NAGAFF accuses Finance Ministry of starving Customs of funds

The National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) has expressed strong concerns with perceived, deliberate underfunding of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and stressed the need for partial autonomy of the service from the appendage of the Federal Ministry of Finance.

The associattion’s founder, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam has already sent a letter titled RE: TRANSFORMATION PROGRAMME AND PORT REFORMS OF THE PRESIDENT, FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA and dated August 5, 2014, to President Goodluck Jonathan, stressing that the underfunding of the Customs could negatively affect the performance of the service.

“We have observed from our strategic point as critical stakeholders that at the moment, it is apparent that the Nigeria Customs Service is being underfunded which may be currently affecting its operations and the freight forwarding business,” Aniebonam stated, stressing that its understanding of the President Jonathan’s transformation agenda implies a genuine desire “to usher in development and prosperity to the Nigerian people”.

Highlighting that the body wrote in view of its role “as very critical stakeholders in the maritime transport, freight forwarding and Customs facilitation sector”, Dr. Aniebonam advised President Jonathan to unburden the Customs of the lackluster performing Webb Fontaine, as its frequent equipment breakdown was already taking severe toll on Service delivery to the port users.

“The constant down time of the ASYCUDA System being handled and managed by Webb Fontaine most times slow down automation. We suggest that the Nigeria Customs Service be allowed to build a robust system that can accommodate and resolve the problem of down time syndrome. This is capital project which cannot be satisfactory handled with the current underfunding of the Nigeria Customs administration and management.

“Your Excellency, it is in the public domain that between 2010 and 2014 (up to July) the approved budget for the Service may be N378,974,132,999.80. Our checks revealed that Nigeria Customs Service may have just received N279,423,858,602.50 leaving a balance of N99,550,274,397.30.  We have observed that the morale of officers is very low because their entitlements are not being paid on time and most times, they are not attended to.

“It is a fact that the Nigeria Customs Service is a very critical agency of the government saddled with huge responsibilities which include but not limited to revenue collection, anti-smuggling functions, inter agency support service, business development and trade information services, post audit function, provision of trade statistics and trade facilitation etc.

“Under the Destination Inspection Policy the Nigeria Customs Service has been given additional duty to manage and maintain scanners, capacity building in the area of training of officers and building super structures and other capital projects that will enhance and sustain its operations. We are concerned because its current problem of underfunding does not add value to our businesses in the Customs ports.  As Nigerians, we are equally worried because the Nigerian State is facing some security challenges.  We wish to remind your Excellency, that the anti-smuggling function of the service is strategic on matters of border security.

“It is no longer news that our borders are porous which is aiding the activities of criminal elements like the Boko Haram”, Aniebonam further noted, urging Jonathan to investigate why the NCS, despite its strategic importance to the success of the transformation agenda, was still being underfunded.

“The way forward should include the much expected new Customs law pending at the National Assembly seeking to grant the Service partial autonomy,” he stated.

Meanwhile the Chairman, Tin Can Island Port (TCIP) chapter of NAGAFF, Azubuike Ekweozor has threatened to resign if the national leadership of the association continues making “outrageous financial demand” from him.

Ekweozor made this known to journalists in his office on Wednesday.

He said the leadership of the association including the Board of Trustees (BoT) had been asking for money they knew was beyond his capability to provide.

“The type of financial pressure the national leadership of the association is putting on me is beyond my power. They forgot that there are limits I can do because there are things I will do that will be contrary to the rules and regulation of the headquarters.

“As the chapter Chairman of Tin Can Island, I know I am doing my best to impress the headquarters, in terms of finance, but the pressure I am getting from the board of trustees and the headquarters is getting too much.

“They forgot that everything is not about money or returns but about what you do to move the association forward.

“My main priority of being the Chairman of the association is not about money but to ensure that I move NAGAFF Tin Can Island Port to the next level,” he said.

He stated further that while members of the association had not been willing to pay practising fees in the past, his leadership has been succeeded in turning the situation around.

“We the Executive of Tin Can Island ensure that our revenues are remitted as at when due, we ensure we do not lag behind other chapters no matter how difficult we find the situation.

“When I took over, I ensured I reformed the association especially reviving the collapsed relationship between the association and the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS).

“I positioned NAGAFF as an institution among the stakeholders, especially Customs and other sister associations,” Ekweozor said.

When asked whether he had discussed with the founder of the association about his purported resignation, Ekweozor said, “I never discussed my resignation with the founder, Dr Boniface Aniebonam, neither did I discuss it with the national leadership because I want to take them by surprise.”

He said he had a good relationship with the founder because he mentored him and he was not resigning from the association but from the position he held as the Chairman

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