Col. Hamid Ali doesn’t seem to know what is going on in his agency, the Nigerian Customs Service or he simply decides to look the other way, leaving Customs with the same rot he met it.
Apart from harassing importers and his men in service, there is nothing revolutionary about his days in Customs.
These past few days he has sent his men to lock up car shops or impound vehicles whose duties were not paid. Ali forgets that no vehicle enters Nigeria without payments made to his men either legally or illegally. It is an indictment on him to have 90% of the vehicles in Nigeria without paying duties.
Let me guide him on some salient issues he seems to ignore:
- Customs is the number three most corrupt government agency after police and judiciary. Why are custom men corrupt? Because of poor renumeration.
Despite the very dangerous jobs the men perform, they are about the least paid among government agencies. The number three top revenue-generating agency in the country should at least earn a salary at par with NNPC, CBN or FIRS. Hamidu Ali failed to make case for the federal government to improve pay and working conditions for his men.
With so much money making opportunities around them, it is tempting for them to get involved in acts of corruption.
- Yes, people smuggled cars along the land borders but at least 90% are willing to legally pass through Customs and pay duties. However, the customs service said only seaports are allowed to accept duty.
This made car dealers smuggle their vehicles illegally and pay “duties” to custom men who looked the other way. It is impossible to bring the car through land borders without the knowledge and cooperation of custom men.
What Ali ought to do is to legalize vehicle entry through land borders so that monies that went to the pockets of his men will go to the federal government.
- Nigeria has the most chaotic ports system in the world. After paying duty on vehicles, importers are made to pay bribes to custom men, immigration personnel, police, navy, fire brigade, quarantine, NSCDC, SSS, and NAPTIP.
Nowhere in the world, you find this kind of arrangement. Ali met Customs operations in this shambolic manner and will leave it that way.
- After all the hurdles to finally get their vehicles out of the port, importers have over 20-30 customs and police checkpoints along the road where they must pay bribes at each stop from Lagos to any part of the country.
The sum of 1000 for customs and another 1000 for police is collected at each stop. A person going to Abuja will spend as much as N80,000 before reaching his destination.
This is despite the fact that he has paid his customs duties in full. With this kind of arrangement, there is no motivation for people to pay the duty again.
If in doubt Col Hamidu should disguise himself and attempt to drive an imported car from Lagos to Abuja and see things for himself.
- After arriving at their destination, importers are under constant harassment by custom men for more bribes. The excuse most times was that the duty was either not genuine or the duty was underpaid.
This is the custom service Ali met and it seems that is how he is going to leave it.
An international best practice is everywhere for him to copy. He can hire consultants that can put him through.
Ideally, importers don’t need to have any physical contact with the staff of customs unless there is a problem with contraband.
Otherwise, in saner climes, you fill a form and declare your goods. It is inspected and you pay duty online and you are off with your goods in a matter of minutes. In Nigeria to clear a car takes up to 21 days.
Importers should have nothing to do with police, DSS, Immigration, Navy or for goodness sake, quarantine service.
What has a car got to do with animals? Or what has police got to do with imports except if there is a crime. What is DSS personnel doing in ports when we have a war and security challenges everywhere?
By Aliyu Nuhu