By Zika Bobby
Auwal Mohammed, Customs Area Controller in charge of Onne Port, has said that sincere declarations of cargoes will aid importers and agents in achieving speedy clearance and more profits.
The Customs boss, who said his command made N118.9 billion revenue and N1 billion worth of seizures in 2020, added that N11.6 billion was his monthly target for last year.
He said: “At least we must be able to meet a daily target of about N500 million to achieve N11.6 billion monthly. This was my initial focus. It was done with the cooperation of everyone here and I must thank my officers and all stakeholders for it.
“I emphasised to stakeholders here that there must be true and proper declaration in our collective national interest. I knew that, once there was sincere declaration, our problems were almost solved. The system is programmed in such a way that an importer can finish clearing his cargo within a short time; in the sense that once you load your container and obtain your bill of lading, you get Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR), you make true declaration through the DTI and proceed to make payment of duty immediately your cargo arrives.”
He stated that it will not “take 24 hours.” Customs will conduct proper examination and, if it tallies with what you declared, your cargo will be released to you. These saves time and avoids stress. Where we have delay and bottleneck is where we don’t have true declarations and that is the lack of compliance.
Now, if you look at it, once an agent or importer makes proper declaration, the Customs officer will be happy to conduct examination and perform his duty. There won’t be delay and there will be trade facilitation. Due to some infractions in documentation, we have to give additional demand notices (DN) before final release and exit. So, my advice to stakeholders here in this new year is just to increase their level of sincerity in declarations.
Our examination officers were uncompromising. They applied 100 per cent examination, no matter the volume of cargo, no matter the packs in the container or parcel of package. We conducted 100 per cent examination to make sure that what you declared and paid for is what you are carrying in your container.
I also urged stakeholders to try as much as possible to be well acquainted with the import prohibition list. Ignorance is not an excuse in law. So, all intending importers and their agents should bear this in mind. This advice guides most of their activities, too.
For those who attempted to violate the law, we showed our capacity to arrest them. It is a carrot and stick strategy. First, we appeal to you to do the right thing, we watch you do it. Where you fail, we drop the carrot and use the stick by making seizures. You can see our seizures made from importers and agents who deviated from the due process. At least, we were able to record a total of 37 seizures of smuggled items, ranging from tramadol, used tyres, second-hand clothings, foreign rice, vegetable oil, foreign detergent/soap, among others, with a total duty paid value above N1 billion.
Cumulatively, these are the things we did and shall continue to do to achieve and surpass set targets.
How were you able to acquaint yourself with your new work environment to achieve more?
Something worked in my favour. I served as Area Controller of Port Harcourt Area 1 Command before coming here. There is geographical proximity between there and here.
Many of the people I worked with in Port Harcourt are part of the stakeholders I continued with here in Onne Port.
They supported in passing our message of due process and zero tolerance for infractions to those who were new in working with me. The officers here are not completely new to me. As Customs officers with decades of experience, we pooled our knowledge of the job to achieve success.
We interacted very closely and seamlessly from day one when I came. I can boldly say that I settled down for work the very hour my immediate predecessor handed over to me and you can see the results.
To what extent have interactions with other government agencies been helpful in achieving your objectives?
A port is a strategic business environment requiring security and intelligence to manage. You know, we, Customs, must collect revenue, suppress smuggling and facilitate trade, and we cannot work in isolation of government agencies.
I committed quality time and energy into familiarising myself with heads of sister government agencies in the port and I am happy to report that they have been very supportive. I am enjoying quality intelligence sharing, which has strengthened our capacity in doing our job and securing our area.
On a percentage scale of zero to 100, how would you rate stakeholders’ compliance level in your area?
I would say 60 per cent level of compliance so far. I look forward to them improving where we won’t need to issue DN’s to meet shortfalls of revenue.
The seizures you see us make are fallouts of the 40 per cent non-compliance, which I believe will be improved upon this year 2021.
What is your advice for importers, exporters and others that are using Onne Port?
