Bolstered by its revenue record of N898bn in 2016 despite the recession, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) set a revenue target of N1.1 trillion for 2017. Customs spokesman, Joseph Attah, said the figure was less than the N904bn collected in 2015. The NCS was officially given a target of N937bn as revenue in 2016.
Before the official figure was released by the government, NCS had set for itself a target of N1trillion for that year to the consternation of stakeholders. Those who read between the lines, knew that the Comptroller General of Customs Hameed Ali was either playing to the gallery or was going to get the NCS to employ unwholesome means to collect this revenue.
The Association of Nigeria Licensed Custom Agents (ANCLA) was the first to attack the unrealistic target. To the group, Customs does not need a soothsayer to know that the target unrealistic.
While Customs blamed its inability to meet its 2016 revenue target on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) foreign exchange policy, the apex bank’s deregulation of the Naira ironically made it was responsible for catapulting its collection to N898bn.
Although the year 2016 was characterised by unfavorable government policies including the foreign exchange restriction to importers of 41 items and the declining value of the Naira against major international currencies especially the dollar which drastically affected volume of imports into the country, the NCS was still able to record high revenue performance. In doing this though, trade facilitation, which is one of its core functions, was thrown to the dogs.
Stakeholders miffed by this anomaly have roundly condemned the arm-twisting tactics of the NCS in 2016 in pursuit of its target and are in agreement that if revenue generation and anti-smuggling concerns are the only yardstick to measure Customs performance, the organisation recorded high performance in 2016. But NCS failed woefully because revenue targets will always be in conflict with trade facilitation.
“Revenue targets mean rigidity and trade facilitation means flexibility, which are two enemies that can only be resolved by striking a balance in between,” argued an aggrieved stakeholder.
It is rather unfortunate that in seeking to rake up revenue, the Nigeria Customs Service, an organization set up to ensure border security and promote the ease of doing business, is employing unwholesome means to squeeze the citizens in the name of making money.
2016 has entered history as the worst year –economically – so far for Nigerians. Volume of import went down drastically, export was not that impressive, the exchange rate skyrocketed because of the policy of the CBN while the prices of goods went through the roof, leaving many Nigerians struggling with meager incomes and low purchasing powers.
To achieve its revenue target, the NCS went all out to mount road block across the states in the name of checking Customs documents. Many motorists became victims as they were compelled t pay more money as Customs duties on their vehicles or forfeit the vehicles.
We have also heard news of Customs invading warehouses and markets and even breaking into citizens’ homes in the name of looking for contraband goods. Under the guise of revenue drive, the NCS made life unbearable for citizens.
In August 2016, NCS announced an all-time revenue generation of N95.76billion, the highest one-month collection in 10 years. The then Customs Public Relations Officer, Wale Adeniyi had in a statement attributed the feat to the efficacy of the Comptroller-General, Hameed Ali’s policy thrust. Stakeholders however believe that the so-called feat was recorded at the expense of hapless importers and ordinary Nigerians who are squeezed to pay more in import duties.
With this year revenue target set at N1.1tr, it is obvious that Customs will go all out to squeeze importers through the creation of frivolous benchmark rates and indiscriminate issuance of Debit Notes.
Who will save the people?
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