By Uche Usim
Following another hike in Customs import duty rate from N282 per dollar to an all-time high of N313, importers and clearing agents say the development appears the final death knell to wipe off the nation’s import community.
In June, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), in response to the flexible exchange rate introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), adjusted the import exchange rate system from N197 to N282.
Thousands of consignments caught in the sudden change were affected by the hike forcing importers to part with large chunks of money for clearance.
They had barely recovered from the June shock when the Customs, following a directive from the central bank and the Finance Ministry (its supervising Ministry), jerked up the duty exchange rate to N313 to a dollar.
Lamenting the increase, an importer, Williams Okechukwu, said, “importers are finished in Nigeria. Nothing is working. This increase is like asking importers to go and die.
You opened your Form M with N282 and by the time you want to clear, you’re told it’s N313. This is the height of government’s insensitivity. Many of our members have closed shop, with their workers laid off because cost of goods have doubled and it’s still going to increase with this development. Government shouldn’t kill people to realise revenue. We need to protest this wickedness,” he stated.
Also lamenting the development, the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) said it was jolted by the increase.
The association’s National Publicity Secretary, Kayode Farinto, said: “We woke up this morning (Monday) to see that NCS has for the second time in less than two months changed the exchange rate to N313 for all declarations. This is absurd, wrong and barbaric considering the fact that many importers have done their transactions and opened Form M at N282.
“This will surely have its backlash effect because the government is actually taking people for a ride. Leaders in the maritime industry, for once, need to come together to fight this injustice. We all need to be part of this struggle since we are all stakeholders in the industry,” he said.
For the Customs, the increase was a mere compliance with a Federal Government directive. According to a government source in Abuja, the development, though unfriendly to importers, will improve Customs’ revenue.
“No one should blame Customs. They’ve complied with government’s directive. Any grievances should be directed to the Ministry of Finance. The CBN originates the new duty rate as directed by the Finance Ministry.
“They resumed work on Monday and found the new rate on the system and said that must be applied to all imports with immediate effect,” the source stated.
Recall that when Customs increased the duty rate from N197 to N282 in June, the PTML Chapter of ANLCA protested the hike by going on strike for three days.
But ANLCA said its action would be determined by the National Executive Committee (NECOM) of ANLCA.