My advice to all importers and exporters that are coming through or passing out of Onne Port is that, first and foremost, there must be true and proper declaration.
All bonafide importers and exporters should acquaint themselves with the import prohibition list, they should know the difference between prohibition trade and absolute prohibition. They should also know that certain items are banned from exportation from Nigeria. They should acquaint themselves with that list.
Ignorance of the law is not an excuse. If any importer fraudulently attempts to import or export goods that are under control or under prohibition, the arms of the law will surely catch up with him and, no matter his status, he will be arrested, prosecuted and he will end up in jail.
Even if an importer is going for dutiable items, he should also endeavor to reach out to the nearest Customs station or even here in Onne Port, come to the Customs house and enquire about the status of the rate of duty of that item.
Some items could be 5 per cent, some 10, 20 or 35 per cent, so he should know the actual classification of the item he’s importing. There is no duty involved in export but there must be true and proper declaration in terms of the description of the goods he’s exporting and the quantity and the quality of goods he’s exporting
There are relevant agencies that may also certify that before Customs allows release. He has to have an NXP, his goods must be inspected and he must get a certificate, which we call the Clean Certificate of Inspection (CCI) from our service providers. We have many of them with about three of them operating in different ports. So, they must issue a certificate before we allow export to take place.
The only way we can move the clearance procedure forward and make clearance easy to facilitate trade and to have ease of doing business is through proper declaration.
NICIS II, which we are operating with now, has clearly made provision that an importer can clear his goods before landing of the goods.
All it takes is to open your Form M, get your bill of lading and invoice from your exporter, that is, your manufacturer abroad, then apply to the ruling centre where your PAAR will be issued to you; and once your PAAR is issued, you will have your tax base there. With your tax base, you should be able to pay your correct duty using appropriate classification. PAAR will give the classification of your item based on the document you present to them.
What will remain immediately your container lands is physical examination to make sure that what you declared and paid for tallied with the quantity description and the classification of goods you have in your container .
Once that is done, there is no reason why the 48 hours clearance will not be achieved because, once Customs confirms that your declaration tallies with what you have in your container, without wasting any time, they will release your goods to the terminal operators who also take their charges and give you another release, which Customs will acknowledge and give you the final exit.
How much of Customs dispute resolution mechanism have you put in place to facilitate trade?
After taking over, I activated the Customs Dispute Resolution Committee to achieve prompt dispute resolution. I run an open-door policy. I ensured that the compliance team office was close to my office, where issues requiring their attention are given speedy attention and high dedication.
Whoever is dissatisfied with the outcome of the committee’s resolution is allowed to explore all channels of communication in line with World Customs Organisation (WCO) standards and policies of Nigeria Customs Service administration, following the dictates of our books of instructions like the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA), tariff and others.
What is your management technique deployed to achieving much in the face of lesser opportunities and challenges like COVID-19 and #EndSARS?
I got my subordinates to key into my mission, just as I keyed into that of the Comptroller-General of Customs.
Last year was indeed challenging, with global cargo movements affected by COVID-19 and movement restrictions imposed in Rivers State through curfews. We also had additional restrictions during #EndSARS protests but we did better with our revenue collection.
We ensured maximum collection, prevented possible areas of revenue leakages, promoted a culture of due diligence and relented not in adhering to standard procedure of operations at the port. I would like to use the words ‘carry along’. Everyone was carried along in our teamwork. This is why I dedicate whatever success we achieved to every officer.
No one is too junior in the drive towards success. We move together.
How do you get your fellow officers, port users, and stakeholders key into your vision for common purpose?
I would summarise by saying it’s constant communication. I meet regularly to review strategies with my senior officers. Our work plan on any matter and implementing headquarters directives are broken down to all our surbodinates through circulars, unit heads and parade meetings.
For the stakeholders, like I said earlier, we have a seamless flow of interactions harping on compliance.
It becomes easier managing people and situations when everyone agrees to keep to rules.