Customs is empowered by Law to send non-compliant Importers to jail – Aniebonam

The Founder of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) ,Boniface Aniebonam was recently tracked down by  our correspondent DAPO OLAWUNI.

In this interview, the NAGAFF founder talked about compliance with Nigeria Customs’ laid down laws as the only way out of Nigerian importers losing their consignments to the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) of Customs.
He also identified challenges mitigating  against the effectiveness of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN).
ExcerptsQ. Do you believe the Presidential Task Force set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to decongest Apapa roads is the lasting solution to the traffic gridlock?

A.  The Executive powers of Mr President under Section 5 of Nigerian constitution is very clear, that power has been delegated to heads of government, because President would not be everywhere.

The point is that people should learn to do what they are supposed to do, the gridlock is caused majorly by human elements and it is most unfortunate.
It is about those who has responsibility to do the needful, this must also be a collective action, people should be seen to do what they are supposed to do. We don’t need executive order of the president before we can understand simple things on traffic control, they are human element problems.
Look at the access roads leading to the port, are we saying there are no budgets? I heard some people blaming the Navy, but we asked for it, Navy cannot be completely separated from the society.
The overhead bridges leading to the port are not built for static load, the load must be in motion, but today the bridges are being used as a parking lot.
There is need for special truck terminals to service the port.
You should know that I don’t believe in propaganda, the subject matter is physical, if you go along the road, you would see whether they have achieved or not.Q.  Is it proper for customs to decentralize power at commands as it is being reported?

A.  What you are saying does not exist, I was formerly with the Customs, if there is anything, I should be able to tell you. From valuation to CIU and whatever the case maybe, they are support units to the area Controller, everybody is under the Controller of an area.

As it is today, nothing has changed. If you are looking at the CGC Strike force, some people make statements that are unfounded, some I refer as “Ambulance Chasers” and meddlesome interlopers, the operational powers is rested on the Comptroller General, if you look at section 4 and 5 of the customs law you will see the management team, he has the authority to make a regulation that would add value to his statutory functions.
Decentralization of authority is again an additional input to facilitation of trade to make it seamless, the CGC is coming with new ideas.
Some of the people who are making these false allegations are people who live in glass houses and they are throwing stones, it bothers me a lot that a lot of people don’t know the inherent powers in the Customs law, many people going to jail everyday without knowing, you must not go and wake a sleeping giant, Customs have been so magnanimous to a lot of people all in the name of facilitating trade, if you look at Section 46, 47, 161, 162, all matters of untrue declaration is five years imprisonment without option of fine if you are found guilty in court.
But still in the name of facilitation of trade which to me is wrongly being used, the law itself is very obvious, they are only trying to bring in human elements.
The solution to all these blackmailing is compliance, if you are not compliant to import and export regulations, you won’t be discussing issues of trade facilitation.

The way NAGAFF understood trade facilitation is your capacity to be compliant, therefore building capacity in what you do, nobody would facilitate an illegitimate trade. So solving the problem is in our hands. Revenue matter is a serious matter and you cannot beat your chest and say that things are going right in our ports, things are not well, if you doubt me, you can go to the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) and see the interventions they have made, or go to Benin, Owerri or Southern part of the country, we are doing things wrongly, anybody that thinks he can blackmail customs institution is just wasting his time. The way forward is for you to do the right thing.

Q.  CRFFN proposed delisting uneducated freight forwarders in two years time, what is your take on this?

A.  The CRFFN have never in real sense been operational in the past ten years, they have been battling internal wrangling orchestrated by ANLCA, everybody knows that they have never supported CRFFN, and nobody would wish away the strength of ANLCA, the two big organisations in freight forwarding is NAGAFF and ANLCA, for now, NAGAFF is ahead of them, there is no doubt about it, but ANLCA is still a force, especially membership of licenses issued by the Customs, when you look at section 153 to 156 of the customs law, what we are discussing is freight forwarding profession and not ‘Licensed Customs’ profession which is a vocational job.

A freight forwarder is a professional because it has to deal with a natural person who can undergo requisite training and acquire skill and knowledge in cargo movement across international boundaries to the final destination.
The new registrar, I have been advising him to stay neutral and make the mark.
In the past ten years, what we saw was ANLCA running CRFFN as association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents which negates the whole principle, the good news is that members of NAGAFF are now also there, so let’s see how it goes.
On the training aspect you asked about, it is the basic thing that CRFFN is called to do, training and retraining, and professionalism, you cannot be a professional when you are not an individual person, a corporate body cannot be referred to as a professional.
 The licensing regulation of the customs today which has to do with membership of ANLCA, their membership is based on licenses issued by customs, except you unveil the incorporation before you can see who is behind the license, it is only the Corporate Affairs Commission or the court that has power to do that.
This is why the level of criminality in the port is high, people are hiding under that incorporation to perpetrate illegality, the issue of compliance as far as I am concerned, the licensing regulation of the customs needs to be reviewed because some people are hiding under that veil to commit crime, to the extent that even people who are not Nigerians are involved in cargo movement.
Right now, in the CRFFN it is a battle, look at the last gazette that came out , ANLCA has gone to smuggle in the licensing regulation, if they do understand what freight forwarding is all about, this would not happen.
The CRFFN Act does not recognise a licensed customs agent, except for administrative purposes, this is a freight forwarding Act.
This is under investigation, we are keeping an eye on it.
The good news is the leadership of ANLCA, he was the first chairman of the Council, and by now he should be realising some of the mistakes he made and begin to correct them.
Some of the things we are talking about are before the national assembly, the 8th Assembly, the CRFFN is Act is there for amendment but it is stalled, the things that made us go to court is what they are now trying to get from the backdoor through the National Assembly.
The latest information i am getting now is that it is from appointees into CRFFN that you would get who will be Chairman of the Council. Meanwhile we have a case in Appeal court that has to do with interpreting status of the Council, our position is very obvious, this Act is a quasi-government agency, the CRFFN is a baby of NAGAFF, we know what it is designed to achieve and this is why we are moving quietly, I just hope the Comptroller General of Customs would try and find out what CRFFN is created to serve, the CRFFN is to serve the Customs better than what they are getting now, it is through CRFFN that Customs can hold people responsible.
As I speak to you now, my CRFFN registration number is 007, so if I endorse any Customs entry now, the liability is on me.
The truth essence of all these, is about the young freight forwarders that are coming up, if we get it right, the CRFFN has capacity to provide not less than 100 thousand jobs for Nigerians minimum, we are waiting to see who and who, that Mr President will appoint into ministerial positions, we need to get things right in the maritime sector.
The CRFFN is the most strategic council as far as port operation is concerned, the freight forwarders are the artery of the port, it is through the freight forwarders that the port breaths.Q.  On POF collection, some members of ANLCA have threatened to go to court and stop it

A.  They are already in court, so what kind of game is our sister association playing? The people that went to court are senior members of ANLCA, at this point, I cannot be saying something and I say it is my personal opinion on port matters when I am the founder of NAGAFF, as the face of NAGAFF, whatever I am telling you now is the position of NAGAFF.
Those who have gone to court, there is no way of exonerating ANLCA from it.

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