The National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) on Wednesday expressed concern over seizures of goods released at the ports by the operatives of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
The association said it was worrisome to know that the same goods that had been examined by the Customs at the ports and released as okay are the same consignments that are again intercepted and faulted by FOU operatives on the highway.
During a meeting with the Comptroller of the FOU, Ikeja, Mr. Mohammed Uba Garba, the Founder of NAGAFF, and the National President, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam and Chief Increase Uche respectively said such development was not the best in the industry.
The association was of the view that trade goods which have infractions should not be seized outright, arguing that the importer should be made to pay penalty as far as he had presented such consignments for customs examination.
Aniebonam charged Customs at the ports to carry out proper and final examination before release to the importers so that there will not be any need for the FOU to again intercept such goods on the way.
He called on the Customs management to discipline officers involved in such release to force them to do a proper job.
In his address, Uche said, “it is also mind bugling to us as practitioners with regard to Customs examination. It is to our knowledge that under the present regime of Pre-Arrival Assessment Notice, the freight forwarders/importers are at liberty to make declaration for Customs purposes.
“It is also a fact that PAAR is an advisory document of the Service as a risk management tool. We know that Customs have the final say on whatever declaration you may have made for Customs purposes. We regret to inform you that despite the fact that our members reasonably drop their laden containers for Customs examination, we still find issues with Federal Operations and CGC
Compliance Team to contend with.
“In our opinion and without prejudice to matters of conspiracy, it is unbelievable that officers at the ports can conspire at the present degree to cheat Government they opted to serve and protect.
If we must be honest at this point, it is our opinion that Customs should be able to take liability in the action of proper Customs officers in carrying out their duties. If you may wish to know it is common for any person to agree with us that at a point a laden container is voluntarily positioned at Customs examination bay, such a person has nothing to hide any more. Please refer to Section 46, 47 & 161 of CEMA C45 of 2004 as amended. The relevance of this law is accordingly downgraded and made a nullity on matters of concealment, false declaration, wrong description of import and untrue declaration in general wherein the agent has presented his cargo for Customs examination.
“In our opinion we want to implore you to enter into strategic synergy with your colleagues at the ports with a view to ensuring proper Customs examination. We in NAGAFF as professionals are worried over the level of damage being done to our clients’ investments arising from improper Customs examination of laden containers. While we implore you to work on this matter, we also will plead that trade goods should not be unduly seized over this kind of infractions that could be corrected by additional
assessment for duty and penalty thereto.”
Uche equally appealed to the Customs FOU to also consider using its powers discretely for the interest of trade facilitation.
He said, “We like to draw your attention to what we consider as
systems, social and professional problems in dealing with Customs and in particular the Federal Operations Unit and the compliance team of the Comptroller General of Customs. We are familiar and conversant with the primary duty of the Federal Operations Unit as an intervention force of the Service.
“The inherent powers to patrol freely within the territorial boundaries of Nigeria, the power to search persons, vehicles, ships and enter premises where there is reasonable suspicion of breach on Customs related matters are not in doubt. Please see Sections 145, 146, 147, 149 and 158 as reference. We do not have any problem with these Sections of the law but rather worried over the inherent abuse in deploying such powers.
“It is our belief that with you in-charge of FOU and the leadership of CGC Compliance team that you shall allow justice to prevail by ensuring that circular No. 10/2017 of 25th of July 2017 is fully implemented and adhered to in practice. However it is our belief that we should use this opportunity to get the full interpretation of the said circular especially the aspects of items No. 3, 4 and 5.”
The Controller in his response said the FOU and NAGAFF were working towards the same goal.
Describing the association as very knowledgeable, Garba said the customs management was against officers who do not do their jobs well.
He said that names of officers involved in goods release are usually sent to Abuja, adding that those found wanting will face disciplinary measures, including dismissal, de-rankng and other forms of punishment.
Garba however called on NAGAFF to advise its clients to make honest declaration in order to avoid the wrath of the law.
On the issue of check-points, the Controller said such checks were usually not above 40 kilometres from the border areas.
“What you see from the 40 kilometres is a patrol base and should not stay more than 24 hours”, he said.
He said officers have been advised against using their uniforms to subject traders to economic hardship, adding that “what you do while working will follow you when you retire.”