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INTERVIEW - The Nigerian Customs (Posted 18th Mar, 2002) Tell your friends about this page! Email it to them.

You can barely bypass the Nigerian Customs officers if you are an importer of any significant goods into Nigeria. They are conspicuous at all entry points in the country. Many allegations have been made especially of corruption against these Custom officers and their agents. Many more still don't understand how they perform their services and where. So it is with this delicate and sensitive questions that the NigeriaBusinessInfo.com team approached the Zonal Public Relations Officer of the Nigerian Customs Service Zone A, to provide some insights from the service perspective, read on:

Please can you briefly introduce yourself?

OGUNKUA: My name is Ogunkua T. B. M, Chief Superintendent of Customs and the Zonal Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Customs Service Zone A.

Can you state a brief history of the organisation, year of establishment, enabling law or Decree?

OGUNKUA: Ah, you see the story of Customs is not a thing of yesterday, if you look at life itself collection of taxes has been from time in memorial. So if you want the history of Customs that means you have to go to the era of our fore fathers, who acted as tax collectors all over the place. It is this that metamorphosed into what use to be our Majesty's Customs Service and it was established by that name in 1899, sorry 1896. Along the years we hold our allegiance to his/her Majesty whichever one applies at a particular time. And then by the time we were a British protectorate, the head of Customs Service was always sent from London and we had that until in 1958 when an Act was passed in Parliament and the Act is called Customs and Exercise Management Act of 1958. 

That is the law we are operating under now as amended, because as each government comes in an amendment is made to the Act. And we've had series of indigenous Nigerians who have become head of service till date. Basically, we are supposed to do two major things. We are supposed to collect revenues for government and that is essentially the highlights of what we do and then secondly we suppress smuggling, I am saying we suppress smuggling because smuggling is a worldwide thing, their is no way smuggling can be eradicated but it is possible to suppress it to the barest minimum and over the years that is what we have been doing.

When you collect revenues, where do you exactly collect revenue, that is, which points, borders, airports or where is that?

OGUNKUA: Ehn, we collect revenue not only for/on behalf of the Custom Service, but we collect revenue for other agencies too. I will give you the breakdown.. Basically, we collect import revenue, that is, where we make the highest number of collection in terms of volume and cash. You see apart from NNPC, Customs is the highest revenue collecting body for government. So we collect import duties both at the ports and at the borders, when importers bring in containers of house hold goods or anything we collect it (interruption)...so we collect import duties on all goods imported into the country except where their is a concession, where their is an exception from government. Apart from the basic Custom duties, we collect seven (7) per cent surcharge, we collect Value Added Tax (VAT), then we collect money for trade liberalisation for National Automobile Association and then at the same time we still collect money for other agencies. 

With this it simply means that we are all over the place, there is no organisation in Nigeria that our duties do not touch. We do other ad hoc duties like we help to regulate the importation of arms and ammunition into the country and we collect duty on same too. The things that deal with arms and ammunition is the function of the Police, so we help them there. We still at the same time help people like the NDLEA to control regulations of import and export of drugs right. Others like NAFDAC and the Nigeria Port Authority (NPA) it is through what we have been able to assess that NPA get whatever they get. You see in terms of revenue collection it is total, it is a wide range. Then in terms of suppression of smuggling, our borders are quite wide, big and very porous, it is our responsibility to collect duties on the approved products because when you say the borders are wide it is not every point of the border that you are allowed to carry goods through, so we have approved routes and unapproved routes. So, if you carry your goods through an unapproved route we are supposed to arrest the goods and if possible if we catch you we are supposed to prosecute you. So that is what we do in terms of the border areas. Apart from that their is still the EPZ zones and even the question of oil, the exportation of oil, we are there to monitor that the actual amount of oil are supposed to be exported is exported.

I think you have been able to also state the aims and objectives of the organisation in your last response. Please, can you explain the operational outline: hierarchy, departments and their functions?

OGUNKUA: You know for an organisation to be able to do to a large extent what I have told you it has to have quite a number of personnel and because our activities cut across every part of the country, so we have Officers all over the place. But, the structural thing is that we have.., it is supposed to be like a triangle right and we have at the head the Comptroller General Alhaji Aliyu Mustapha, he is the De facto Numero Uno, C.G. Apart from the C.G. we have six Deputy Comptroller Generals who are directly under him, then apart from these D.C.G. we have Comptroller Generals, who are Zonal heads and headquarter staff. The country is divided into six Zones, Zone A is in Lagos, Zones B,C,D,E and F headed by Zonal Comptrollers who are Assistant Comptroller Generals in rank. 

Then apart from this we also have various area comptrollers who is of the rank of a Comptroller. We have 48 are commands in Nigeria altogether, you are talking of the likes of Apapa, Tin Can, MM Cargo, Kano, Kaduna, even Akure in Ondo, Onni, Port Harcourt 1, Port Harcourt 2, we have two training colleges headed by Commandants, it is a wide network area headed by Area Comptrollers and under these area Comptrollers you have the ranks going down, Deputy Comptroller, Assistant Comptrollers, Chief Superintendent, superintendent, Deputy Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent before you now have a whole crop of junior officers from the rank of Inspectors down to Assistant Inspector, Senior Custom Officer, Custom Attendant. We operate an hierarchy that looks like that of the Police.

The D.C.G's, what are the names of the departments they are heading?

OGUNKUA: Well, like I told you we have, let me give you their name, we have T&T, tariff and Trade, we have Enforcement and Drugs, we have Finance, Administration and Technical Services which we call FATS, we have exercise and Industrial Incentive, Inspection and Investigation and Legal. That is in a nutshell what the D.C.G. heads.

The Lagos Commands, Zone B?

OGUNKUA: (Cuts in), no Lagos is Zone A.

