By FOSTER OBI
Cargo clearing at Nigerian Ports, which has been convulsing since this year because of interferences from many quarters, is threatened again, this time with the introduction of e-Form M by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Importers Tax Identification Number (TIN) by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in partnership with the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) before an importer can successfully imports and clears his goods at the ports.
Investigation shows that this new requirements, if not properly managed, may snowball into a crisis situation and obvious backlashes, including congestion, which may be difficult to contain. Before the introduction, importers process imports with the manual Form M, RC number, tax clearance certificates and a few other documents.
It involves a lot of documentation and moving from one office to another. Importers hardly pay the commensurate taxes to their earnings, and easily got away with a lot of things in the process of importation. Also, they fill their Form M and take it to the bank, which now forwards it directly to the CBN. This time around, the ground has shifted, the FIRS and the Customs require that before one imports or clears his or her goods, one must obtain a TIN number with which to process all transactions. Also there is an e-Form M, which is to be processed on-line, and this form cannot be processed without the TIN number.
Already some importers and freight forwarders, who feel the pinch directly, are beginning to shout hoarse and telling whoever cares to listen that the authorities are planning to muzzle and emasculate them, with a view to driving them out of business. While most importers and freight forwarders find it difficult to cope with the new challenge of on-line transaction, a lot of them are miffed that the government is using this procedure to fleece them of funds by taxing their volume of imports, which was not so before.
They said the procedure is counterproductive because the whole arrangement will backfire because as the importers are billed on volumes which they believe is always overpriced, the prices of foodstuffs in the market will soon jump to the ceiling and the people will come back to square one. A freight forwarder\ importer who identified himself as Okwoto Ekeneze told Daily Sun that while the TIN is not a bad idea, all the taxes should be harmonized to avoid over billing importers.
“Now you pay duty, you pay VAT, you pay 7percent surcharge, you pay ETLS, you pay global fee, they have come up again with TIN, after that you pay Lagos State taxes which are becoming overbearing; do they want to kill people? “Look at the roads to the ports, they are so bad. I don’t see the reason and they are collecting all these taxes. Why should I use Two million Naira to go to China and buy goods and you tell me that the CIF is Five million Naira. Is this not crazy? The taxation is too much. The government should stop giving the Customs target; it is what is encouraging all these.
This is very annoying. “Go to FIRS and see what importers are going through; people are suffering; they are frustrated. How can I pay duty and VAT on the goods I imported and you want me to pay another tax,” he said, adding: “This is uncalled for.” Pastor Joseph Abba of Glorious Terbanacle Mission, a former freightforwarder said the government is over reaching itself by overtaxing people.
H e said the cost of living is so high and overtaxing importers is sounding death kneel on the economy. But Hon Emeka Chukwumalu, another freightforwarder told Daily Sun that the TIN is a good idea as long as it is not targeted at anybody or designed by some people to enrich their pockets. He said he is not opposed to any policy by the government as long as it is designed to move the industry forward. Efforts to reach Wale Adeniyi, NCS Spokesman, was fruitless but Dera Nnadi, an Assistant Comptroller of Customs and the Representative of the Customs on the FIRS\NCS collaboration on TIN told Daily Sun that there is no cause for alarm.
He said there is increase in the demand for Form M now because of the newly introduced policy by the CBN. “Unlike before, people are required to fill form M electronically and part of the condition is that you have to put in your TIN number. Some importers seem to be having challenge with this and out of frustration have decided to condemn it. “There is a tendency that because they are not following the right procedure, freight forwarders may condemn the process before importers who may be forced to buy the lie.
“The truth is that there is a help line provided by FIIRS and if anybody has a problem while completing the form. He should call the helpline and somebody will attend to that person in 5minutes,” he revealed. He said it is wrong for people to begin to condemn these policies now” because we have gone a long way and it will be like turning back the hand of the clock. “Before you go to the bank to collect the form M from a commercial bank, complete it manually but now you do it online.
The problem now is the difficulty of completing the form M. One of the conditions is TIN “For sometime now, we have been begging the importers to get their TIN. Many of them did not take it serious, like the typical saying, they refused to save because they never believe that the rainy day will come,” he concluded.