Our arrest of smugglers not a fire brigade approach – Egbudin

Area Controller, Seme Border Area Command of the Nigeria Customs Service, Comptroller Willy Egbudin recently took over the mantle of leadership at the command. At a media chat in Seme penultimate Wednesday, Egbudin presented the command’s scorecard for 2013 where he revealed breaking the command’s record in the last years by generating an unprecedented revenue collection in December. He also spoke on strategies put in place by the command to curtail indiscriminate use of firearms and accidental discharge by officers.  Shulammite ‘Foyeku was there for SHIPS & PORTS DAILY.

Excerpt:

Since you took over as the controller in November 2013, how would you assess your performance?

The command has a monthly revenue target of N1,095,000,000 which translates to N13,140,000,000 annually. In the month of December 2013, the command did not only meet its target but surpassed it by N161,666,179.35 and this represents 14.77%. It is worthy of note that the December 2013 revenue collection of N1,260,736,639.35 is the highest monthly collection in the last 3 years. The total revenue collected in 2013 was N8,482,231,289.81 which represents about 65% of the annual target. However, my management team and I have been brainstorming to identify and block all perceived sources of revenue leakages. On smuggling activities, when I came on board, my message to the communities and traditional rulers during my familiarization tour had been a clarion call to partner with us in the protection of the National economy by discouraging smuggling among their subjects. We have been utilizing every opportunity at various fora to enlighten the citizenry on the ills of smuggling and this is an area where we also seek collaboration with the mass media. In 2013, the command made 1,102 seizures with a Duty Paid Value (DPV) of N548,389,417.00. This is a significant improvement on the seizures made in the corresponding year of 2012 where only 480 seizures with a DPV of N227,035,726.00 were recorded. The 29 suspects arrested in connection with the seizures are at various stages of investigation and prosecution. Goods seized during the period include, motor vehicles, motor cycles, frozen poultry products, rice, spirits, second hand clothes, shoes, bags among others.

What are you doing to ensure that the alleged use of firearm by officers and accidental discharge that has created tension between officers and villagers around this axis is reduced?

When I came in, I was not too happy about what I read that happened in the past, about the use of firearms by officers on smugglers. I know in the past, we recorded some death as a result of use of firearm by officers. We know the smugglers themselves are hard and that is why when I came in I had to visit the traditional rulers, talk to the community for them to understand the dangers of smuggling because most of the time, when the smugglers are coming in with their smuggled items , some officers who want to stop them are always challenged. What I have done is to educate my officers during parade; I always address them that you don’t need to fire any bullet to make arrest. Checking of smugglers is not actually based on fire brigade approach so we talk of intelligence because if you look at the number of rice we seized recently, they are enormous, well over 4,000 bags of rice. These items were not stopped by firing any bullet, what we did was on intelligence. When you gather intelligence, what you need do is to go to the location at a particular time so that there won’t be any casualty. For example, we knew where the rice we seized recently was, and we went there to evacuate them. it is only when you say you want to catch them in the act, that is when you are going to get casualty because they too will want to fight back . So you do things seamlessly to ensure that there is no casualty at all when you are making the seizures of all these things. Since I came, we have not recorded any clash at all talk less of having any casualty. We have been discussing with the community that what they need to do is to leave the trade which is illegal, because government is against it and whenever government puts up a policy they have a reason for it and we must respect it.

What would you say about the illegal checkpoints mounted along the major roads?

I have looked into it because I noticed recently that there are proliferations of checkpoints between here and Gbaji which is not suppose to be. We know this road is an international route and if you have too many checkpoints, it will disturb the flow of movement. We will do our best to address the issue. I am going to visit the commissioner of police and discuss this issue with him that all the police that are on the highway mounting checkpoints should clear from there. I have also told my officers to leave there and they have actually left. Those we still have there are the police and sometimes the soldiers who say they are doing patrol. We need to talk to their bosses to ensure they don’t constitute any form of nuisance on the highway. They are allowed to patrol but not to station officers on a particular place. So that is where we are going to iron out things.

One of the challenges facing the command is improper transit of imported vehicles from Benin Republic to Nigeria, how is the situation now?

This is an area I looked into since I came in because it is going to enhance our revenue generation. Discussion is on going with our Beninoise counterpart to address the problem of appropriate transit of imported vehicles from Republic of Benin to Nigeria. I have met with the Customs of Benin and this issue forms part of our discussion and they said they are ready to do it. I’ve also discussed with the Benin Customs CG on phone and he was interested in looking at the problem. Even the customs officers’ attaches in Benin, I have been meeting with them and I have a report that they have actually agreed to start handing these vehicles to us. That is how it ought to be. If goods are on transit, you are supposed to hand them over to customs at the border before they go. Our Comptroller General too has also been of help. He was the one who actually contacted the Benin Customs CG and they are actually doing something about it. I am sure we are very close in tying up that area and with the look of things in a very short time, it will materialize.

Has your meeting with the traditional rulers and other stakeholders yielded any positive result?

Yes, we have received the blessing and support of the Oba of Lagos. In fact, he told me he has even called some of his traditional rulers here to cooperate with me in our fight against smuggling and the last time one of the traditional rulers visited me, he confirmed it that the Oba of Lagos called him that the new area controller solicited for his support and he has been talking to them to extend their support to me, which means they have actually listened to my plea. It is through such meetings that you can actually reduce crisis and casualty. If you say you want to stop this thing without talking to them, you cannot achieve anything. I want to be seizing every opportunity that we have such meetings, to talk to them and let them understand that smuggling is inimical to the growth of our economy.

How has the ETLS scheme affected your revenue generation?

The ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) is a trade facilitation tool adopted by the ECOWAS member states to promote regional trade and integration. Importation under this scheme do not attract payment of duty but a charge of 1% CISS (Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme). During the period under review, ETLS compliant goods with a CIF Value of N6, 821,862,901.38 were cleared through the command. The revenue loss as a result of the concession amount to N1, 987,249,832.55, while the 1% CISS amounted to N63, 703,299.00.

What other constraints do you have to contend with?

The marshy and swampy nature of the vast land area of the command tends to retard the movement of our patrol vehicles in the hinterland. Ignorance of some members of the public about government fiscal policies and workings of the border and the unwillingness of some to embrace change. The abandonment of the Joint ECOWAS border reconstruction project and the negative shadow it cast on the image of the country are some of the challenges we had to contend with. However, despite these constraints, we are determined more than ever to pursue our set objectives. Let me also express our profound gratitude to our Comptroller General, Abdullahi Dikko Inde and his management team for the commitment, motivation, and logistical support towards ensuring a modern customs process for which we owe our success.