Goods, vehicles can be cleared at Seme in less than 8 hours – Othman

Area Controller of Seme Border Area Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Comptroller Othman Abdu Salem recently presented his half year scorecard to journalists where he enumerated some of his achievements, constraints and operations of Destination Inspection (DI) service providers among other issues, Shulammite Olowofoyeku was there for Ships & Ports. 

How would you access your revenue drive in the first half of the year? 
The importance of revenue in the government’s transformation agenda cannot be overemphasized. Reinforced by the Comptroller General of Customs marching order and Six Point Agenda, our command entered the new year leaving no stone unturned in our quest to maximize revenue collection. Most importantly, we ensured that all perceived sources of revenue leakages were blocked and collectable revenue duly collected and accounted for. Consequently, we were able to collect within the first half of 2013, total revenue of N3, 981,596,977.52 out of the annual target of N13, 140,000.00. When compared with the corresponding period in the year 2012 whereby the total collection stood at N3, 876,999,416.83, an apparent increase by 1.33% would be noticed. We could have collected more than this but, for the effect of the impasse between the government and Licensed Customs Agents over government directive on the containerization of import goods and restructuring of the haulage trucks. There was also a drop on the rate of importation and volume of trade in this axis. Also, the abandoned border reconstruction project at Seme has become like an albatross around our neck. It tends to cast wrong impression about the command and the nation in general especially among the uninformed. Despite the foregoing hiccups, we are looking forward to surpassing the revenue target by the end of the year.

How effective is scanning operation at Seme? 
We have been partnering very well with the Service Providers with a view to facilitating legitimate trade and we will continue to do so for the overall interest of the nation. As we gradually approach the home stretch of taking over the task, I wish to restate the readiness of our trained staff to take over the schedule as may be directed by the Federal Government. However, there was a time we actually had serious problem in scanning. When the federal government directed that all consignment should be containerized work was suspended for almost two months. During that time, we had challenges with the mobile scanner and sometimes I have to consult the Comptroller General to give me express permission to conduct physical examination because the scanner after working for a few hours will stop. Because of the backlog and volume of work, a lot of agents and importers were agitated, you can imagine the backlog after two months of not working so we decided to also work on weekends but unfortunate none of the agents showed up for scanning. Of recent, there is no week the mobile scanner will not break down. For instance, two weeks ago, it was off for almost four days so throughout that week there was no work. But for the fixed scanner, it has been test run but we are not using it yet and when we ask the service provider, they said they are waiting for certification. So that is the situation for scanning at Seme now.

Suppression of smuggling is one of the core responsibilities of the NCS. How has your command fared in this area? 
Our anti smuggling activities aimed at suppression of smuggling are active and strategically enforced. In my maiden media briefing last year, I did emphasize our administration’s desire to collaborate and synergize with royal fathers, security agencies and stakeholders in pursuit of our mandate. I make bold to state that it was a good decision, reassuring and rewarding. Despite the aquatic and swampy challenges of the terrain, our command made 557 Seizures with a Duty Paid Value (DPV) of N290, 045,907.00 within the period under review. The suspects arrested are 21 in number, some of whom had been arraigned, bailed and under investigation. This feat is significant in a number of ways, particularly in the following areas; the number of Seizures is 52.82 percent higher than the 172 Seizures made in the corresponding period last year, 2012. The DPV is 52.4 percent higher than the N90, 483,211.00 of the corresponding period of the year 2012. The number of seizures surpassed the 480 we made throughout the year 2012 by 7.43percent. Similarly, the DPV is 12.19 percent higher than the N227, 035,726.00 of the year 2012. The seizures comprised the following commodities; motor vehicles, rice, vegetable oil, second hand clothing, frozen poultry products, shoes, bags, textiles, soaps; etc. We also made seizures of narcotics which had been transferred to our sister Agency, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). These include the seizure of 16 blocks of Cannabis involving a pregnant woman who eventually delivered while in custody. The drugs were concealed in the woman’s luggage and it was the very day she was arrested that she began labor and she was referred to our clinic where she delivered a baby boy. She got complications and she was rushed to the General Hospital where they discovered that she was HIV Positive. So we allowed her to stabilize before we handed her and the drugs over to NDLEA. We commend our CGC for the logistical support and capacity building initiatives which has transformed our officers and men into goal getters.

What are the major constraints faced by the command? 
Problem of deviants who are yet to see reasons to abide by government regulations meant for the general good of all. Our baggage activities as well as that of other Nigeria Security Agencies at the border are seriously hampered due to the delay in the Seme/Krake joint border reconstruction project. For long there has not been activity because of the joint border post construction. The contract was terminated in June but another contractor is yet to be engaged. The predominantly aquatic and swampy nature of the terrain also poses a lot of challenge to our anti smuggling effort and majorly, failure of the Benin Customs Administration to comply with the internationally accepted best practices in the channelisation of the importation of used motor vehicles (tokunbo) into Nigeria. This is an issue that has been discussed in Abuja and with the ambassador at Benin Republic which he promised to look at. The issue is that they have a car park near the border at their own end and they are collecting certain amount of money that is why they are not ready to transfer the vehicles to us. You can imagine these vehicles will be cleared in Cotonue port and they will be escorted under arms to the borders here but they will not hand them over to us. They will just hand over to those running the cars car parks. Because of what they are gaining, that is why they don’t want to do the right thing but we are still on it. You can imagine 100 vehicles coming to the car park and you hardly see 50 or at worst 60 come to us to pay duty.

How has the ETLS scheme affected your revenue generation? 
The ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) is a sub regional effort by ECOWAS aimed at facilitating legitimate trade and fostering regional integration. Within the period under review, ETLS compliant goods with a Cost Insurance & Freight (CIF) Value of N3, 292,485,161.95 were cleared through this Command. The revenue loss as a result of the concession to the scheme amount to N998,634,897.88, while the CISS revenue collection amount to N30,725,738.00. The command also facilitated the export of made in Nigeria goods such as furniture, beer, tomatoes (Sachet/Tin), mattresses, roofing sheets, plastic wares, slippers, fruit drinks, etc; with Free On Board (FOB) value of N5,160,996,223.82 during the review period. The total Nigeria Export Supervision Scheme (NESS) collection for the same period amount to N25, 534,902.72. It is worthy of note that the export Section has not been revenue yielding as a result of the Federal Government Policy aimed at boosting exportation of made in Nigeria goods.

What is your message to the public? 
Our message to the trading public is for all to shun smuggling, false/under declaration and embrace legitimate trade. Goods, vehicles can be cleared at Seme in less than 8 hours if importers and their licensed customs agents can make honest declarations. For the avoidance of doubt, we implore the trading public to avail themselves of the import and export prohibition list by accessing our website at www.customs.gov.ng. Our attention has also been drawn to the news that some internet fraudsters have been impersonating the NCS and defrauding people with purported ‘Auction Sales’ at Seme Command. We plead with the media to assist us in enlightening the general public that there is nothing of such at Seme Area Command. Nigeria is our commonwealth for which we all have a stake and we must jointly defend and protect same. Should anyone be privileged to have information considered useful for us, rather than grand stand with screaming report, we implore you in the interest of the nation to make such information available to us.