The Nigeria Customs Service says it is ready more than ever to tackle smuggling and revenue leakages across the country.
The Customs also appealed to the public to only engage in genuine business ventures that will contribute to Nigeria’s economic growth.
The National Coordinator of the Comptroller General of Custom’s Compliance Team, Mr Abubakar Azarema made the appeal on Wednesday at the Customs House in Aduwawa, Benin City the Edo state capital.
He spoke shortly after inspecting some of the goods seized by operatives of the Service at the Benin axis of the Benin-Ore-Lagos expressway.
The seized goods include 2,635 bags of imported parboiled rice with duty paid value of N80m, as well as a truckload of drugs such as chest and lungs tablets, said to have been smuggled into the country from India without an approval from the National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
Handing over the drugs to the Director-General of NAFDAC who was represented by an assistant director in the agency, Mr Godwin Tonwuru, Mr Azarema said the feat was achieved through intelligence.
“As you can see, these smugglers are devising all means to beat the Customs but I can assure you that we are ready for them. They beat the Customs at the Lagos port and other checkpoints on the route but through adequate intelligence, we were able to intercept them at the Benin axis,” he said.
On the impounded bags of rice, Azarema noted that the Customs would stop at nothing to check smuggling to give impetus to the Federal Government’s policy on agriculture and rural development.
The Ogun Area Command of the Nigeria Customs Service has intercepted and impounded over 200 vehicles, and those being used for conveying smuggled rice and vegetable oil across the border communities of the state.
The State Area Controller, Sani Madugu made the disclosure while briefing journalists at the Customs office in Idi Iroko, where he also paraded some rice and vegetable oil seized from suspected smugglers.
He said the seized vehicles and food items would be forfeited to the Federal Government after due process and called for the support of the community and religious leaders in the fight against smuggling in the state.
“These ones (items) shall be forfeited to the government after court condemnation. Once we secure court condemnation after 30 days of seizure, it becomes government property,” he said.
Madugu noted that the command has adopted a ‘dialogue approach’ to arrest suspected smugglers, saying the items were seized following tip-offs from some law abiding residents.
“These seizures were as a result of intelligence gathering. We no longer use guns in making arrests, we have adopted a dialogue approach. We are meeting with community and religious leaders as well as youth leaders as a way of reducing this menace,” he said.
The Nigerian Customs Federal Operations Unit (FOU Zone C) Owerri, has destroyed 4118 cartons of imported frozen poultry products with duty paid value of N83 million.
The Area Comptroller of FOU Zone C Owerri, Bukar Amajam stated that the chemicals used in preserving the frozen chicken or turkey were discovered to be injurious to health.
He, therefore, stated that the clampdown on the importation of frozen chicken was aimed at protecting the health of Nigerians, who consume the products out of ignorance of the health implications.
Amajam explained that the 1 by 40 container conveying the contraband was intercepted along Benin-Ore road and his men had planted surveillance on the truck for about three weeks before interception with the aid of sister agencies like the DSS, Police, National Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) and officials of the National Agency for Food Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
“We virtually paid to get intelligence on the movement of the consignment after we learnt that they were loading the truck at Ore. We kept our surveillance until the truck entered into Owerri and when they noticed that they were being followed, they drove to the stadium, where they parked the truck and deflated the tires to make it impossible to drive it away. At that point we called the Army and Police for backup before we were able to impound the truck and brought it to our headquarters,” he added.
The controller then gave the assurance that the command under his watch will intensify its anti-smuggling operations to sustain the mandate of FOU and bring smuggling to its barest minimum.
He also used the opportunity to warn the general public against consuming foreign frozen poultry products.
The Nigeria Customs Service has handed over two vehicles suspected to have been stolen and shipped from the United States to the International Police Organisation (INTERPOL).
The Comptroller of Customs, Tincan Island Port Command, Bashar Yusuf, said the sport utility vehicles, Range Rover 2014 and 2015 models, were alleged to have been stolen from Washington D.C but were deceitfully declared.
Mr Yusuf explained that upon getting the identity of the vehicles, the command worked hard to fish out the consignment.
“We received an intelligence information that these vehicles were stolen and were set to be approaching Africa, precisely Nigeria.
“So we put our dragnet wide open so that we will be able to intercept them and luckily, we were able to get the two vehicles,” the Customs officer said.
He noted that the interception would portray Nigeria in good light, considering the efforts of the Customs in ensuring that the exhibits were tracked.
The Senate has set aside two legislative days to amend and pass the Nigerian Customs Service Management Act 2017.
In the new amendment, the Upper Chamber scrapped the governing board of the Nigeria Customs Service and replaced it with the Nigerian Customs Commission.
The Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, noted during Wednesday’s plenary that the amendment of the bill would bring the much-needed reforms to the Service.
The governing board is headed by the Minister of Finance who oversees the activities of the service.
The new commission would be headed by a chairman who would be appointed by the President, but subject to the confirmation of the Nigerian Senate.
When the law becomes operational, the governing board would give way for the new commission to be established.
The new regime prescribes the use of pre-shipment and post-shipment inspection, which means that all ships and vessels coming into Nigeria must be thoroughly inspected from country of origin to the port of destination.
The bill contains 16 penal clauses, one of which recommends varied punishments from dismissal to imprisonment for Customs officers who violate the provisions.
