Customs Area Controller, Kirikiri Lighter Terminal, KLT, Mrs. Nike Oladunni recently said that false declaration of importation is the single greatest threat to trade facilitation, noting that the Customs service under the leadership of Col. Hameed Ali (retd), does not derive any pleasure from cargo delayed at any entry point, owing to procedural correctness.
Oladunni notes that the job of the Nigeria Customs Service is essentially to foster trade and security, people and environment. She believes that despite KLT command suffering a locked-in challenge in respect of the Mile 2/Julius Berger/Coconut axis traffic snarl, efforts remain upbeat to ensure that the strategy of continuously raising government revenue profile is explored. She also explained the instructive factors responsible for non seizures of cargo since taking over control of the command.
By Eguono Odjegba
KLT is considered vital in the cargo clearance command chain. Can you give us an overview of your first quarter activities?
Empirically, KLT used to command that business outlook you just painted, but not anymore. We are locked in by the Kirikiri industrial area and of course, also caught up in the circus of the traffic gridlock leading from Mile 2 to Coconut. But despite these challenges, we have been able to maintain a growing curve and ensured we continue to attract importers, clearing agents and freight forwarders, and we have been active.
Usually the import indices for first quarters are always a mixture of fiscal policies watch, analysis and projection. Much of what comes in for January and February for instance, are outstanding of imports on transit from the prior year. But like I said, the beat is on, for first quarter 2020; we generated total revenue of N5, 825,124,418.00. This is against the figure of N2, 741,396,101 in the corresponding period of 2019.
Is this figure inclusive of seized items?
No, just revenue and taxes on goods. Since assuming leadership of this command, I made it a duty to discourage as much as possible incidence of sharp practices, false declaration, under declaration and so forth. The management has regular stakeholders meetings where we have continued to emphasise zero tolerance for sharp practices and whatsoever will amount to smuggling.
Thankfully, we have enjoyed the benefit of compliance in this regard, so technically, there are no seizures. We remain proactive and subject imports to all the due diligence and this has greatly foreclosed the prospect of goods falling into smuggling category. We profile and get the last kobo payable on all consignments before they are released.
Are you saying that compliance is the hallmark of business ethics?
Yes, I am saying so with all emphasis. I will not stop stressing the fact that importers and customs clearing agents need to be compliant. Compliance with import and export regulations is pivotal to the success of the whole value-chain. It surprises me when people complain, especially those in default, who turn around and blame delays caused by them on the customs and its management. The CGC and his management derives no joy whatsoever in the delay of cargo clearance. Only the importer and his clearing agent can in the true sense of the word delay their consignments. For instance, when importers genuinely declare what they actually imported, it makes it a lot easier for us to do our documentations and to facilitate timely clearance of cargo.
Cargo clearance is essentially aligned to international best practice. Compliant traders would generally save themselves from unnecessary delays, while non-compliant stakeholders have issues with queries at different stages in the clearing process because what was physically found after physical examination was different from what they declared. Apart from the negative impact false declaration can have on the economy of a nation in the short and long run, the people can’t afford to allow and should not allow anything they are not sure of into their country as this may expose the country to some security issues or health threats. Also note that sharp practices in cargo declarations are a source of negative growth, both in terms of national planning and wellbeing of the economy.
This year’s International Customs Day lecture was entitled Customs Fostering Sustainability for People, Prosperity and the Planet. Can you reconcile that with NCS import compliance and economic prosperity?
You will agree with me that customs job basically is to cater to the wellbeing of the people and to facilitate trade. I believe that to build a nation you must first build the people and to build the world, you must first build a nation. The way to go is to create an environment conducive enough for people to trade and prosper. The prosperity of a nation is directly linked to the prosperity of its people, and this can only continue to grow and blossom when importers and customs clearing agents are compliant. Compliance with import and export regulations is pivotal to the success of the national import value-chain. Nigeria has been more of an importing nation with new people regularly coming into the import and export arena. So, we cannot stop talking about the need for importers and their agents to be regulation complaint for their own good and for the good of the nation in both the short and long run.
Are you bothered that importers patronising your area command are less keen to deploying barges for evacuation of their containers which is the case in Apapa and Tin Can Island?
Let me put it like this. Officially, my job ends at the point I collect the required revenue on every container. What the owner or agent does later shouldn’t really be my headache. But of course I feel bothered when overall potential output is lost to associated traffic delays. I think that importers and freight forwarders will always consider cost margins, so if they think trucking is more advantageous to them than barging of their containers, we really cannot question their decision because it is their business. This is not to say that we are not worried about the ports traffic problems, we are not unaware that it is eroding on our potential overall capacity, but like other stakeholders, we are hoping for better and friendlier container movement.
How does the traffic situation impact on your officers?
I truly appreciate your concern here. It is a general problem and it is affecting us. To that extent, it demands more commitment from my officers and me. If clearing agents and freight forwarders can get to the port timely to run their entries, there is no reason I and my officers cannot commit to our daily routine and remain top efficient.
Above all, there is a clear indication that government is attending to the rehabilitation of the port roads, so let’s be positive in our outlook and hope that very soon, the traffic situation will improve. I must specially commend the various security agents who are also doing their utmost best to create openings, which is always closing again and again. We are all in it, and I pray that we will all survive it.
There has been speculation that this years custom’s revenue target will not be met due to the global pandemic. Do you share this worry, and are there strategies to mitigate the losses?
Every well meaning Nigerian should be worried that government revenue system is going to be hard hit. So yes, I am worried. At my small level here, I am the eye of the CGC and I will continue to represent him with utmost capability to ensure that despite the circumstances we have found ourselves, we maintain high level efficiency in revenue generation for all imports and exports that will pass through here. The CGC and his management are on top on the situation and will continue to direct us on the way to go to mitigate projected revenue loses.
Earlier you referenced meeting with stakeholders as one of the strategies in driving compliance in customs procedures. How much of this strategy has gone into safety of your officers and the port users under this COVID-19 atmosphere?
We have fully complied with the directive of the CGC and his management team on safety tips and precautions. So as far as the corona virus pandemic is concerned, the customs and this command is playing safe and also keenly observant to ensure that government revenue is protected, in spite of the prevailing challenge. We have been meeting with stakeholders, agents and freight forwarders, creating safety awareness. So, right from the start we have continued to strictly adhere to all the laid down guidelines of the Federal Government. We have wash hand basins strategically placed in and around the area command, and observing physical distancing. While we operate open door policy and attend to issues raised by importers or their agents, we have also been engaging stakeholders on the need to reduce physical interface. The only time more people come together is during physical examination, but again that is done in strict adherence to physical distancing. We are thankful to God that all the strategies we have deployed are working.
What is your personal relationship with stakeholders that can be said to have also aided you in your official engagement?
This is a double barrel question. Let me say that to a large extent, my personality has been subsumed in my official routine. It is hard now to separate my official person from my personal dispositions. You can’t help it, they get mixed up. But I am confident that so far, I have been able to run my official duty as diligently as I should and expect that people, both stakeholders and colleague officers are mindful that the job has to be done.
To that extent, where the official demand makes it absolutely difficult to bend, people should appreciate that we all have our duty to carry out. Outside official matters, we can afford to laugh and relax. My relationship with clearing agents is cordial even though when official demands make it necessary to state the rules and stick with them. We appreciate our importers, clearing agents and freight forwarders for keeping within the rules and customs safeguard; and for doing business with the command.