Customs compromises FG’s anti-corruption war – Maritime Editors

Hameed Ali, Customs CG

The anti-corruption war of the administration of President Muhammadu  Buhari is being compromised by the Nigeria Customs Service(NCS) headed by Col. Hammed Ali (rtd), the Comptroller General (CG), following series of activities that have been taking place in the service.

The League of Maritime Editors, which comprises seasoned journalists who have contributed to the development  of the maritime sector  and the economy,  made the clarifications in their  quarterly state of the nation’s review.

For over three and half years as Customs CG, sitting on several billions of naira as annual budget, Col. Ali has awarded contracts to cronies in NCS in contravention of the due process and in the absence of a constituted customs board and does not ever report to the Minister of Finance, who should be the supervisory minister. He singlehandedly awards contracts with President Buhari’s approval sometimes, as claimed.   No  Customs contract has ever been openly tendered for since Col. Ali assumed office, findings have shown. Can the CG provide details of the beneficiaries of the contracts?

Findings have also revealed that the CG in a most corrupt fashion has usurped the powers of the Customs board in the conduct of examination and promotion of senior officers of NCS such that he singlehandedly promotes officers at his whims, thereby raising the question of how transparent the could be.  It is the statutory duty of the customs board to conduct promotion test and ratify the promotion of senior officers-from one star, Assistant Superintendent of Customs (ASC) to the Comptroller cadre., while the customs management is empowered to only promote people from Customs Assistant cadre to the Inspector cadre. But the CG approves all promotion since assumption of office.

The League of Maritime Editors wonders if the CG does not rather encourage corruption among officers and men of customs service when officers on transfer to other stations are denied transfer benefits such as transport fare and accommodations when the law provides 28 days accommodation payment pending when he or she gets accommodation.  Also, against the law, officers are invited to sit for promotion exams without transport fares, accommodation and feeding allowance.

Investigations show that goods on which import duties have been paid are intercepted on the roads by the officers of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) and the CG’s Strike Force headed by his Principal Staff Officer(PSO), Brigadier-General Buhari.  The only exemption is when the importer or his agent “settles” the officers.

The editors noted that the CG’s Strike Force collects N100,000 per 4o feet container to cover for under-declaration, concealment while contraband containers pay as much as N1million before being allowed to exit both Lagos and Eastern ports.  20 feet containers pay N600,000. The PSO allegedly singlehandedly nominated members of the Strike Force and insists that the coordinator reports to him.

‘’The FOUs, it was gathered, have organized syndicates made up of clearing agents who collect money illegally on their behalf  to avoid interception of containers. In Lagos, a leader of a leading freight forwarding group based in Lagos represents the FOU Zone ‘A’.   Importers and agents drop between N100,000 and N150,000 with the syndicates for the FOUs.

‘’Also, the seeming high revenue generation by the service has been a ruse as there has been a drastic fall in inward cargo  throughput  coupled  with the depreciation in the value of the Naira, presupposing that N1.01trillion generated in 2017  fiscal year and previous years’ figures loomed large because of the exchange rate difference and policy distortion.

‘’Although the vision of the CG through the task force is to stop the extortion of money, the outfit  has compromised its objective as the CG relishes the distortion premised on huge returns to both personal and government coffers.

‘’On valuation, the service has also compromised itself as officers collect certain amount of money from importers, a development which promotes underpayment  by importers  and their freight forwarders, hence the seizure  of most released goods from the ports. This creates rooms for extortions by both the FOU and the ‘Strike Force,” the editors said.

Speaking further, editors said ‘’Our findings have also shown that the Benchmark policy on imported  vehicles  is rooted in corruption as customs officers  toy with the intelligence of  importers  and their agents even as  thee is  systemic corruption  arising from  wrong classification of import duty rates.

‘’Observing that the NCS is supposed to be facilitating trade as  enunciated in the  World Customs Organization(WCO) policy for customs administration globally, the League noted that the NCS has failed  to deliver this  value at the seaports with its adverse effect on  Ease of Doing Business policy of the Federal  Government.

‘’It is on record as recently corroborated by the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman that the NCS has refused to comply with the Ease of Doing Business policy in cargo delivery process.’’

According to the League of Maritime Editors, investigations have equally shown that Customs authorities still allow prohibited export items such as thick wood and scrap metals for export in Apapa,Tin Can and Onne ports.

‘’Findings have also revealed that  despite the Federal Government’s claims that it has stopped  importation of foreign rice in to the country, foreign rice still flood the local markets because rice are now mainly  being imported through containers via seaports, no longer land borders. They are declared as fishing nets, mosquito nets and building materials in collusion with the Strike Force and FOUs and are cleared unhindered at the seaports.

‘’Have Nigerians asked why there seem to be an increase in importation of arms into the country in recent times? All sensitive positions in customs currently are manned by a section of the country, thereby raising the fear of gross incompetence or compromise at seaports, land borders and FOUs.

‘’It was gathered that the issue of closure of warehouses in the Lagos industrial areas of Ilupeju, Ijora, Amuwo-Odofin, Iganmu, among others, that drew the attention of  Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who called on the attention of President Buhari, was also as a result of the extortionist tendencies of the Customs officers,’’ the editors noted.

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