Also at plenary, the Senate condemned the alleged rape and killing of two women in Edo State by suspected herdsmen.
The lawmaker representing Edo Central, Senator Ordia Clifford, informed the Senate of the killings and asked the Upper House to intervene in the matter.
The Senate has directed security agencies to apprehend the perpetrators of the attack and also arrest those who disguise as herdsmen to unleash violence.
One person has been reportedly killed in a clash between operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service and suspected smugglers at the Toll Gate area of Sango Ota in Ogun State.
Reports revealed that the smugglers ambushed Customs vehicles conveying seized bags of rice and cartons of poultry products said to have been smuggled into the country through the Republic of Benin.
The smugglers, apparently uncomfortable with the killing of an unidentified man, allegedly stormed one of the check points of the Customs at Atan along Idi Iroko, and set three vehicles belonging to the service and a civilian ablaze.
Confirming the incident, spokesman for the Ogun State Customs Command, Abdulahi Maiwada, said the two vehicles loaded with suspected illegal imports were intercepted and seized in Sango area by operatives of the Federal Operating Unit, Ikeja.
He also confirmed the death of one person, but could not ascertained who fired the shot as he claimed that the smugglers were armed with dangerous weapons.
“The clash at the Toll Gate was as a result of some hoodlums we believed to be smugglers who waylaid FOU team on its way to Ikeja and launched a surprise attack on the team.
“In the melee that ensued, one person was confirmed dead but where the shot that killed him came from is yet to be ascertained,” he said.
Mr Maiwada explained that the operatives were ambushed at the Toll Gate area on their way to Customs warehouse in Lagos.
He added that the smugglers drove a Mazda car with registration number KTU 504 AM, and an unregistered Passat car while transporting 45 bags of rice and 258 cartons of turkey respectively, when they were intercepted by the Customs operatives.
“The team had intercepted two vehicles loaded with contraband – 45 bags of rice and 258 cartons of turkey – before the mob attacked them, probably to prevent them from taking the goods to Ikeja.
“When their ambush fell through, the hoodlums stormed our check point at Atan and set ablaze three vehicles belonging to customs and a civilian in the area,” Maiwada said.
He however, said the Customs operatives were able to transport the seized goods to the warehouse in Ikeja, Lagos State.
The Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Colonel Hameed Ali (rtd), has blamed the negative effect of some government trade and economic policies for inability of the Service to meet its 2016 revenue target of N937bn.
Colonel Ali stated this position on Wednesday when he appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Customs, during an excise to review the 2016 budget performance of Customs and defend its 2017 budget.
“Some government deliberate trade and economic policies also negate the collection of the revenue that we are supposed to.
“If you recall we have in the last budget, also mentioned the 41 items which are now excluded from accessing FOREX (foreign exchange) through the Central Bank of Nigeria,” he said.
The Customs boss told the lawmakers that no revenue has been collected through the levy on luxury items, saying there was no legal backing to enforce the collection of the proposed levy.
He stressed the importance of a legal instrument to back the collection of levy on such items, saying its absence has negatively affected the Customs.
“That policy has reduced by quite a percentage the importation of items into this country. Our collection as far as the law is concern is on import, and the lesser the import the lesser the collection.
“So that has also negatively affected the collection of levy on import of luxury goods. In the absence of a legal instrument or government policy that mandates Customs to collect levy, we have to allow them to come into the country,” he said.
The Customs has a 2017 revenue target of N772.88bn, a figure which is 17% lower than its 2016 revenue target.
The Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Colonel Hameed Ali (rtd), has come under fire from members of the Senate Committee on Customs for taking some actions without the approval of a Customs board.
The committee invited Colonel Ali to the National Assembly in Abuja to give reasons for certain actions he took in the last few months.
Some of the actions that were criticised by the lawmakers on Thursday include the promoting and dismissal of some officers in the service.
The senators noted that the Customs boss went above his powers in performing the actions without the approval of a Customs board.
They added that they were not satisfied with the explanations given by the Comptroller-General and frowned at his refusal to wear the uniform of the service.
In a separate session, the lawmakers met with former Comptroller-Generals of Customs to discuss ways of improving the revenue collection of the service, as well as the amendment of the Customs Act.
The committee noted that it would call a public hearing on the amendment of the Customs Act.
In the meantime, the lawmakers said they might reverse some of the decisions made by the Customs boss, as they were made without the approval of a Customs board.
However, a Customs board has not been constituted by the Minister of Finance since the last board was dissolved.
Security agencies in Plateau State are leaving no stone unturned towards achieving a hitch-free eid el fitri celebration withthe deployment of security personnel across the state.
There was also a show of force across Jos and Bukuru metropolis by members of the joint security task force comprising of the Army, Police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Customs, Immigration, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency and the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC).
Acting Commander of Operation Safe Haven, Brigadier General Abdulasalam Ibrahim, reminded the troops not to relent on their efforts of securing citizens particularly during the festive period in spite of embarking on the show of force.
In addition to the military show of force, the State Police Command has also placed a ban on the use and sales of fireworks with vehicles and tricycles not to be packed within praying grounds.
The use of motorcycles to worship centres is also prohibited as part of security measures for a hitch-free celebration.