No fewer than 70 personnel of the Nigeria Customs Service were lost within seven months while on duty.
Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali, disclosed this to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in a recent interview.
He also said the Service has opened collaboration with their counterparts in the Republic of Benin to facilitate trade and resolve bottlenecks affecting transhipment of goods into Cotonou.
“Customs is here to see and find solutions to the challenges hindering the smooth operations of Nigerian business operators who engage in inter-border trade and transhipment of goods from Nigeria to Republic of Benin.
“Nigeria Customs had lost 70 Customs officers between January 2016 till date while performing their duties to stop the activities of smuggling of some products such as rice, poultry products, rice and so on.
“We have made it real to visit Benin Customs and discuss on the rudiments hindering our operations.
“I believe our dialogue will bring out solutions because both countries are interdependent and this why there should be symbolic mutual relationship between them,” said Ali.
He further noted that there was the need for a level playing ground for the Nigeria Customs Service and the Beninoire Customs due to the nature of their operations as well as the law governing the ECOWAS Trade Liberation Scheme.
Ali told NAN that customs was having serious challenges with Nigerian border operators and importers because they still engaged in prohibited goods in spite of (Customs and Excise Management Act) CEMA law and ETLS, which governed both the Customs and stakeholders operations.
“When operators know that there are some certain goods that are prohibited, they still try to bring them into the country,” Ali added.
He said compliant was key to the Nigeria Customs Service, adding that it was Customs duty in making sure stakeholders operate in a conducive environment for smooth operations to enable customs to get more revenue due for government.
NAN reports that the law relating to Customs agents is contained in the CEMA Cap 45, Law of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and the Customs and Excise Agents (Licensing) Regulations 1968 (Legal Notice 95/1968 as amended).
In his response, the Director-General, Republic of Benin Customs, Claver Tossou, said there was the need for the country to solidify the relationship between Benin and Nigeria to facilitate legitimate trade both countries.
Tossou said the coming of NCS was a right step in good direction, adding that the visit would enable them iron out the challenges and find lasting solutions to facilitate trade and protection of security among the operators.
He said that there was the need to protect the customs laws, symbol and the principles and to establish long lasting cooperation between both countries.
At the interactive session on August 3, the President of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, Alhaji Olayiwola Shittu, said his member faced a lot of challenges while operating between Seme and Idiroko area of Lagos State.
Shittu said ANLCA as Customs Brokers operate at land borders, adding that the association was one of the major players operating between Nigeria and Benin.
He said Nigerian importers incurred on plate numbered vehicles 60,000 CFA, while Benin Republic plate-numbered vehicle importer paid 20,000 CFA per extra tonnage respectively.
Shittu urged the Chef Brigade at Krake Border to delegate his deputy in the command when he is not around for trade facilitation.
He requested that Customs should seal trucks coming to Nigeria and should be handed over to Nigeria Customs to open at the border for proper documentation rather than being opened by the Benin Customs to avoid collection of extra charges of 50,000 CFA, which added to cost of business.
Shittu said: “Customs should assist in mentioning the obligatory payment of between 30,000 to 50,000CFA for NAFDAC related goods which was questionable.
“Agents are not aware that such trucks will not be allowed into the country.
“Customs should assist in checking the cost of transiting ETLS goods from Ghana to Lagos so that Nigeria could provide more enhancement of trade facilitation and competition in West Africa sub region.”
Shittu urged Ali to look into the multiple checkpoints along Seme border to Mile 2 in Lagos State, saying that there is an estimate of 30 checkpoints mounted by Customs and other security agencies.
The Deputy President of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, Chief Alaba Lawson, said there was the need to facilitate trade, adding that Customs should enable the operators to know the legitimate trade they would be doing to reduce cost of doing business.
Lawson said there was the need for both countries to firm their relationship, adding that trade should be facilitated.
He said: “When we are entering Benin at the Nigerian border, we spent 30 minutes and on getting to Republic of Benin’s border we spent four hours.
“We are still encountering stress while the ECOWAS ETLS has explained the procedures of operation among regional countries.”
Lawan, however, urged NCS to strengthen the collaboration between both countries.
The President of the Rice Dealers Association, Republic of Benin, Hajia Karamotu Ibikunle, urged the NCS to make it possible for her association to bring rice to Nigeria through the border station.
Ibikunle told the Comptroller-General of Customs to enlighten her association on how to get rice to Nigeria to assist Customs in generating revenue for government.
In his response, Ali said that Customs could only instruct it’s officers, adding that he had been engaging other security agencies to reduce the checkpoints to the barest minimum.
Ali said the Federal Government was doing something about high exchange rate, adding that the floating in exchange rate had resulted to high foreign exchange.
He said: “We have a ban on importation of rice through the land borders because rice still comes through the seaport.
“It is part of our duties to protect the lives of our people and it was discovered that most of the rice coming through border had been tested by NAFDAC and it was discovered majority of the rice have expired and operators re-bagged them to sell to innocent citizens
“As a result of this, that is why we have some youths of 20s and 30s having cancer due to the foods that we eat.”
Ali said the present management of Customs was working towards providing conducive atmosphere for customs officers working along Idiroko area.
Ali said Customs officers at Idiroko were operating in one room during the day, use the same room as office and converted the same room to a residence in the evening.
He said trade was low as a result of exchange rates, which had affected revenue, adding that it was the Customs management’s responsibility to provide conducive environment for officers to carry out their legitimate functions.