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Seme customs in trouble as yuletide comes with smugglers

One of the objectives of the ongoing reforms of the Nigeria Custom Service (NCS) is to reposition its operations with a view to enhancing service delivery for Nigerians. The reforms which include: maximising the potentials of the service through capacity building; creation of human resource development department, to enhance the capacity building of officers and men of the service; embarking of incentives aimed at ensuring moral rebirth among the workforce, will also put NCS in line with global  scale.

Observers say the recent integration of Customs into the Nigerian Economic Team underscores the import the federal government attaches to the agency in revamping the economy.

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The Nigerian Custom Service was established in 1889 to facilitate trade and police our borders to prevent entry of contra band goods. President Goodluck Jonathan recently said his administration was fully committed to the implementation of reforms that would ensure that the operations of NCS conform to global best practices.

Jonathan, who spoke at a meeting with the secretary-general of the World Customs Organisation (WCO), Mr Kunio Mikuriyat said that the federal government fully appreciated the critical role an efficient customs service could play in national economic development.

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He said his administration would continue to give the leadership of NCS all the political support required to successfully reposition the service to meet globally acceptable standards of operation.

The Seme Area Command is one of the important commands of NCS. It is one of the busiest borders in the country as it serves as a major gateway between Nigeria and the ECOWAS Sub-region.

The command  is more of a war zone because of the beehive of activities characterized by the daily trading activities there. because of the commands strategic importance, security agencies like SSS, Nigeria Immigration Service, NAFDAC, NDLEA, Nigeria Immigration Border patrol and Police Bomb disposal are all deployed to the command for effective control of both lives and properties.

Compt. Sahabi A. Sadiq who was appointed Customs Area Comptroller, Seme Area Command last February said he is aware of the enormous tasks ahead of him. One of the tasks is declaring total war on smugglers and anti-smuggling activities notorious in the area.

According to him, armed with patriotism and zeal, officials of the command have been able to substantially block smuggling. He said the command has made 378 seizures with a duty paid value of N579,823,206 between January and September 2011.

The seizures include Elephant tusks seized from a Chadian, Concrete mixing machine, Jeeps and SUV vehicles disguised as diplomatic vehicles, bags of Indian hemps, bags of rice, vegetable oil, textile materials, second-hand clothes among others.

The command also made several seizures of narcotics valued at N405,900 which were transferred to the NDLEA together with a female suspects. Five suspects have been convicted, two cases are at various stages of prosecution, while the rest are still being investigated.

Recently, the command arrested two suspects involved in illegal exportation of two giant industrial concrete mixing machines valued at N8,869,823. The machines were imported into the country for home consumption, properly cleared, but diverted for export to neighbouring country. The command’s helmsman said the two suspects, including a foreigner have since been arraigned before a Federal High Court.

The command collected a cumulative sum of N4,905,922,030 as revenue between January and 21st October 2011 which is in line with  an annual revenue target by the service of N6 billion.

According to Sadiq, cargo clearing process has been tremendously enhanced in Seme because of the application of the Scanning System and ASYCUDA ++ adding that goods can be cleared in Seme border in less than 24hrs. He said as at Friday 21st October 2011, a total of 16,782 declarations were processed in the command starting from January 2011.

He vowed, “We facilitate trade without compromising our national security. We will continue to maintain our anti-smuggling operations against prohibited and unwholesome/harmful goods in and out of the country.”

Besides, the command has set up mechanism to forestall the abuse of ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme, which is of the schemes adopted by ECOWAS to facilitate sub-regional trade and integration.

So far, 1,454 trucks with ETLS complaint goods at a CIF valued of N4,114,448,786 were cleared under the scheme. While N38,989,839 which represents one percent of the FOB has been realized as revenue. The revenue loss as a result of the scheme concession stood at N1,142,345,524.

The command recently busted an attempt to smuggle 801 tons of iron rod through the scheme. This led to the recovery of N48 million. The Export section of the command has so far facilitated the export of 586 trucks of exportable goods with an FOB value of N4,103,832,155.

Sadiq said about 43 officers and men of this command have undergone several training both in and out of the country. Currently, officers and men of the command are being enlisted for more training and re-training programmes.

The Roving and Crack teams are now repositioned to comb all the bushes and mangroves to stamp out smuggling while  old vehicles of the command have recently been serviced while the new ones are being deployed to maximum usage to boost the logistics profile of the command and enhance the reach of the various patrol teams within the border area.

He said, “Smuggling business along our area of coverage is fast becoming a huge risk for those involved in it, as we would not spare any one arrested while suspected smuggled items are seized .We are not relenting. Our intelligence network is also getting wider in our bid to gather information on antics and strategy of smugglers to perpetuate their illicit trade through various forms of concealment and guise.”

He added, “Beyond just arresting suspected smugglers and seizing their wares, we are committed more than ever before to follow all cases to a logical conclusion by achieving court convictions for smuggling barons, their couriers and other accomplices in line with the provisions of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA).

“In the month of September 2011 when we collected over N635 million revenue with a record of 22 seizures of various prohibited items and foiled duty evasion attempts, we secured court conviction for two suspects. We hope to achieve more this yuletide periods when customs will be confronted with challenge of increased number of smugglers tempting to embrace the vice ahead of Sallah and Christmas celebrations.”

He however said the command is constrained by attitudinal problem of the Nigerian society: “One of the factors frustrating anti-smuggling activities in the country is human resistance to change. Anti-smuggling activities can be enhanced by attitudinal change geared towards compliance with government rules and regulations. The supply of vital information by patriots would no doubt boost our success in anti-smuggling operations.”

Beside placing the blame of its inability to fully chase away smugglers, observers say the command should do more in purging its men who have corrupt tendencies. They advise that the men of the command be carried along in the ongoing reform in NCS.


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