Prince Ozo Chukwurah

We will help Customs to meet the 2012 revenue target – Chukwurah

Prince Ozo Chukwurah, the Western Zone Coordinator of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) is a journalist’s delight anytime, as any encounter with him is thought provoking, because he carefully marshaled his points with facts.
Chukwurah, in this interview bares his mind on the controversy surrounding the recent benchmark for some category of goods by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and ANLCA’s plan to help the NCS realize its revenue target for 2012, through his association’s Presidential Compliance Committee (PCC), which heads. He spoke with Ships & Ports’ Uju Ozoeze.

As ANLCA’s Western Zone Coordinator, please tell us what you have been up to lately?
A lot! For instance, I am the Chairman of the association’ presidential compliance committee and this committee has a lot going on now concerning the recent benchmark set on some imported items by the Nigeria Customs Service.
Customs has been given a task to generate a certain level of revenue higher than what it has been giving before and based on this the CGC and his management team invited the association’s national executives to Abuja to discuss how to meet this target. We were able to hear from them what they need and pledged our compliance on this issue. You know enforcing certain laws is usually difficult when it starts but there are some grey areas that were supposed to be cleared by the customs, we were in touch with them and they are getting it cleared.
They rolled out some items, in a piece of paper, that have been used in the past by importers to cut down their revenue generation by not paying the exact duties on them, and set a benchmark for them. We tried to look into this, and we equally made them understand that a container, which can have different products in it, cannot pay a specific price.
Some people can have one type of product in one container or different types of products in the container. And most items that are mentioned in that piece of paper were very confusing so we tried to liaise with the customs office to see how we can get clearance on it. These are the grey areas that we are trying to see how to handle and initiatives are being used to get them sorted out.
So, the Presidential Compliance Committee is out to enlighten and educate our members on the need to comply absolutely with the customs directives on payment of duties by equally informing and educating their importers that there is need for them to make honest declaration so that they will not fall back to going to receive debit note thereby delaying the clearance of their goods and incurring a lot of demurrage. So we are setting up a task force to direct our members if they have problems, to assist them and make sure they comply totally with the decisions reached as were discussed at Abuja and in turn to inform the customs authority that they have no right to allow any type of extortion if such compliance is made. All government agencies should equally comply with the agreement as discussed and with this the industry can move forward.

Are you saying that the benchmarked duty payable values on some items, recently set by customs was what gave birth to this committee? 
The Presidential Compliance Committee has been in existence but our activities were not fully known until just recently that we had this meeting in Abuja few days ago. So our activities are now coming up though we are having a lot of challenges meeting up to the demands of our people.

With some members of the association decrying the duty payable of the commodities in question as outrageous, how then would your committee get them to comply? 
There is no way a new fiscal policy that has to do with increase will be introduced and everybody will be happy with it but I must tell you very clearly that we are only customs’ brokers. The payment of duty is actually done by our importers.
They know the value of what they are bringing in. If there is any bad they think that customs is not getting it well, it is only their importers that have the full right to react. The agents are just brokers. I tell you it is very difficult to tell you exactly what my importer is bringing in or if his declaration is as honest as he has declared it. And if there is a case that an importer is being marginalized or given what he ought not to pay, it is the duty of the importer to tell his agent say no. In most cases, some overzealous officers for debit note (DN) whereas there is no need for that, the importer has the right to tell his agent to say no to that DN and that is the essence of the PCC coming in to say this one may stand or not stand and if they say no we can take the problem to the highest hierarchy of customs. If the importer or the agent is threading the wrong path we can advise and call him to order.

Does the committee see any impending problems that will stand in its way while trying to get agents to comply?
The problems are there even before we started. The agents would not be happy with us especially when we tell them to comply but we will take our time to enlighten them. We will educate and defend them when necessary. We will make them understand that the “panadol” they are taking is actually not meant for their own headache and they should go to the right person who has the headache.

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