Apapa Customs Command of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, handles 70 percent of imports and export in the country. Customs Area Controller, CAC, of the Command, Mohammed Abba-Kura recently spoke with Vanguard Maritime Report’s GODFREY BIVBERE on challenges facing the Command, last year’s experience, the use of scanners, training of officers and many more.
WHAT was 2019 like at the Apapa Customs Command?
The year 2019 was quite eventful for the Apapa Area Command. I am pleased to inform you that the Command, once again, set up another record by meeting and surpassing its 2019 Annual Revenue target of N372 billion and seizing goods worth over N12 billion.
Through our collective efforts and efficient strategies put in place, the Apapa Area Command was able to collect N413 billion from January to December 19, 2019. This translates to about 111 percent of the 2019 Annual Revenue Target. In achieving this feat, the complementary roles of units like the Customs Intelligence Unit, CIU and Valuation Unit amongst others are especially acknowledged.
From the above figures, it is worthy to note that the Command had the highest revenue figure of over N42 billion in the month of October which was the peak of this border closure.
This precedent gives evidence to positive impacts of this policy which has reduced incidences of smuggling through the land border and increased legitimate imports through the seaports tremendously. The revenue collected so far in 2019 is higher than that of 2018 collection by over N9 billion.
On the fight against smuggling, how did the Command fare?
Well, within the period under review, the Command seized 112 containers of various items that flouted import procedures. Most notable among these items were pharmaceutical products which include TRAMADOL that were imported without the necessary approval from regulatory agencies like National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC.
Other items include tomato paste, vegetable oil, ladies and girls fashion, foot wears, expired rice, armoured glasses without end user certificate, EUC, and drilling pipes labelled in foreign language, etc. It is pertinent to emphasize here that virtually all the seized items are in gross violation of our extant laws and import guidelines. The Duty Paid Value, DPV for these seizures stood at N12.8 billion.
Looking at Federal Government efforts to promote export, what was the level of export through the Command last year?
In the area of export, high level of compliance on export declaration has been recorded. Within the period under review, the Command recorded a total of volume of 262,095.09 metric tonnes of exported goods with Free on Board, FOB value of $132.7 million, this is equivalent to N40.6 billion.
Most of the exported items were agricultural and mineral products. However, I want to extend an appeal to exporters using the Apapa Port, to always ensure that minimum international standards are met before exporting their consignments to avoid the recurrent incidences of returning of consignments after export.
What is the level of training for officers and men of the Command?
Let me say that our quest to deliver efficient service delivery to our stakeholders and in line with the Comptroller-General of Customs’ 3Rs mandate, the Command under my leadership came up with a deliberate and well-coordinated strategy that trained over 400 officers in general aspects of our operations with a view to maximizing their productivity.
The results we are seeing today is the product of that training in addition to other mechanisms like 24 hours dispute resolution, maintaining an open and accessible door policy to address complains, constant engagement with the stakeholders as well as support by the management of the NCS and other sister agencies operating at the port.
I wish to make a special and compassionate appeal to the importers of pharmaceutical products to respect and comply with the country’s guidelines on importation of these products to rid the nation of counterfeited and prohibited medicaments with its attendant consequences to the nation.
The huge billions you are losing today owing to non-compliance with the import guidelines could have been channelled to other legitimate activities that add value to the nation’s growth and development.
To this end, we appreciate all compliant stakeholders as we assure them of improved and timely release of cargo. I want to say thank you to the maritime media for their objective reportage of the Command’s activities which has contributed in informing, educating and sensitizing the general public on activities of the Service.
What is the focus of the Command for this year?
We had laid a very good foundation in 2019 and we are going to continue on that. We are still going to continue capacity building for junior officers, then we will equally train the stakeholders so that they are going to be on the same page because if the officers are aware of their responsibilities, the stakeholders who are equally grounded, we will be able to work smoothly and generate more revenue.
Why are the scanners at the port not being fully utilised and when are the new scanners expected?
The ones we have are epileptic, the service is doing something to get new scanners, so once the scanners are in place, the rate of physical examination will reduce, that will be able to generate more revenue and secure the country.
Because of non-intrusive examination, it takes less time and you have accuracy because the non-compliant traders definitely don’t make good declarations, you find a situation where somebody is bringing three or four items in a container and he will just declare one, but the non-intrusive examination will show everything on their scanning reports. You will be able to see any angle, up or down of the container without going inside, but if we are to conduct physical examination, it takes a lot of time, but this one, in about a minute or two, you are done with a particular container.
In the past, the issue of container flying was associated with this Command, what is the situation presently?
If they can fly containers, there is no need for them to broach containers. This is telling that we are able to block those activities because flying of containers or taking of containers out of the port without following due process is getting too difficult for them, and because of that, they resort to broaching of containers. In essence, we are able to put a check on that but definitely, the responsibility and custody of containers lies with the terminal operators, it is not the responsibility of the Customs.
For officers to shun corruption there is need to commend and compensate them. What is the Command doing in this regard to ensure that they do not embrace corrupt practices?
I have told them that everybody must work hard and it is not going to go unnoticed, and we have done that about two times or so. Those officers that intercepted an ambulance, we gave them letters of recommendation for their efforts and we have informed the headquarters of what the officers did, so with that, a lot of officers got encouraged and everybody is doing his best.
Money for duty payment
On the issue of corruption, you cannot say all officers are saints, definitely one or two along the line may be corrupt, but the laws are there and we do not joke because anyone that defaults will be sanctioned. You cannot look at customs officers in isolation; you have to look at the country in general. So if you look at Customs officers that people are even talking about, how many Customs officers can you point out since you know about the Service?
I remember when the minister of finance was saying that he thought that people come to Customs and give them money for duty payment, it was when he became minister, while going round that he discovered that it was not so. In fact, the achievements the Service made over the years, the Service should be commended because if you look at our automation since 2006-date, we have achieved a lot. Other stakeholders are the ones holding us back; we have automated our declarations, moved to e-payment.