the three tiers of government; not just the federal government.

Reforming Tax with N5 Billion

The Presidential Fiscal Policy and Tax Reforms Committee already has N5 billion in its kitty for its operation expected to last 12 months. At parallel market exchange rate, that is around $5 million. Yes, that is what has been released to this committee by the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS. I was livid when this figure emerged. N5 billion for which operation? That is what this committee will spend for its 12 months assignment. What a country!

Also, the money was released within a few weeks. If it is money meant for one health or education intervention in this country, it would still be stranded somewhere by now. But this ludicrous one came out with speed after an earlier speedy approval by the Presidency. I was further shocked when the man chairing the committee, Taiwo Oyedele, went about defending the $5 million his committee budgeted for its operations.

Oyedele boldly declared: “The Committee’s budget includes provisions for a national ‘Data for Tax’ project which the JTB has been championing for over two years. Other expenses include setting up of offices for the committee in Lagos and Abuja, payment of salaries for the full-time staff engaged by the committee, travels and other logistics for over 70 members representing more than 40 institutions and stakeholder groups mapped to six different subcommittees, more than 30 Secretariat personnel and over 40 students across the country.

“In addition, the budget covers planned stakeholder engagements with various sectors and interest groups, as well as international engagements and understudy of some leading tax regimes around the world, and so on. The budget covers a period of one year being the lifespan of the committee.”

I am still struggling to understand Oyedele’s “international engagements and understudy of some leading tax regimes around the world.” In this modern era, with technology as its core, Oyedele still needs to physically travel abroad to understudy some leading tax regimes. Haba! This is preposterous. Why is he renting offices in Lagos and Abuja for this short-term project? Oyedele should be thinking of cutting costs by seeking office space in existing government facilities. Then, the “travels and other logistics for over 70 members.” Is this all about travelling around the world?

The same Oyedele told Nigerians that his committee’s mandate “include ensuring prudence and accountability in the management of our national resources”, adding, “it will therefore be a contradiction for the same committee to be wasteful or reckless in its own affairs.” So, spending N5 billion for a 12-month project is not wasteful in this era of economic crisis?

Then, President Tinubu, who is always talking about this country’s bad economy and the need to cut costs, approved this kind of budget for Oyedele and his gang? Nigerians deserve an answer.

Related Articles