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We have doubled efforts for revenue generation, national security, trade facilitation—ACG Edike

ACG Eporwei Edike, Zonal Coordinator, Zone ‘A’
 Eporwei
Edike, an Assistant Comptroller-General of Customs(ACG) stands astride the demanding
work schedule of Customs Zone ‘A’ with his feet on ground for excellence and
patriotism, achievable goals in his head and a conviction that the Nigeria Customs  Service will make Nigerians
proud in its response to the call to duty to better the nation’s economy.

On assumption of duty as zonal coordinator,
Edike soon took a tour of the commands in the zone in December 2015, to
appreciate the officers and men for their work, and to also task them on the
need to brace up for greater work demands ahead.


Though full of smiles, Edike is completely
disciplined, thorough, patriotic and an officer with a clear vision for trade
facilitation, a key strategy for getting the revenue into government coffers.

In this exclusive interview, Edike talks on the
need for officers to remain focused to ensure national security is not
compromised by unscrupulous elements who may want to smuggle arms and
ammunition into the country.

He talks on efforts of the Nigeria Customs
Service at boosting its operations, consistent results from across the commands
and what the trading public should know about valuation and other sundry
issues.
  
On
readiness of the Commands to handling work demands in the year

We have toured the commands under the zone twice
now, and it was basically to express appreciation to the officers and to ask
them to do more, because when you thank somebody that is doing well, there is a
very strong possibility that the person will do more. When you don’t appreciate
a child, he will just remain where he is.

Even after the tour, I still kept ‘tab’ on Apapa
and Tin-Can, and up till the last working day of December 2015, I was still
pushing Apapa and Tin-can because every additional kobo will certainly make
entry into Federal Government revenue.

It is only fair and proper for us to once again
go back and appreciate them and urge them to do much more in this year, after
the push in December.

Considering the dwindling oil revenue every day,
public views have shown that when Mr President makes comment on revenue, his attention
is on customs revenue and we cannot but work hard, so that we don’t disappoint
him, so we don’t disappoint the CGC, and even Nigerians.

Like I told officers on the field, when there is
war in any country, the country looks up to the soldiers for defence, so, now,
Nigeria needs money, Nigeria cannot but look up to customs and we cannot fail
the country.

That is why I ask the commands to recite the first
two lines of the National Anthem ‘ Arise o compatriot, Nigeria’s call obey’. I
told them, ‘look, Nigeria is calling on us now, will we fail Nigeria? Will we
answer Nigeria’s call? Will we stand in the gap for Nigeria? That was basically
the crux of the tour and also to see what challenges they are facing in terms
of equipment or other challenges that could hinder their work.

In all the places, officers are very ready to
put in their best because of the encouragement they received. You will recall
that twice now, Western Marine had made seizures; 350 frozen poultry products,
the 4,500 kg of marijuana. And of course, the controller testified that our
visit was a big motivation to them. Also at in Tin-can Island Command, the arms
and ammunition that were seized.

In all the Commands we visited, we draw their
attention to national revenue and to national security; that without national
security there is no way we can get national revenue, because even only one gun
with one bullet can cause havoc in the country, can destroy a family and can
destroy a community, a state.

I also told them not to wait until they see a
container-load of arms. Of course, see the response from Tin-can Island
Command. At the  Seme and Idi-Iroko borders,
all loose ends have been tightened, and there is no way for smugglers  to pass. That is why the smugglers are
exploring the river ways where our operatives are also ready to combat them.

We saw how the readiness of the officers of the
Western Marine Command made it possible that the marijuana smugglers were
caught, otherwise, they would not have wanted to go through the pains of
navigating through the waters. They would have wanted to go through the land
borders. All of these are expressions of the readiness of the officers to do
their work.

Recently, if you heard the Comptroller-General
of Customs as broadcast in the electronic media at the budget defence, the CGC
was talking of motivation for officers in terms of salary increase.

 He
canvassed that with increase in customs allocation, officers will have increase
in salaries, which means better performance. When officers heard it, they jubilated
that somebody is taking interest in their well-being and their welfare. In that
regard, officers were highly motivated and promised even better performance.

