As the year gradually winds up with less than four weeks to go and given the drop in volume of imports into the country which has considerably affected the revenue generation of the Nigeria Customs Service, Comptroller Charles Edike who was recently appointed Acting Assistant Comptroller General (ACG) of Customs in charge of Zone ‘A’ no doubt has the onerous task of ensuring that the revenue generation from the zone does not fall beyond the expectation of the Customs Comptroller General, retired Col Hameed Ali.
This is because the zone accounts for 75 percent of the Service overall target representing the largest chunk of the Service revenue with well over eight thousand workmen and women spread across several states in the South Western region of the country.
The Customs Comptroller-General, who recently lamented the decline in NCS’ revenue collection, disclosed that only a paltry sum of N1billion to N1.5 billion is currently being generated by the Service on a daily basis.
So far, the NCS said it had generated a total of N747 billion out of N944 billion with less than N200 billion to meet this year’s target.
According to Ali, unless the Service generates N100 billion for each month of November and December, it would not be possible to realize the target.
Ali who is certainly under pressure to deliver on his revenue mandate as handed down to him by President Muhammadu Buhari had in consultation with the Customs management appointed Comptroller Edike, a quintessential officer to head the zone.
Edike’s appointment did not come as a surprise to stakeholders in the industry especially those in the clearing and freight forwarding profession and among officers who believe he is best qualified for the job.
Apparently aware of the task ahead and especially with the warning from the CG that zonal coordinators will be held accountable for revenue shortfall in any of the commands under them, Comptroller Edike with just two weeks into assumption of duty last week embarked on a working visit to all the commands in the Zone where he relayed the worries of the Customs boss to the officers.
As at the last count, Apapa port which handles the largest volume of import into the country, has witnessed a 40 per cent drop in vessel calls. This notwithstanding, Edike did not mince words when he told the officers at the Apapa Area Command not to let the zone down as the service will not tolerate any excuse if they fail to meet the revenue target set for them.
He charged them to change their attitude to work to facilitate trade and redouble their efforts especially as the yuletide season approaches by ensuring that all revenue from imports into the country is collected and ensure that all loopholes are blocked to maximize government revenue.
He said, “You would have heard that last week I was here briefly and that was because the CGC called me and said ‘Edike, bad news’ I was wondering if anybody died, but he said the revenue, immediately I came here and discussed with the Deputy Controllers, and immediately there was improvement. Let us collect every kobo due to the government.”
While it is a known fact that the revenue collection of Customs is dependent on the volume of importation into the country, Edike is optimistic that even with the declining import volumes, the zone’s revenue could be improved upon if officers work hard to ensure they collect all amounts due to government.
“Now that things are hard, go everywhere, go into the system, look for infractions, if there are, go for the person, let them pay and collect the revenue for government but if there is no fault, let them go.
“This is the time to bring out the best in us. You know tough people when things are tough and that is what this visit is all about. Even in this situation, we can still do better; meaning that officers should think out of the box. Things we look at as not being important before now go for them even if it is one kobo go for it and get it out.
“Come rain, come sun, Apapa should and must always be number one, no excuse whatsoever. We can still meet our target. For me I don’t see impossibility,” he told the officers.
While at Lilypond Command, Edike met with chapter chairmen of the various freight forwarding associations who expressed deep worry that business activities at the command have been at its lowest ebb due to the non-transfer of containers to the terminal.
The situation was not different at Kirikiri Lighter Terminal (KLT) Command, which is also an offdock facility that depends on transfer of containers from the main port.
The agents lamented that it had become difficult for them to feed their families as a result of the sharp drop in volume of containers being transferred to the commands.
Edike while expressing his concern about the plights of the agents explained that the situation was as a result of the economic downturn, which had made it difficult to stem containers to the offdock terminals and has thus impacted on their revenue. He however expressed optimism that in no time things would take shape.
He assured that the issue would be discussed with the Customs top management to see how the terminals will be made active again.
During the visit, Comptroller Edike also warned officers putting on fake ranks to wear their proper ranks and also improve on their dressing especially the female officers. He warned female officers to desist from plaiting their hair in such a way that would not enable them to wear their berets properly.
Apart from the responsibility of ensuring that the revenue from the zone is not compromised, stakeholders expectations from the CG is that the zone under Comptroller Edike would be empowered to address trade disputes within the zone without having to refer such disputes to the Customs headquarters in Abuja.
Already stakeholders have called for the devolution of power to the zones especially the Customs Zonal Headquarters in Lagos, which has over the years been in a dormant state.
One of them, Lawrence Uba advised that Customs should go back to what was obtainable in the past where the zones were empowered to carry out certain functions noting that the idea of having to go to Abuja to resolve trade issues is administratively wrong.
“Things were not like this in the past. What we are seeing now is that anything you want to do, if you don’t go to Abuja that problem will not be solved and that has not taken us anywhere but has continuously made things difficult for us as agents. At least by now, it is expected that they should have reverse back to what is obtainable and practicable to move the nation and economy forward.
“Any issue you have now, be it PAAR or licensing issue, documentation or even classification you have to go to Abuja which to me is wrong and administratively it is not done and I don’t even know why customs has kept to that. Sometimes, you have issues when you are on point of releasing and base on classification and documentation, you will have to abandon the job there and starts going to Abuja. So I am of the opinion that the situation should be reversed and the zones be given the necessary powers they need to work. Not on every trivial issue, you go to Abuja,” he said.
On his part, a chieftain of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) Ignatius Nwachukwu said if the zones were given more powers to operate, they would do more than they are doing now and that will save agents the risk of having to travel all the time to the headquarters.
“In those days, Zonal Coordinators had enormous powers. If any controller has problem, he will meet with the zonal coordinator without going to Abuja and they will solve the problem. But all the while, things started changing and all trade problems were taken to Abuja and the zone becomes redundant.
“If the zones are given more powers to operate, they will do more than what they are doing now and that will be better and we will not have to be travelling to Abuja every now and then. You can meet with the Zonal Coordinator anytime but it will take days even weeks before you can see the CG or DCG in Abuja,” he said.