Of Customs and unpaid duties

THE Nigeria Custom Service (NCS) seems bent on having its way on the issue of unpaid duties, regardless of the public perception. For that reason, it is currently on the verge of a face-off with the Senate on account of the bellicose attitude of its Comptroller General, Colonel Hameed Ali (retd).

When the Senate recently summoned the Customs’ boss over the controversial insistence of the NCS on its ultimatum on unpaid duties, the CG failed to honour the Senate’s invitation, blaming this on an unforeseen bereavement.  When he eventually did, he failed to appear in the outfit’s uniform as demanded by the Senate, following which he was asked to appear at a later date.   Thus, an unnecessary spectacle of power play between the NCS boss and the Senate was foisted on a public whose interest has been taken for granted by those who sadly are paid to serve it.

For quite a while, the NCS has been a thorn in the flesh of the same public. In the guise of reaching its revenue target, the NCS has gone overboard in remorselessly inflicting serial pains on the traders and importers who form the bulk of its relevant public and foisted a regime of steep prices on the consumers of imported products. Before its recent volte face, the NCS was reluctant to grant any form of reprieve to those it said owed the Federal Government import duties on their vehicles. It has immense powers to confiscate these vehicles regardless of whatever shady deals had been struck between its men and smugglers prior to importation.

To be sure, the NCS has a statutory duty to collect duties on behalf of the Federal Government. But this ideally should be prior to importation and any vehicle already within the country’s borders must have been with the knowledge of the NCS if it was efficient and transparent. Although the law recognises that import duty evasion at the borders is possible and that 100 per cent compliance at the border is impossible, smuggling would still have been unattractive if the NCS had lived up to its billing.  Had the NCS pursued smugglers with vigour and ensured that they paid for their crimes at all times, its current ultimatum, which was  widely  resisted because it came at a period of pervasive economic hardship, would have been entirely unnecessary.

It was also presumptuous to absolve the NCS officials of any blame in the criminal circumstances that permitted so many vehicles to be imported without the payment of the required duties. We are of the opinion that this is an indictment on the officials who initially connived with smugglers. Indeed, it is absurd for an agency to allow itself to be so easily compromised by smugglers, then turn round to punish car owners in a blaze of spurious patriotism.

Although the ultimatum has been suspended, it is still  imperative to make the NCS to live up to its billing as a properly equipped, efficient and transparent outfit manning the country’s borders. It is not proper for its operatives to continue to compromise themselves at the borders, only to go after those that they had obtained bribes from under the pretext of meeting revenue targets.