Strike Force: Customs battle internal strife

…Threaten Area Comptrollers over non-compliance

There are indications that the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, is experiencing an internal policy failure as the management has been threatening to deal with some top officers over non-compliance to its 100 per cent cargo examinations.

The NCS has frowned at the behaviour of  Customs Area Controllers over the development warning that such disobedience to the policy will attract severe sanction.

In a memo dated April 25, 2019, with heading “100% Cargo Examination at the Seaports”, the management stated that such examinations were not being done properly.

The Memo with reference number NCS/ENF/ABJ/058/S.23, which was signed by Mr Austin Chidi, Deputy Comptroller General in charge of Enforcement, Investigation and Inspection, E.I.I,  said that Customs Area Controllers will personally be held responsible for any breach as a result of cargo examinations.

Part of the memo read: “It has been observed, that 100 per cent examination of cargo at the Ports is not done properly by the officers assigned to do so.

“Consequently, the following instruction must be carried out with immediate effect and Area Controllers will personally be held responsible for non-compliance.

“Henceforth, every Area Controller must respond accordingly to the  Strike Force intervention Alerts.

“Non- compliance to this circular would attract severe sanctions”.

Nigeria is about the only country that still operates 100 per cent physical cargo examination as most countries of the world apply the use of scanning machines to carry out an examination of cargoes.

Also 100 per cent physical examination of cargoes is anti-trade facilitation as it delays the process of clearance and delivery of cargo.

The controversy over the deployment of the  Strike Force into seaports has raged in the Nigerian trade ecosystem with some stakeholders expressing misgivings over the implication on Nigeria’s trade facilitation profile.

Already, stakeholders like the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, have said the circular issued by the Customs Headquarters, deploying its ‘Strike Force’ to all ports with the powers to intercept and effect seizures of cargo will be detrimental to investment and further complicate the already difficult cargo clearing process.

A statement by the Director General of LCCI, Mr Muda Yusuf, said the measure would undermine the Ease of Doing Business Policy of the Buhari administration while constituting an obstruction to the Presidential Executive order on the streamlining of ports processes.

Speaking to Vanguard Maritime Report on the development, National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Mr Tony Iju Nwabunike, said that the group has written a letter protesting the directive and was planning to have a meeting with the management of the Customs as soon as possible. Nwabunike said that the group considers the directive to be sensitive adding that they have decided not to be confrontational in their reaction to the development.

He stated: “My reaction is quite different from others. I have chosen not to be confrontational on issues like this because I consider the issue to be sensitive. When issues are sensitive, you do not go with a fight to resolve the problem. You have to sit down with the Customs to resolve the issue.

“I have written a letter to the Comptroller General of Customs and what I told him is that we want an audience with them to know exactly what has prompted this action and we will look at the pros and cons and see if there will be any amendment to the directive because the truth of the matter is that we need to work together so that the directive will work.”