We have strengthened our anti-smuggling operations around border areas

Assistant Comptroller-General of Customs (ACG) Victor Gbemudu, served for two years as Coordinator, Zone ‘A’ of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) prior to his deployment to the Customs Headquarters in Abuja. But barely four months after, he was posted back to Lagos to coordinate the activities of the zone for the second time. 

In this interview with SHIPS &PORTS DAILY’s Shulammite ‘Foyeku, Gbemudu expressed high hopes that with the increased volume of importation towards the end of the year, the NCS would meet its target of N1.2 trillion.

He also speaks on strategies, which the zone under his watch, has put in place to secure the borders against the activities of smugglers, especially as the yuletide season approaches, to prevent revenue leakages.

Excerpts:

Few months after your deployment to Abuja, you were redeployed to Lagos as the coordinator in charge of Zone ‘A’ – a position you held for two years before your deployment in January. What is responsible for this movement?
Well, this is a community service. In January, a lot of people were promoted and at that time, the CG felt that probably because I had been here for two years, there was need to bring in somebody else, because that is the way the Service operates.
I was even surprised when the Comptroller-General said I had to come back. But I don’t know why. I just come and I do my work. I don’t overheat any system and for the two years I was here, we didn’t have problem in the Zone and when I left, I don’t know what happened, but I just know that sometime in May, I was asked to go back.
Since I came back after my leave, the office still remains the same. So, you would be in the position to do that kind of feedback mechanism, not me doing it. As far as I am concerned, I just face my work.

Customs is expected to generate N1.2 trillion out of the N4 trillion national budget. With the kind of position you are occupying as the coordinator in charge of Zone ‘A’ where the bulk of the Service revenue is generated from, what other strategies would you want to put in place in addition to existing ones to ensure that you meet the target?
70 to 75 percent of the entire revenue is expected from this zone. So with that, we can’t afford to sleep. We are making sure we are always on top of issues and try as much as possible to drive government policies in order to realise our target. That is why every month, I meet with the Area Controllers, gear them up and reiterate some of the policies of the Comptroller-General for us. We are now working hard especially on our Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR). You know initially, it started with some teething problem, but now you can see it has been fine-tuned and PAAR is coming out regularly and promptly and people are paying their duties. I know with time, we will be able to get to our desired goal. Again, these are ember months, September, October, November, and December. From statistics we see that there is more inflow of imported goods at this last quarter of the year. Goods are coming in for Christmas and the New Year so we expect increase in cargo throughput into the country. With that, we will smile to the banks in terms of revenue collection. That is what I hope and I know we are going to achieve that. You also know  that the duty rate has come down on rice, so we expect more inflow in importation of rice. We have also strengthened  our anti- smuggling activities, and we hope with all the seizures we are making, especially on rice, a lot of people would have learned their lessons, amend their ways and import through the normal channel.
As you know, rice is not banned, but it has to come in through approved routes, which are the seaports, not the border stations. You can see some of these seizures of rice we have been recording in FOU, Oyo, Idiroko, Seme and Western Marine Command.
With these amounts of seizures, people should have learned their lessons and use the approved route which would translate into higher revenue collection for Customs.

Towards the end of the year, it is expected that volume of importation will increase. With that, what mechanism are you putting in place as the coordinator of the Zone to ensure that smugglers do not use the opportunity to smuggle in banned items, especially rice?
We are very vigilant and we will be more on alert as we approach the yuletide season. Like I said earlier, we have strengthened our anti- smuggling activities especially around the border areas.
You noted earlier that the Federal Operations Unit is making a lot of seizures especially on vehicles. Don’t you think that is an indication that the level of compliance to trade regulations is still low?
That is a Nigerian factor. A lot of people are not compliant to the regulations of the system and I think that is why a lot of enlightenment has to be done especially from the media. Talk to the stakeholders and the public to do what is right. We are not saying that cars cannot come in through the border stations; they can, but they must come in through the approved border stations and pay their duties. Most of the vehicles seized do not pay duty because they came in through unapproved routes.
The CG, however, in his own magnanimity, said the owners of those assorted cars recently seized by FOU should pay their duties, otherwise it would have been outright seizure going by section 47 and 48 of the Customs and Excise Management Act.
So I think we must give kudos to the CG for that.

It was alleged recently that some commands within the Zone have commenced full implementation of the auto policy as against the December 31
deadline. How true is this?

I think they were misinformed that levy has been re-introduced on all vehicles. It is just on new vehicles not used vehicles. The decision of the government on used vehicles till stands till January next year. We implement government policies, we don’t create policies. So I frown at it when people say Customs said this or that. Is it Customs that makes the law? We do not make the laws. Customs is an agency of government and when government rolls out policies, we go ahead to implement it. It is just like the rice policy, ours is to implement the law because that is what we are paid to do. Again, government in its own wisdom do some of these things to protect its own industries. We import almost everything. Unknown to us, we are creating wealth outside. If you go to some of these textiles industries, they are closed down and the China’s factories are booming; we are going there to import, everybody is an importer. It is time for us to go back to the drawing board and look at issues that are threatening our tomorrow.

 



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