Listen to the audio interview with Mr. Lucky Eyis Amiwero
Mr. Lucky Eyis Amiwero has served as National President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA) for about 20 years. He also serves on several government committees. In this interview, the fiery Customs agent speaks on the difference between an agent and a freight forwarder. He also explains why he would not register with the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN).
Are you a freight forwarder or a Customs agent?
I am a licensed customs agent; it is different from being freight forwarder. A freight forwarder is a transporter, a licensed customs agent is an authorized profession under section 153 of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA), and we are authorized to perform every function in that Act and other fiscal policies and trade laws. The Minister of Finance regulates licensing of agents under the provision of section 156, then 154 is where we have the authority that as agents you must go through liability to pay import duty because we collect import duty and pay to the government. Those liabilities are strict. There are international conventions that back these liabilities. A freight forwarder is only a transporter; freight applies to two things which is the payment of the cargo that is shipped or loaded or the cargo itself. You just forward freight, which isjust one element within the transport train, the most minute one. A licensed customs agent applies four components; we interpret, we classify, and we treat and apply the trade laws that have to do with CEMA.
We work more on import and export policies and trade related functions as far as import, export and manufacturing is concerned, we are not only on import and export, we are also in excise. That is why we are called licensed customs excise agent. The freight forwarder forwards freight, it is very clear, the interpretative note under Section 30 of the Freight Forwarding Act, which says that they arrange for the carriage of the movement of goods and the freight forwarders are not supposed to be in the ports, they are supposed to be in the international boundary by the law. By the provision of the freight forwarding law, they are not supposed to be in the ports, they are excluded from the ports by law. They are supposed to operate in international borders.
So where do you stand with regards to a recent directive issued by the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi that freight forwarders and licensed customs agents must register with the Council for Regulation of Freight Forwarding of Nigeria (CRFFN) within two weeks or risk being denied access to the ports?
Unfortunately, I think the Minister wasn’t properly briefed. He has not looked at the law, the provision of CEMA does not recognize freight forwarders and under section 19.2, the law says anybody who has practiced freight forwarding prior to, before the enactment of the freight forwarding act, so there is no freight forwarder in the CEMA; it is not ambiguous and it is not for import and export procedures; they are for formalities. Procedure is quite different from formalities. Formalities are simple but procedures are based on processes. For instance, when you look at customs procedures, they are based on World Trade Organization (WTO) and World Customs Organization (WCO) conventions. We have close to 100 conventions, the CEMA is a convention; as you look at various sections in the CEMA- transit, transshipment are conventions that have been acceded to by the government in the fifties, in the sixties, and in the seventies. That is what makes upCEMA. The CEMA is not a document you go in and push in the assembly. It is a document that you must understand that you have acceded to the trade laws and the trade laws you have acceded to, you have to domesticate them and that is what you have in the CEMA.
But it is also the law guiding the operations of our Customs…
It is the law guiding the operations of imports, exports and manufacturing, it doesn’t guide the Customs. The Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) is owned by three components- the President, the Minister (of Finance) and the (Customs (Board). The president proclaims, the minister regulates, and the board gives directive, the customs implements. The truth about it is a freight forwarder is a man restricted from the ports, he is only to forward freight and forwarding is just transportation and in their interpretative note it is very clear. So you cannot compare the two. I am a licensed customs agent.
Are you a member of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), are your members part of CRFFN?
No,but one can register for the purpose of transportation.
Are your members registered with them?
No. Many of them are not registered. I am not registered. I took them to court; we won them in the High Court. We took them to the Appeal Court, we won them in the Appeal Court and the court said the council has been dissolved since November 2012 so the council cannot function. The Minister doesn’t understand that there is no functioning council and its Registrar is just an appointee of the council under Section 11 of their Act. Under Section 11, the Registrar was appointed and every component of their Act restricts the Registrar from performing any function if the council is not there.
I think the Minister should look at the laws properly. We have sent letters to the President, the Minister of Finance, Customs and the Minister of Transport to educate him on those areas. There are issues that have to do with laws, there are issues that have to do with procedures, you don’t combine the two. It has no relationship in any way. There is nowhere in the world you have that kind of regulation of freight forwarders. Nigeria is the first country to duplicate regulations.
Is this a change of position because I remember when CRFFN was newly inaugurated, you contested and lost election into its council in Abuja?
We went there as a result of the transportcomponent – the forwarding aspect. You can go into forwarding but the real thing is; CEMA does not recognise it.
CRFFN should be probed for the money they have collected so far since inception; I think they said it is almost a billion. I am calling for a probe because they have not done anything substantial so it is necessary that the Minister should probe them.
What do you think of the ban and later unbanning of rice importation through the land borders by Customs?
I think the problem is misapplication of the law; the law is very clear on that matter. The Customs is to implement, the powers to proclamation under the various section of the CEMA is by the President. The regulation of imports and exports under Section 36 of the CEMA is by the Minister, the restriction of cargoes coming from the border is by the Minister under Section 18 of CEMA. By investigation, we noticed that the rice lifting was an internal thing that was done by Customs, they should not have the power to do it because restrictions of the movement of goods within the border under Section 18 is by the Minister of Finance because he has a regulating power; regulatory power is not delegated.
Finally sir, are you satisfied with the implementation of the Destination Inspection Scheme so far since Customs fully took over that scheme from the service providers and the introduction Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) replacing the Risk Assessment Report(RAR) of those days?
Since 2003, Customs have not been reformed and the taking over was not properly done because I am talking as a member of the presidential committee on Customs reforms and the chairman of draft committee and the chairman of most of these committees, there is need to still do a lot of job. The scanners for instance, one percent of FOB has been used on build operate and transfer and build operate and transfer should have gone through what is called the transition committee. Our committee recommended that by November we should have pushed Customs into the server and many areas we call the backside of the process. The scanners and the scheme were taken over politically not professionally.
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