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How Customs’ revenue hunt hurts trade facilitation

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It has been an annual ritual for the Federal government to set revenue target for the Nigeria Customs Service.For each of these years, the Customs authority sets its officers on a wild hunt not only to meet the target but possibly, surpass it.And each successive Customs administration has acquitted itself credibly well in this task.Year in year out, Customs authority has harvested humongous amount of money into the Federal government coffers as its annual revenue hauls.But for this feat, the greatest casualty has been trade facilitation which has been subjected to continuous battering.The hunt for revenue by the Customs has been taken to higher notch under the leadership of the incumbent Comptroller-General, Hameed Ali.Ali, a retired Colonel of the Nigerian Army, became the Customs helmsman on August 27, 2015 and since then, he has pursued revenue with an uncommon gusto.Between 2015 and 2018, a cumulative sum of N4.042 trillion had been raked into the government coffers.The Customs, under Ali, has consistently hit the trillion Naira mark, since 2017 when the agency grossed N1.037 trillion and 2018 when it garnered the sum of N1.202 trillion.This was unlike 2015 when the agency had N904.072 billion and 2016 when the sum of N898.673 billion was realised.Ever since then, the consuming passion of Customs for revenue generation has assumed an alarming proportion, thus paying little attention to trade facilitation.
The longetivity of the tenure of an area controller, under the present dispensation, largely depends more on his capacity to rake in huge revenue than how much of trade is facilitated in such Command.
So this has made each area controller, who wants to retain his plum territory, to spare no effort in generating huge revenue.
And these efforts have been paying off bountifully as each year, the customs has recorded a geometric increase in its revenue.
Last year, the Service surpassed its N1.679 trillion revenue target when it collected N2.3 trillion naira.
Expectedly, the 2022 target has been raised to over N3 trillion.
And all the commands have revved up their revenue machineries to not only meet the target but surpass it.
In all of these, the importers have always received the short end of the stick.
Tony Iju Nwabunike, the National President of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) however expressed worry over the insatiable thirst of customs for revenue generation that he warned of the harm it does to trade facilitation and productivity.
We are sad at the high pitched race of the Customs to meet the annual imposed revenue target.
The unbridled passion of customs for revenue collection was further given a boost by the federal government who now rely on the service and Federal Inland Revenue service (FIRS) to fund governance since revenue from oil, which used to be the main stay of government over the years, has almost thinned out.
We are  more saddened by the wilful decapitation of trade facilitation, which is  one of the sacred duties of the Customs, on the altar of revenue generation.CGC Ali, has unwittingly, through his claims of higher daily revenue figures of which we find spurious, put his officers under undue pressure to meet the target.As has always been the case, this pressure  has always been transferred to the importers and their agents who are  stretched to the limits in the course of goods clearance process.In as much as we acknowledged that revenue generation is one of the functions of the Customs, we are equally aware that trade facilitation is the responsibility of the agency which we believe should be given as much importance and with equal gusto.As a matter of fact, the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and World Trade Organisation (WTO) are urging and encouraging member states to pay more than passing interest on trade liberalization and facilitation.This is more germane in the quest of the two international bodies to remove trade barriers among member nations and promote inter- regional trade cooperation.Customs organisation in each country is therefore encouraged and primed by the World Customs Organisation (WCO) to play a pivotal role in achieving the objective of trade liberalization and facilitation.The importance of the Customs organisations in this respect is further accentuated by the proliferation of Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs) whose objective is to increase trade among countries in these regions through elimination of trade barriers.While other Customs authorities in most member nations of WCO have keyed into the objective of the World Customs body by playing up their trade facilitation role, the reverse is the case with the Nigeria Customs Service.Not until the Nigeria Customs Service ceases to pay lip service to trade facilitation that our ports will attract more patronage than it presently enjoys.

© 2022, maritimemag. All rights reserved.

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