Comptroller Tunji Aremu

Bad trucks, touts our major challenge at Tin Can Island Port – Aremu

Comptroller Tunji Aremu is the Customs Area Controller, Tincan Island Port Command of the Nigeria Customs Service. In this interview with Ships & Ports Correspondent, Shulammite Olowofoyeku, he laments the influx of touts at the Tin Can Island Port Complex. He said uncontrolled human and vehicular traffic at the port is a major challenge to Customs and other security operatives. He also speaks on the alleged extortion of valuation officers at the command among other issues.
Excerpts: 

How will you rate last year’s performance of your command?
Despite the challenges of modernization and simplification of our operation, the year 2012 showed a progressive start with regards to revenue generation from the month of January through March.
This can be accounted for by the number of vessels that came in within the period. But our revenue began to experience slight decline but was able to maintain a range above N15 billion to the month of December. A total sum of N206, 411, 920, 416 billion was generated as revenue for the year 2012 while 193,418,449,934 was collected in 2011showing a difference of about N12, 999,470,481. To stem the tide of smuggling in its entire ramifications, we also seized 18 compact vehicles, 5140 and 42 20 feet containers of various offending imports which comprise falsely and under declare vehicles, used tyres, used fridges, watching machines, kitchen cabinet, boxes of recorded videos and audio cd’s, pop corn machines, second hand cloths, new electronics, ladies shoes and bags with a duty paid value of over 347, 403,400. 2220 feet containers of thick wood made for export which contravene the export prohibition order was also impounded.

Going by your monthly revenue target of N22 billion, the command was expected to generate 264 billion last year but you realized a bit above N206billion. Why was your target not met?
When you carry out an examination and you scored about 97 percent, I think that is a very good pass mark. We were able to reach about 98 percent. So in that trend we are not doing badly at all.

What has been the major challenge of the command?
The challenges we have is the bad trailers we have coming to the port. Most of them are not good enough for containers and you find them breaking down at will. A lot of them fall off the truck and it cause a lot of obstacles and obstruction to other road users. And of course I must not leave out the major one which is the touts, those who have nothing to do in the ports coming to the ports to disturb genuine agents and importers in the transaction of their business. This is a major challenge but we are up to the task.

How would you react to the allegation of extortion levelled against your valuation officers and claims that they bypass you and report directly to the headquarters?
The notion that the valuation officers are not under me is wrong. They are directly under me and they take instructions from me be it the Customs Intelligent Unit (CIU) or Valuation officers. There is nothing they are doing that I’m not aware of. What I want to tell you is I’ve listened to all the complaints brought by customs agents and at the end of the day I find out that they are doing just the right thing and that is the truth. If you go there and you present your paper and you are being given the value as directed by them, I don’t see how you can play any other game. I’ve listened to all these complaints several times and I find out that in fact they are increasing my revenue by day.

This command is noted for Machine Outside (MO) jobs. What are you doing to curb the situation?
There is no room for anything called Machine Outside. Tin Can Island Port command is a changed place now. You will all agree with me that the era whereby anything goes is gone and that you can notice in our revenue generation. For instance, when you go to the Customs Processing Centre (CPC) and input your Single Goods Declaration form and it is found to be wrong, nobody will treat it. It won’t go anywhere from there but will end there. So the era where anything goes in Tin Can is gone. Things are now done in the right manner and officers are ready to bring out anything outside the system that is wrong.

There have been incessant cases of suspension of licenses of agents, what is responsible for this?
Of course when you are found wanting to defraud the government and you allow your license to be used by touts to carry out nefarious activities then we will block you and then suspend the license. That is one of the strategies being carried out to make sure that the system is sanitized.

How prepared are your men for the proposed takeover of destination inspection scheme taking effect in June? 
During the visit of the House Representatives Committee on Customs and Excise they saw that we are ready to carry out the work come June. A lot of officers are still undergoing training and retraining, there is no aspect of our job that is not been manned by officers of the Service.

How effective has the 48hours clearance been in your command?
The 48 hours clearance is not customs per se, they are just a part of it. Remember the shipping company, terminal operators and the service providers themselves are involved so it is not only customs.
But the customs aspect is just about honest declaration. Whenever an agent or importer gives correct declaration, then there is nothing that can stop the delivery of your container in 48 hours. 24 hours is even feasible. But the problem we always have is that declarations are not always correct. Where you declare 500 items for instance and on examination we were able to detect 1000 items then the document has to go for query and amendment. So these are the things that are causing an impediment to the realization of the 48 hours clearance.

FOU officers were spotted at the second gate of Tin Can island port, what is their mission?
The officers of the Federal Operations Unit you see are just there to compliment our efforts and to make sure that containers are exited as at when due and there is no infringement on the flow of containers which are duly release from the ports. That is why you find them there. The disturbance by the tout will soon be addressed.



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