The Customs and Excise Department is undoubtedly important in implementing the government’s export and import policies; and thus generate revenue for the federal government. This task is onerous and should not be underestimated. But there should be ways to perform this function more efficiently and more decently than what the ministry is presenting now.
Customs officials are becoming increasingly unpopular due to their excesses seen at their now regular roadblocks in towns and hinterlands allegedly checking vehicle details. In doing so, they cause difficulties for motorists and unduly disrupt traffic. This practice has also given rise to allegations of extortion. It does not promote efficiency and is not in tandem with international best practices.
Rumors are rife that customs excesses are becoming unbearable. Some innocent motorists, sometimes with their families, are stopped at ad hoc customs checkpoints, arrested and subjected to undue delays and inconvenience in the middle of highways. Then there are allegations of extortion and corruption before the victims are released. In some cases, vehicles are impounded, leaving travelers in disarray. In addition, it is now common for customs officials to loot markets and seize bags of rice on the grounds that they have been smuggled or imported without due process.
The disgusting customs behavior was reinforced in 2017 when the incumbent Comptroller General of Customs (CG), Colonel Hameed Ali (rtd), ordered vehicle owners to cross-check their customs papers on pain of seeing their vehicle. impounded. The directive appeared to have been motivated by a huge goal of 1.1 trillion naira the department set for itself, oblivious to the country’s precarious economic situation.
In 2016, customs set a target of 1,000 billion naira, which they failed to meet. It generated 898 billion naira in revenue, including value added tax (VAT), leaving a deficit of 102 billion naira. Today the situation is worse due to the economic depression. Many shipping companies have closed shop in Nigeria due to a drastic reduction in imports resulting from the scarcity of foreign exchange and the devaluation of the naira. The government had banned the importation of vehicles and rice across land borders. All of this has led to a sharp reduction in customs revenue, while smuggling flourishes.
But rather than face reality, the concern of Customs is apparently how to achieve the goal of huge revenue, even if it means adopting unconventional measures. And this has manifested itself in the installation of hundreds of roadblocks on major highways and the rampaging of markets in search of rice. The focus of Customs has shifted from its primary duty of preventing the influx of contraband and dangerous and illegal items, to collecting revenue, at the expense of Nigerians.
Following Colonel Ali’s directive, the ministry had, with effect from April 13, 2017, impounded vehicles whose rights had not been paid or paid in full. It is instructive that the Senate has ordered customs to suspend implementation of the new policy, pending Colonel Ali’s appearance before lawmakers to explain the reason for the directive. Stakeholders in the maritime sector have also expressed their dismay and disapproval of the customs declaration. But the ministry, in a strong reaction, insisted that there was no turning back and that the policy had to take off as planned. The reaction, by ignoring the country’s parliament, did little to enhance the image of Customs.
Customs is not and should not be seen as working for itself but in the interest of the country. As such, its conduct must be in the public interest. Not only must it adhere to its own enabling laws, but it must exercise its functions taking into account the economic realities of the country. While Article 8 of the Customs and Excise Management Law undoubtedly grants powers, powers and privileges to Customs in the exercise of their functions, these powers should be exercised within the framework of the law. Customs are not empowered to act ultra vires.
Customs should at all times act with a high sense of responsibility and not engage in gangsterism against unlucky citizens. The use of excessive force should be avoided. In the exercise of its functions, custom must respect the rights of individuals, be moderate and have respect for the human person. Only then can officials expect citizens to cooperate with it, according to the law.
While the department’s powers to search homes, premises or warehouses are not in dispute, the department should focus on the borders through which contraband or illegally imported items pass. The department should use modern technology and gadgets to do this job where collateral damage is minimal. By the time they wait for items to reach consumers, or the last player in the supply or import chain, it will be impossible to protect the rights and interests of people, especially with the open nature of markets. from the country.
Not so long ago, customs officials set up roadblocks and seized several bags of rice from travelers returning home for Christmas, prompting an outcry from former Anambra state governor Peter Obi. Likewise, the behavior of the customs officers at the Kayero market in Sango Otta, in Ogun State, which they invaded in search of contraband rice left much to be desired because the victims were not the smugglers but the traders punished for not having customs papers for rice. It is ludicrous that the smugglers bypass customs at the borders and the assault is transferred to the public.
Customs have a duty to subdue smugglers and to prevent as much as possible the influx of contraband goods which escape payment of duties. But they should put in place surveillance at ports, border posts, including seaports, airports and other borders, where officials monitor incoming and outgoing goods. Acting in their current brash manner discredits their name and invites corruption, in addition to endangering the safety of law-abiding citizens.