By Eguono Odjegba
The indication has emerged that the management of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, may have discontinued its yearly ritual of revenue target fixing, which has remained a source of controversy for years and regarded by some industry stakeholders and analysts as anachronistic, anti-economy, exploitative and fraudulent.
This follows some observations that the Customs operated outside its revenue target regime in the first quarter of 2019.
This is contrary to the Customs revenue collection culture usually hinged on the issuance of monthly, quarterly and yearly targets to all revenue-generating commands and enforcement units, and usually released by management by January of every year.
Checks with sources at some of the area commands show that headquarters had not sent any circular to that effect as at last week, raising speculation that the NCS might have come under pressures to discontinue the policy.
Officers who commented on the issue on condition of anonymity said although it is very unusual for revenue target circular to delay this long, it was premature to foreclose that the policy has been discontinued.
Industry players were also divided on the matter but held a common belief that revenue target fixing impacts negatively on port cost efficiencies and trade facilitation.
Management of the NCS is believed to have over the years gave credence to revenue jack up over and above inspection regime, as pressure on management government to provide more fund has become a working guide. Speaking on the matter, one time National President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Chief Ernest Elochukwu, described revenue fixing as obnoxious and a primitive way of customs services.
He said, “I think sincerely speaking, that if they have discontinued the obnoxious practice of giving revenue target to area commands, it would be a step in the right direction, because abinitio, it has no basis. This is because all this while, the policy has distorted what the customs performance should be.
“The customs mandate goes beyond revenue generation, beyond combating smuggling. The truth is that the totality of the customs mandate should be about how to establish a stable customs operation and increase inspection regime for the safety of the country and her people.
“Gradually, the obsession for increased revenue under the pressure of Aso Rock has also opened the way to ill-advised restriction on essential commodities which we lack and have no genuine alternative action plan to produce locally. It has thrown up the challenge of compliance and all that, but compliance is not a standalone thing because when you talk about compliance, you talk about rules or regulations that need to be complied with. That is why we ask, to what extent do they go to establish the national goal?
“Why ban what you don’t produce when you make laws they are supposed to be enforceable. Of recent, you must have heard about the subtle ban on certain items including textile products, because living in denial has always been our national pastime. So when we say we are not going to import essential items from those countries that have comparative advantage of production, then we are trying to say we don’t know what we are doing, and in our own case, it is even more tragic when you find that the items banned or restricted is essential in our daily living. Ultimately, it produces conflict because you are inadvertently encouraging smuggling.”
Also speaking, Mr. Uche Increase, National President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, said although target fixing has become a work culture in the Customs through which the leadership attempts to prove its capability to deliver on the mandate, it has created problems and challenges that seem to have defeated the overall need the revenue generation drive may have set out to achieve.
He stated: “I am not on the board of Customs and I am not the Minister of Finance, so I don’t know the reason for the delay, and I cannot say if revenue target has been scrapped. If it has been scrapped, who knows, it could be another strategy to improve service delivery. It is also possible that the electioneering campaigns have affected some processes, some of the MDAs (Ministries, Departments and Agencies) are just settling down.
“Customs revenue target could be a way of evaluating their performances. But I must say that some of us think that setting revenue target limits what should come into government coffers.
“It is a very dicey situation, apart from NNPC and FIRS, it is Customs government looks up to for fund. You are expected to exceed your target, so you have a situation the CG and all CACs want to save their jobs and prove they are capable officers. But it has created problems and challenges like officers going all out to make sure they meet their target, they raise all manners of frivolous debt notices, DNs, jack up the valuation of cargo etc. This has a way of hindering trade”.