The 122-year-old Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) may be moving closer to a profound overhaul, as the Senate last Wednesday passed the Customs and Excise Re-enactement Bill 2013.
The Customs Bill, which has generated a lot of controversy in recent times, especially with allegations that it would strip the President of powers to approve and grant waivers, was passed unanimously.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, said that the bill will give Customs operatives reasonable incentive for optimal performance.
Meanwhile, stakeholders in the maritime sector have expressed divergent views on the passage of the Customs Bill by the Senate.
While some applaud the decision of the Senate, saying that the passage of the bill is long overdue, others argue that the bill may not be signed into law if some of its observations, especially the sections, which deprive the President and the Finance Minister of the powers to approve and grant waivers were not amended.
National President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, posited that the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA), which the Service presently operates on is obsolete, decrying the delay in the passage of the Customs and Excise Re enactment Bill, which, according to him, was politicised due to various interest groups.
Shittu said that the passage of bill is a welcome development, so long it does not outlaw operations of Customs clearing agents at the ports.
“If they amend the obsolete laws, and make it modern to what is obtainable internationally, it is a welcome development, but, if the bill outlaws our profession, then we will now know we have war to star,t” he warned.
The ANLCA boss expressed hopes that the new law will help address the challenge of information technology, which has been a major setback in the Customs clearance process.
“My major support in it is on information technology (IT), because we can only enjoy our job when we do e–transaction and reduce interface between humans. This job is not like this elsewhere; it is only in Nigeria that you we need to see my face because I need to exchange something. So, if the IT area is given the seriousness it’s required, it will be to our own advantage, “he said.
On his part, former Chairman, ANLCA Tin-Can Island Port Chapter, Mr. Kayode Collins Farinto, said that the President may not append his signature on the bill if the recommendations noted by some “stakeholders” are not inputted into the new law.
According to Farinto, critical stakeholders were not given the opportunity to air their views when the bill was passed by the House of Representatives.
“Unfortunately critical stakeholders were not involved when this bill was actually cooked and that was why we noticed it and wrote to the committee. We are Nigerians and we have every legitimate right to make inputs to bills that we noticed are going to affect our day to day operation. So, I’m sure that the 44 observations that we noticed, such as stripping off the powers of the Honorable Minister of Finance and the power of the President would have been addressed. If not, we will still fight it and we will tell Mr. President not to sign it,” he said.
Also speaking, Founder, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, (NAGAFF), Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, said the passage of the Customs Bill by the Senate is most appropriate as it will help position Customs more effectively in international trade, adding that it will also bring partial autonomy to the Service.
“The passage of the CEMA Bill by the Senate Committee on Finance is most appropriate, because,it will help to position Customs more effectively. If you read between the lines of the CEMA Bill, there is a resemblance of partial autonomy, which will definitely increase the efficiency of Customs. It is a welcome development. We all appreciate the effort of the National Assembly now, particularly the Senate and we hope that the two houses will seat so that the President can give his final approval,” Aniebonam said.