Customs Area Controller of Seme Command, Mohammed Garba Uba in this interview with selected journalists led by Ajibola Abayomi, speaks on contributions of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to the economy.
Perspective On Migration
It is a reaction to the economic crisis in the world. In Africa, it is a reflection of failure of leadership coupled with massive corruption of financial institutions thereby leading to capital flight that gave room for investment into more stable economies. The capital flight negatively affects the African economy with most border communities lacking in basic amenities like road, school, hospital, industry and others. Lack of these facilities puts pressure on border residents to join the trade of smuggling, human and drug trafficking, prostitution and illegal activities. These vices also encourage rural-urban drift. If these facilities are made available it will curb the rate of crime because migration is part of security risks. In Nigeria however, the government has solution if only those engaging in irregular migration can look in the direction of the NCS. For instance on locally produced goods for exportation there is tax free policy to encourage local industries to thrive.
Products like cassava, yam, fibre and others are tax free for importation with additional 30% cash incentive on total exportation to be paid by government to the farmers. We are pleading with the media to make the information available to Nigerians so that they can take the advantage to earn revenue to improve their living conditions and help the country to earn additional foreign exchange too. There is also tax holiday approved by the government for those who can import facilities to produce locally consumed products in Nigeria. All these will help to prevent capital flight. Customs has a dedicated desk to enlighten Nigerians on importation and to protect this economy. There is one year of tax holiday on exercise duty for those producing in Nigeria. Importation of fertilizer by farmer is tax free. Machine for industrialisation is free only spare parts are 5% charged by the customs. So we need information to assist the people.
Security is very important. Where there is irregular movement of people, there is tendency for security breach. Wherever there is no security, capital don’t stay. At Seme we have one-stop boarder post with global standard. It started in Africa in 2000. In 2004, the first of its kind was inaugurated in the east Africa between Zimbabwe and Zambia called joint border for movement of persons and goods to facilitate trade. There are 80 types of the border at implementation stage. Seme joint border was inaugurated in October 2013. We have seven of its kind in West Africa. This one-stop border eliminates delay of goods and services through joint assessment between agencies of nations at the border. By the time, the Seme/ Badagry Express Road is completed, all the customs check points will vanish. The essence of joint border post is to encourage domestication of the economy. Countries that do not have land for this type of border post go to wherever it is cited to work without molestation.
All we do is keeping of records of people crossing the border. Irrespective of the composition of the border you can see truck pusher doing business across the boundary between Nigeria and Benin Republic. The essence of border post is not to destroy businesses but to facilitate it. There are three main sections at the border. We have cargo, individual/ private and ministerial sections. So we work to add values to lives and business transactions and not to crush or hinder people who are residents at the border. It is one country, one entrance and one exist.
Activities as CAC
As a student at Ahmadu Bello University, I am used to long hours of operation. In my days at the university, I was part of movement for the progressive Nigeria where we used to hold debate for over 24 hours non-stop. Customs has revenue generation target and implementation of government policies as community service. Along the line we have the mandate to seize banned and contaminated goods according to section 158 of customs and exercise law, anywhere in the country. If these banned goods are allowed into the nation, it would affect the health of Nigerians and make development stagnant. That, we don’t want. This is my 18th transfer as customs officer. I have signed to work for Nigeria diligently irrespective of any condition I find myself at my duty post. I am used to the South-south, South-west and other parts of the nation.
Challenges With Border Communities
It is very demanding sometimes to get people to understand that they must conform with the law because they are used to the unlawful ways of transacting business. We need more advocacies to make them understand otherwise one would keep dealing with angry people but law is not a respecter of any person. There were cases where we needed to arrest people who were smugglers in some communities and we discovered they had ammunition with population to attack customs officers, on such occasion, we have no choice than to tactically withdrew and wait for another time because we don’t want innocent citizens to be harmed.
Free Trade Zone Agreement
Customs is an implementation agency. What the federal government had signed as the 53rd nation concerning the agreement was in the best interest of Nigeria whenever it is passed for implementation we shall do just that. Let me state categorically that the Comptroller General of the NCS never said the ban on car and rice importation through the land border was lifted. Every smuggling operation would be dealt with according to the Nigerian law.
Orientation On Irregular Migration
NCS may not necessarily have the capacity to do that but with collaboration with the media through our public relation unit a lot can be achieved.
Smuggling Activities At The Border
There can be no concluding chapter in trade so also there can never be total success for smuggling operation at any level. At some points the law will always catch up with the smugglers especially when the customs confiscate their wares. It pays to do legitimate business.
Multiple Customs Checks Points
Out of about 360 million residents of West Africa, Nigeria has over 200 million. You don’t expect that we shall fold our arms open our border to danger. The NCS has three line of defence, the commands, federal operation unit and the strike force. There is no way any smuggler can escape the three teams at once. In any case, if one set comprise for one reason or the other, the other team will effect arrest of the smugglers.
Customs Officers Safety
It is regrettable to see some frustrated smugglers attacking or killing customs officers leading in some instances. We are very sad about the development because we don’t want to lose any officer or Nigeria citizen as a result of our operations. The NCS under the leadership of Comptroller Hammed Ali is working hard to ensure safety of our men. Again let me state categorically that we place premium on safety of life than seizure. Where the environment is not conducive for action, we have counseled our men on what to do but certainly criminals won’t have their way in Nigeria no matter what.