Following a report that the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) lost 70 officers to smuggling related attacks in 2016, the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) has faulted Customs approach to tackling smuggling, saying that the service should adopt more of tariff-induced punitive measures rather than outright seizures of smuggled goods.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Stanley Ezenga at the weekend, the freight forwarders association expressed concerns over the death of the Customs officers in the course of their official duty, but added that it was “definitely not comfortable with the way and manner the Nigeria Customs Service is carrying out its anti-smuggling functions of the Service.”
NAGAFF suggested that Customs should work at getting punitive duties on goods imported by tariff evaders, instead of seizing the goods, as this tend to provoke the traders and the alleged smugglers of trade goods to resort to desperate acts of confronting Customs officers with arms.
It stated, “In the opinion of NAGAFF, the policy of Government on trade is quite laudable in the interest of the nation. However our concern is the approach of the Customs in tackling smuggling activities in Nigeria. Except otherwise to the contrary the opinion of NAGAFF is to state that laws are made for man and not man for the law.
“NAGAFF is definitely not comfortable with the way and manner the Nigeria Customs Service is carrying out its anti-smuggling functions of the Service. And for the avoidance of doubt, the subject matter is about trade and it is not like a case of murder, kidnapping, armed robbery and terrorism etc. Excluding goods like fire arms, hard drugs, manila, blank invoice, used tyres etc, the expectation of NAGAFF is that Customs should target all traded goods with the intension to evade Customs duty and bring them to focus for duty payment and penalty therein.
“It is most unfortunate that the Customs prefers seizure, upon seizure which tend to provoke the traders and the alleged smugglers of trade goods to resort to their desperate acts to confront Customs officers violently.”
The association observed that freight forwarders and Customs officers are like the two sides of a coin for the reasons that the Customs law which established the Nigeria Customs Service equally gave rise to the existence of Licensed Customs Agents as secondary freight forwarders and that as such, whatever that may affect Customs officers has a multiplier effect on our members.
NAGAFF further stated, “Our condolences go to the families of these gallant officers and the Customs Service. Without prejudice to the powers of the Customs to patrol freely within the country in search of goods suspected to have evaded Customs duty, it is a law that such patrol and visit to areas of concern must be under reasonable intelligence gathering. This aspect of Customs duty is falling under ancillary function wherein the real operation should be centered at the entry points.
“The entry points herein referred to, should be all approved seaports, airports and land borders. This underscores the real meaning of Customs and Excise as it were. The real meaning of Customs duty connotes duty paid at the entry points whereas excise connotes duty paid by excise traders. The subject matter under reference is the avoidable death of officers and men in the hands of smugglers arising from the inherent abuse of anti-smuggling operations. It is on record that internal trade corridors have been under breach in the name of anti-smuggling functions of the service.”