By Dickson Okafor

With high Customs duties shrinking has been blamed for the increase in the prices of goods and services and importers have appealed to the Federal Government to enact policies that would make importation less cumbersome and cheaper. The national president, Global Freight Forwarders and Maritime Association (GFFMA), Basil Akukwe, told Daily Sun that importers are finding it increasingly difficult to remain in business due to the high cost of clearing their goods. He has appealed to the new Comptroller of Apapa Area Command, Babatunde Olumo to assist stakeholders in pushing for a reduction in the charges.

In this interview, he speaks more on issues that promote legitimate trade.

Stakeholders’ expectations from the new Comptroller

The appointment of Babatunde Olumo as the new Customs Area Comptroller, Apapa Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) is a welcome development. His predecessor, Comptroller Babajide Jaiyeoba did very well within the eight months in he headed NCS to improve revenue generation. I have known the new Comptroller for over 30 years and he has been a very credible officer who has passion for the job and I believe he is going to meet the expectations of the major stakeholders operating in Apapa in terms reduction in Customs duties for clearing containers.  Duty charges is not the only means through which Customs generate revenue because there are other means only if they can be transparent. It was the support of officers, stakeholders and other government agencies that enabled Jaiyeoba in the first quarter of 2024, rake in N672.2billion as revenue while in April, the command realized N182billion, which he described as a “record breaking monthly collection in the history of the service”. But I know that Olumo will do better.

Reasons for high cost of clearing containers

What we the stakeholders and maritime players want from new Comptroller is reduction of duties and improved service. He should maintain a friendly relationship between the Customs and stakeholders and we are passing a message through him to the Ministry of Fiancé and to the Central Bank of Nigeria to see how duties can be reduced. This has become imperative because things are difficult in the country. The cost of clearing a container now is over N20million depending on what you are carrying and stakeholders are really suffering. So, I expect him to bring human face in the operation in Apapa port for us to heave a sigh of relief. The cost of clearing a container affects the price of goods and services and like I said, the people are at the receiving end because they are the end users.

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In his acceptance speech, he promised to improve revenue generation, facilitate trade and fight smuggling at the command. He also promised to fully abide by provisions of the Nigeria Customs Service Act 2023. We want appeal to NCS management to give a human face to whatever policy they introduce to lessen the economic hardship in the country. We also know that the Apapa Command, is critical to Nigeria’s participation in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCTA), but they should take into consideration that Nigeria is an import dependent nation as some of these policies affects the people negatively. So, we urge the new comptroller to ensure his officers treat all official matters with the urgency required and prepare themselves for the changes that will occur of the impending modernisation of the service.

Customs duties

I foresee reduction in duty charge by the customs. However, as a matter of fact, Customs is a revenue generating organisation and considering the economic state of the country, there is no money. With the person of Comptroller Olomu whom I know very well, he will do everything within his power to fill the gap between the Customs and major stakeholders. You must bear in mind that its not his personal duty to reduce duties, because the NCS management has given him a target on how much he should raise. We are going to have a meeting with him as a starting point to make demands and seek his assistance on how government can reduce the rate of clearing containers. I believe when we meet next week some of the issues will be resolved. We have already sent a message to the NCS management on the level of economic hardship in the country which is mostly caused by high import duties charged by the customs before containers can be cleared by freight forwarders at the ports.

Notwithstanding, you cannot attribute economic hardship faced by Nigerians on port charges alone. Corruption is the main bane of suffering in Nigeria. Our leaders are not fair to the people. The ruling class are far from the people, hence we are yet to feel the impact of good governance since 1999. But since the appointment of Adeniyi as the CG of Customs, operations in the ports have been efficient and fast.

Capacity building

GFFMA and other agencies have continued to educate our members on the changes that will occur and impending modernisation of the service. Like I said earlier, Olumo has a listening ear and he has directed all stakeholders to abide by the rules stipulated by the customs when it comes to clearing containers. Also, he encouraged officers to brace up for the changes such as customs modernisation as a working principle which has made all officers to face all official matters.

With this awareness, he noted that any consignment will be speedily attended to within 24 hours and we ensure the process continue through the week as frontline in terms of practices in line with Customs best practices. So, our members are upgraded to face the changes and modernization that will soon occur in the service.

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