Victor Osita Gbemudu

Customs will contribute its own quota to nation building – Gbemudu

Assistant Comptroller-General of Customs Victor Osita Gbemudu recently took over as the Zonal Coordinator, Zone ‘A’ of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), from newly -retired Assistant Comptroller-General Mohammed Othman. In this interview with some journalists in his office, Gbemudu outlines his plans for the Zone. Shulammite Olowofoyeku was there for Ships & Ports.

Zone ‘A’ where you serve as the Zonal Coordinator is the zone that houses almost all the revenue generating commands, what are your plans for the Zone?
The Comptroller-General has started off by having an interactive session with importers. I hope to key into the maiden town hall meeting he had with the importing public and stakeholders, and have such meeting twice or once in a month, bring in the importers and stakeholders and let us have a forum where they can all come out and air their views, then we will proffer solution to it and move forward. Most of the things that have happened just recently are lack of understanding; some of the importers did not even know their left from their right. We have to come in and educate them and they really have to understand and know where we are coming from. With that, I think we would be able to partner together. The key thing there is to reach out and have a forum where we will always meet to brainstorm and proffer solutions to some of our challenges.

What measures do you intend to put in place to checkmate officers who allegedly connive with importers or agents to perpetuate corrupt practices and the likes at the ports?
Corruption often starts from where these declarations are made. That is why we always ask agents to make genuine declarations. When you do, you certainly will not have any problem. For instance, if you have fully built air conditioner, come and say you have a fully built air conditioner not that you have fully built air conditioner and you are telling us they are CKD’s. So when agents make genuine declarations, the issue of corruption will not arise, because when consignments are genuinely declare, it goes straight to the system. These sharp practices do come about when importers and agents try to short change agents and as a result of that customs officers get involve. My Comptroller General has always been keen on zero tolerance for corruption and that is what I stand for. Genuine declaration is the bottom line.

Some border commands where smuggling strives fall within your Zone, what warning do you have for intending or those already in the act of smuggling?
For all those who want to divert their consignments through the border stations in order to evade duty payment, we still have our eagle eye there. Our officers are there to do their jobs. So I would rather urge the importing public to bring in goods through the appropriate and legal root and do genuine declaration and pay their duties. If you can afford these luxury goods, cars you should be able to afford the duties. The Lagos Zone, I know is like the hot bed of the nation because it is a centre of commerce. We are not relenting in our effort in collecting appropriate duty for the country. We know the oil sector contribute more than 80 percent of revenue base for the country, Customs too wants to participate and be part of nation building. The fact that the nation on its own is an import dependant country, it should be able to benefit from importation. Duties are to be duly assessed and collected.

What will you say of the controversy that led to the suspension of benchmark policy?
Benchmark came about as a result of non-compliance of some importers, because people bring in goods and they don’t want to say what they have. A lot of genuine importers and lot of industries don’t have issues about benchmark. They don’t even understand what we mean by benchmark because when they bring in their raw materials they state it. so and so goods are being released on the green lane, direct release. Even from our CPC, they don’t need to go for examination. They bring in 50, 100, 200 containers and they are not subjected to all these examination.

What measures do you intend to put in place to boost revenue collection within commands in your Zone since benchmark has been cancelled? 
The benchmark is just like a guide and it is not synonymous to N1 Trillion. However, there are checks and balances put in place not just within the Lagos Zone but within the Service so that there are no leakages. For instance, the management has announced that forthwith ships carrying cars and are loaded for Nigeria must have chassis number and the year of manufacture in the manifest, otherwise those ships will not be boarded by customs officers. These are ways of revenue leakages and we have decided to cut down on them.

What is the take on overtime cargoes abandoned at Ikorodu Terminal?
Customs is not holding back anybody to clear their overtime cargoes because government does need this revenue. People should not bring goods into the country and abandon them at the ports. Who are they abandoning these goods for? The media too should appeal to the importing public not to abandon their cargoes at the ports because government spends billions and trillions of naira to transfer these containers out of the ports.

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