NBI: OK in Lagos zone, how many Commands do we have?

OGUNKUA: We have 10.

Where are the Commands?

OGUNKUA: W e have Apapa, Tin Can, Seme, Liliport, Kirikiri lighter terminal, Lagos Industrial at Festac, Ikeja Industrial, we have the Federal Operation Units, a training College and then eastern Marine Command. Those Commands are headed by substantive Comptrollers but the Assistant Comptroller General is in charge of the Zone.

What is the estimated staff strength in the Lagos Zone?

OGUNKUA: For now conservatively here and there we should be up to about 25,000 men.

In the whole of Nigeria?

OGUNKUA: Yes.

What significant changes have occurred since May 1999?

OGUNKUA: Well, you see we are basically civil servants and we work according to the laws. We are not politicians so the idea of trying to compare what happened before May 1999 to now will be like talking politics (laughs) and we simply work according to the dictate of government. Government says last year collect N118 billion in terms of revenue, we are able to collect N179 billion, which is more than half what we are supposed to collect. This year again unofficially we have been given a target of N200 billion to collect and by the grace of God we intend to gear up our efforts and collect and we believe we are going to succeed. So that is the way it is, ours is to basically collect revenue and suppress smuggling.

What and who determines your tariff?

OGUNKUA: Well, first we are members of some bodies in Nigeria per se we used to be a member of what we call the CCCA, a worldwide organisation with headquarters in Brussels which later metamorphosed into World Customs Organisation. The tariff we use is an acceptable piece of document all over the world. What is different in the tariff that we are using here and the tariff they use in Ghana or the United States is only the rate of duty. For instance, if I want to classify tires for vehicles, tires for vehicles is under chapter 40(11), that is, the tariff code, the rate of duty here might probably be 10 per cent when you get to Ghana, tires will still be 40(11), if you get to the Republic of Benin, Singapore, United States it is still the same tariff classification but different rates of duty. So what happens is that at the end of every year when government rolls out their budget, it is government that determines that so, so, so and so items should pay so, so, so and so, so duties. We don't have any control over that, what we only do is to make sure that the rate of duty approved by government is collected.

Under which Ministry is the Nigerian Customs Service?

OGUNKUA: We are affiliated to the Ministry of Finance, but we are a service, NCS, we almost, I don't want to say completely independent because we still take dictates from the Ministry of Finance because we largely deal with revenue so the Ministry of Finance is our parent Ministry.

What factors have favoured your high revenue generation drive?

OGUNKUA: Zeal, hard work, determination and to make sure that government is satisfied. We have been able to collect this is not without sweat, a lot of sweat because our working conditions are not too good. We are poorly paid, we are not accommodated, we don't even have adequate working tools, smugglers have given us hell, many of our officers have lost their lives in battles with smugglers. They are well armed, sophisticated and they are ready to die, if you look at Idi-Iroko area command last year alone they lost about eleven (11) officers in clashes, yet we are unrelenting. We will really appreciate it if government can give us better funding, if we can have better communications equipment. Let me give you a scenario, if I am going on patrol along Idi-Iroko road and I am attacked, let's say that I work in Seme and I am going along Owode road on patrol and I am attacked by smugglers their is no way I can contact the beat in Seme, so what I will do is to abandon the vehicle and take to my heels because their is no way I can get support, there is no way I can communicate. Even the guns we carry are almost obsolete, the vehicles are not there, although the Comptroller General in his wisdom has been able to equip us with one or two things, new vehicles here and there, some jeep for patrol purposes, he has been able to secure accommodation, buy some houses, made some effort to build new houses. He has been able to arrange clinics at all zones, he has really tried, we have all cause to ... but we are unrelenting.

What are your plans for the future especially in relation to the Information and Communication Technology revolution?

OGUNKUA: Well maybe in the next few months, you will hear that we are on-line. Management has put in place an action to have the Service on the internet. You know I.T. is the in-thing now, if we are able to do that, I think it will go a long way to be able to help us, people would even be able to ask questions, you sit in your office key in the information you want and you get it on-line, that will very much help us. And then in terms of our collection of revenue, we are trying to see a situation where importers and their agents can sit in their offices and pay custom duties on-line and then the thing goes through the system, so that clearance of goods will be faster.

What is your opinion on the new government policies on ban on some items like fridges?

OGUNKUA: Well like I told you before we are Civil Servants, we are not supposed to hold any view if government in his wisdom decides to ban used fridges (laugh) we don't have anything, ours is to make sure that the orders are carried out.

What roles do you play in assisting individuals in clearing goods without passing through agents? is this possible?

OGUNKUA: You know like I told you earlier, we work with a set of rules, we have licensed custom agents they are suppose to be limited liability companies with an initial capital of N1 million fully paid, who are supposed to help importers in the clearance of goods. They are supposed to have technical know-how to go through the procedures through the CPU (Customs Processing Units) before their goods are released. That is that. But at the same time customs allow "self clearance" if you think you can go through the nomenclature, it simply means that if want to clear your goods you have to be able to have the correct tariffs, all the amendments to be able to now classify the goods you are trying to clear yourself and then enter. If you are able to do it properly Customs will allow you to do it and clear your goods.

Ends.

Abuja Address: Contact 

Officer:Comptroller General of Customs 
Alhaji Aliu Mustapha, 3 Abidjan Street, Wuse Abuja
Tel:+2349-5234690, Fax: +2349-5234680

Lagos Zone A address: Contact Officer: Asst. Comptroller General of Customs
O. Azubuike, Harvey Road, Yaba, Lagos

Or 

Chief Superintendent of Customs Ogunkua T.B.M
Zonal Public Relations Officer, Harvey Road, Yaba, Lagos
Tel: 08033026269

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