2021 has been eventful for Nigeria Customs Service as we have been able to achieve major milestones, despite the debilitating effect of a world-wide pandemic which has had negative effects on the socio-economics lives of people around the globe. Indeed the theme of this year’s International Customs Day, which is ‘Customs bolstering of functioning effectively in an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. The ICD theme stresses how collaboration can be enhanced to drive recovery, how digital transformation can be embraced to enable renewal and how people can be put at the centre of change. While identifying the role Customs can play in the global supply chain to ease the impact of Covid19 on international trade, it also acknowledges the health risks officers are constantly exposed to in the course of carrying out their statutory functions.

As usual the year began with high expectation with regards to revenue generation and the enforcement of fiscal policy. Based on the target achieved in 2020 the service was given the onerous task of collecting 1.679 trillion Naira into the Federation account. It was also expected to build on the successes of the border closure to stem the tide of illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, smuggling and other cross border crimes. In all its key performances indexes, the Service was able to achieve remarkable successes through the diligence and of its officers and the support of key stakeholders. In the current year, the NCS has already exceeded expectations in revenue generation by going beyond the target set for it by government. Also in its anti-smuggling activities, the service has made landmark seizures of absolutely prohibited items and items prohibited by trade.

In August, the service made seizures of 17,137 kg of pangolin scales, 44 kg elephant tusks and 60 kg in pangolin claws all valued at over 22 billion naira. This made possible through active collaboration between NCS, US, British and German officials who helped in tracking suspicious shipment. It further led to the arrest and prosecution of some foreign nationals and their local collaborators.

In October FOU operatives in zone  Aseized 751 bullets concealed in garri sacks, while arms, ammunition and military uniforms were intercepted at Tin Can port Lagos in September 2021 just to mention a few. Our warehouses in all border formation are overflowing with seizure of rice, groundnut oil, used clothing, used vehicles etc.

At Apapa Area I Command, through the cooperation of other sister agencies and Nigeria Navy a landmark seizure of cocaine with DPV of 54 million dollars was made. This seizure was unique for the fact that the illicit substance was found in one of the compartments of one of the bulk carrier of sugar.In the same Command 97 containers carrying illicit expired drugs and other offensive goods with a DPV of 17.5 billion naira was seized.

These numerous arrests and seizures are daily feature activities of Custom officers nationwide, and they underscore the fact that we operate highly noncompliant environment. Indeed officers and men of the NCS have made the supreme sacrifice for the nation and they remain resolute in safeguarding the safety and wellbeing of Nigerians.

TRADE FACILTATION AND CUSTOMS OPERATIONS

Trade facilitation refers to the simplification, harmonization and modernization/automation of import/export processes, aimed at reducing trade costs and increasing revenue. It also helps the development of local industries, improves economic prosperity and enables foreign direct investment.

However, all trade across borders are associated with different levels of risk necessitating the establishment of control mechanism via risk management. In managing risks, the NCS has taken into consideration many factors, including the nature of goods in transit, the historical antecedents of importers/exporters and agents, countries of origin, fiscal policy, security, wellbeing, health and safety of citizens.

The Nigeria Integrated Custom Information System II (NICIS) meets the TFA criteria for the simplification of Customs processes and procedures. While it provides easy access to Custom information regarding trade regulations, it allows for easy interface and an enhanced user experience. Importers or their agents can access the Custom portal from the comfort of their homes and offices. Declaration, assessments and payment are made via web based applications on the trader zone. At the Customs zone, selectivity is triggered based on risk assessment and the required mode of examination indicated in the system. Releaseis activated when no infringements requiring intervention are discovered.

Harmonization of import/export processes focuses on warehousing the Custom system alongside other relevant government agencies under a single window platform. NICIS II allows for full integration for other regulating authorities like Standard Organisation of Nigeria, (SON) and National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). In so doing all regulatory issues concerning other agencies are expected to be treated expeditiously and simultaneously to facilitate trade. However, it is important to note that the potential speed for execution under the NICIS II platform can be impeded by the operations of other agencies that are yet to fully define andautomate their risk criteria for integration to the existing platform. In this case the efficiency of the systembecomes defined by the slowest players in the team.

At current levels, NCS has integrated and automated over 90% of its activities. Members of the public have continued to avail themselves of the copious information on both its web based and mobile applications. The e-customs project which is certain to take off next year will provide end to end automation aimed at eliminating physical contact and the potential for subjective judgment based on unethical considerations. Fast track and Authorized Economic Operators schemes are there to enhance and facilitate the experience of traders to track records for honesty and transparency.

The Service in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Finance has also introduced the Nation Vehicle Registry VReg portal which among other things incorporates an automated vehicle valuation mechanism that authenticates Vehicle Identity Number (VIN) and validates the make, model and year of manufacture for easy assessment of value for Custom purposes.

