Customs And Arms Cache: Sen. Hope Uzodinma Allays Fears Ahead of 2019 Elections

Customs And Arms Cache: Sen. Hope Uzodinma Allays Fears Ahead of 2019 Elections

By, Uchechukwu Ugboaja

The large cache of arms recently recovered by the Nigeria Customs Service has been the major talking point recently especially as 2019 general elections draws closer. However the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Customs has assured Nigerians not to panic as it is the job of the para-Military agency to curtail the activities of smugglers of contraband items which also include weapons and ammunition.

Senator Hope Uzodinma during a press briefing after the Senate considered the bill on the ammendments of the CEMA act of 1958 and moved to the second reading, said that he is not surprised and that Nigerians should not be alarmed over the recent discoveries by the Customs because they are carrying out their constitutional responsibilities.

The Senate Committee Chairman on Customs also confirmed that the Upper Chamber is taking steps to reform the Nigerian Customs as the operating act guiding the operations of the parastatal has become obsolete as it was enacted since 1958.

According to the Imo State Senator, he said the operating document is the Custom and Excise Management Act (CEMA) 1958 and there have been series of legislation scattered all over and repealed up to seven different legislation, but given the new world order  and the emerging global trend to encourage trade facilitation there is an urgent need to have a harmonised document that will be very bold and realistic and it will reflect the present realities of how government can make doing business in Nigeria easier for investors, so the Senate has a legislative responsibility to produce such a document.

You will recall that the Custom service is funded through cost of collection, and this cost of collection is only 7% of the cost of import duty, so the Nigerian Customs charges only on goods that are coming into the country that are dutable.

“It therefore means that those who are enjoying government waivers or those who bring in zero duty goods like agricultural equipment or those who enjoy one form of government concession do not pay anything to the Nigerian Customs, yet it is the same agency that will provide the services of discharge, handling and clearance for all those items and we think it is not fair on other importers.

“We have therefore come to a harmonised position which we are recommending as a committee to the Senate after considering the statistics, that rather than limit these duty charges to some dutable items where non-potable items accounts for about 48% of the total cargo coming into the country which is a lot of money in terms of revenue loss to the government. Our view therefore is that since it is the customs service providing the same infrastructure, manpower etc on goods whether dutable or non-dutable it is only fair that the everyone pays a subsidised rate across board. So our recommendation is to expand the scope but reduce the cost of charges from 7% to 2.5% and this will increase the revenue generation capacity of the customs,” he said.

This approach to industry watchers could mean the elimination of government waivers for specific and designated items, but the Chairman refutes it insisting that it is not the job if the Nigerian Customs to issue waivers but it is issued through the Supervising Ministry and the Presidency but that importers will still be required to pay for the cost of services provided by the Nigerian Customs Services.

Also reacting to the last face off between the Comptroller General of Customs who defied the Senate’s directive of appearing before it in the traditional uniforms of the service, the Imo State born Senator insisted that the matter has not yet been swept under the carpet as the relevant committee will soon look into the matter as most senators were all busy working on the 2017 budget which has been the priority of the entire Senate and now that the process is over the various committees will go back to their various oversight functions.

With regards to the alleged bypassing of the customs board by the Comptroller General of Customs to seek approval from the Presidency for some of his operations, the Senate Chairman was asked if this would not be treated as a gross violation of the current CEMA laws. Industry watchers sought to know if the new ammendments as proposed by the committee would address such excess from the customs CG including the issue of appointing someone from outside of the customs cadre as the Comptroller General. According to him, this new bill has recommended the establishment of a customs service commission as against what is currently obtained in the CEMA act as customs service board, which will take care of training, manpower development and posting of senior officers of the customs, this will enable the service focus on how to improve their services to Nigerians while the commission will concentrate on these oversight functions.

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