NCS has also introduced mobile applications for verifying the authenticity of documents by enforcement officers on patrol. This app will eliminate delays in verifying genuine Custom documents on our highways making it difficult for forgers to get away with their illegal acts, while easing journeys of law abiding citizens.

CLASSIFICATION AND VALUATION OF GOODS 

Officers of the NCS have always been guided by WTO/WCO guidelines on the classification and valuation of goods. Consistent with the guidelines as contained in Part II of the Harmonised Tariffwhich dictates the ‘General Rules for the interpretation of the Harmonised System’and with reference to Chapter, section and sub-section notes of the tariff, the rules for classification are made clear. The WCO nomenclature and the explanatory notes to the tariff are further guides which help agent and importers clarify their goods correctly. In spite of this, the NCS has noticed both a huge knowledge deficit on the side of some agents/importers and an inclination towards misrepresenting facts with the obvious intention of evading the payments of appropriate customs duty.

The valuation of goods is another area that has often drawn criticism from certain quarters. Indeed there is no market in the world where prices remain static over time. Same is true for the other components of Custom value, which include insurance and freight charges. When we add the ever increasing rate of exchange into the mix the inevitable result has come to be commensurate increases in the value component of declared items used for calculating duty. Therefore situations where some insist on declaring fictitious values for customs purposes will always be met by adjustment reflecting current realities.

The world trade organization in its guidelines for assessing the proper value for goods outlined in its agreement on implementing Article VII of General Agreement on Tariffs & Trade, 1994, a valuation method which primarily bases the Customs value on the TRANSACION VALUE of the imported goods, also known as either THE PRICE ACTUALLY PAID or THE PRICE PAYABLE for the goods when sold for export to the country of importation.

Other methods to be applied in hierarchical order are:

Transaction value of identical goods

Transaction value of similar goods

The deductive value method

The computed value method

Fall back method

It is pertinent to state that the historical records of all import transactions are valid data in our archives which can be used to justify any action taken by the Valuation unit of the Service. These records are comprehensive and capture the essence of these transactions from the point of view of the exporters from different countries of origin. So the price paid or payable is the actual price exchangeable for a good including all other variables like the insurance and freight values of all which make up the value for duty.

Where disputes arise with regards to classification or value the onus falls on the agent or importer to prove the Custom’s officer wrong. In the case of classification the appropriate tariff headings supported by chapter, section and explanatory notes should suffice. Disputes on value cannot be settled by referring to invoices as presented. Historical data from the same exporter and the same country of origin, within agreeable periods are just as valid for same, identical or similar goods. Freight charges especially in this period of pandemic have gone up astronomically. All of these realities should and must be accurately reflected in the documents used in international trade. However, the service still allows agents and importers to take delivery of their goods under bond pending resolution of the points in dispute, another trade facilitation mechanism which helps to reduce demurrage cost and other delays.

The NCS acknowledges the positive co-relationship between trade facilitation and increased revenue generation. It also agrees that trade facilitation helps to bring down cost, which ultimately benefits the final consumer. However in a predominantly non compliant environment it will be unwise to sacrifice control for facilitation. It is like the chicken and egg puzzle. Which comes first? Indeed, trade compliance must come first. The importance of this fact goes far beyond the issues of revenue as it touches on the validity and authenticity of the data that is fed into our system. Inauthentic data creates distortions in the economic matrix of a country, makes it impossible for analysts to properly gauge its economic temperature. This affects planning and in turn affects policy in significant ways.

We cannot if we claim to love this country and its citizens continue with business as usual. The world is a global village and accessing data from any corner of the earth is as easy as a click of the mouse. It is no longer possible for anyone to hide the facts of any transaction when it comes to making declarations for customs purposes. Honesty therefore is the best policy and we expect agents and importers to tow this line as it will cost them much less to do so. We promise expedited clearance for those who are transparent in their dealings with us. For those bent on cutting corners, we promise that we will be working even harder to checkmate whatever plans thy may have come up with for evading the law. Our risk management systems are robust and effective at all levels, and our officers are alert and alive to their responsibilities.

Our experience in Commands like Apapa, Tin Can and others this year have shown that when compliance is enforced, things work better for everyone. We hope that in the coming year, importers/exporters and their agents will comply willingly and take full advantage of the opportunities we offer for expedited clearance. We look forward to working in a conducive environment where respect for the principles and practices of international trade becomes our watchword and mantra. We wish everyone happy holidays in advance. I thank you for your kind attention.

Paper presented by DC Timi Bomodi, (Deputy National Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Customs Service) at a  Press Conference Held At Apapa Area 1 Command Lagos On The 20th Of Dec. 2021

 

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