At the Oyo/Osun area, we visited Ibadan, Igbeti,
to Saki and Iseyin. Those are ‘hot spots’, ‘ hot beds’ for smuggling. We spoke
to our officers that they should not wait to see a trailer-load of arms and
ammunition before they make arrest .
In the past, there had been seizures of arms and
ammunition in that axis. They are not big revenue generating station, they are
basically enforcement stations. 

We drummed it into their ears and hammered on
the need to partner, 
collaboration with government agencies like the Police, Immigration,
Department of State Security, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Nigeria
Security and Civil Defence Corps.

And in those three stations, I noticed and I
confirmed a good synergy, a fine working relationship, cooperation among these
government agencies. To me, it is a thought of note that Customs alone cannot
get all the intelligence they need to their work; intelligence from each of
those government agencies will be an asset for enforcement duties.

 We didn’t
just talk with the government agencies only, but spoke with the host community
on the relationship that helps to enable us do our work well. We visited the
Obas and requested their support.

At Iseyin, I was told of how the villagers got
up to defend the Customs when some armed smugglers were coming to burn down the
Customs station. That could not have been possible if there was no good working
relationship between Customs and the host communities. For that reason, we went
to appreciate them.

In all, one sees a better, stronger, much more
prepared and disciplined officers to face the challenges of this year and able
to meet the expectations of Mr President, the CGC and Nigerians generally.

On efficiency
of work equipment like scanners and servers

On scanners, the service providers particularly
in Apapa, handed over dead scanners because before they left, the scanners were
due for service but nothing happen.  By
the time they were handed over to Customs, we had a challenge because of the three
levels of maintenance we can only do two levels, while one must be done by the
manufacturer.

 The manufacturers
on their part, said they don’t know us, that it is the service providers they
had agreement with. The service providers were not forth-coming, so there was
that challenge. At a time, we brought some foreign experts to come and work on
the fixed scanners, and they came, but after two weeks the thing collapsed
again. Along the line, our officers worked on them and they started working.

I must add that the CGC is working very hard on
issue of the scanners and listening to people, organisations to solve the
problem once for all, because once scanners are working, it goes a long way to
better the time and cost of doing business in the port when you are able to
scan about 500 containers in 24 hours.

At a time in Apapa, we had day and night shifts
when the scanners were all working; the fixed and mobile scanners, then. So, at
times, day and night, we could do between 450 to 500 containers daily. We will
definitely get back to that point when the mobile scanners are all fixed.

The issue of server, we also depend on the
giants of telecommunication in Nigeria. We link up to them, so, if they fall,
we fall, and when they are functional, we also do.  It is just like when people experience
difficulty in making calls because of network fluctuation.

But by and large, the service is doing its best
to be able to assuage some of those problems associated with network
fluctuation. You will recall that before 2014, it was far worse than now, until
in Apapa, we installed a 160 metre communication tower which made things
improve significantly.

On
strategy to meet revenue target in spite of low-level of imports

For low-level of imports, there is nothing
customs can do about that. We don’t import, we can only collect duty on imports
made. Throughout the tour, I told officers that every problem has a solution,
that if last year we had the challenge, initially, after clearing the remnant
of the previous year in January, February, we will wait until import start. But
by March there was no budget so agents were just watching government direction
before they work.

As we were doing that, the election fever came
up and from there, exchange issue went up, then, the 41 items out of FOREX
participation came up. That compounded the challenge, but then, I said to them
that if we had the challenge last year, by now we should have found solutions.

 I told
them that even Apes, when confronted with problems, think, and get answers.
Even birds, some of them that would bring twigs poked into dead woods and bring
out scrubs. So, if birds can think to do that and if Apes can make tools to
use, if Ants will know this is water and build bridge for them to pass, then,
we as human beings should think of solutions to problems.

 Part of
the way round first of all, is that we need to be a lot more disciplined than
last year. Items that we thought were of no significance last year, thinking
the money is not big and ignore it, cannot be so again, because every kobo must
be brought into records.

If you remove one kobo from one billion, it is
no longer one billion. Also, if A brings in one kobo, B brings in one kobo, C
brings in another one kobo, adding all of that would have gone a long way.
Therefore, no Demand Note (DN) is too small, no duty is too small.

I told them that those in bonds should go into
their records, all those bonds they had not discharged, bring them out and let
the people pay. Go into the system, probe the system, even up to three, four , five
years back, if there is anything hanging, bring them in, let them pay. Look
inwards, was there any area before that was neglected? go into the areas, bring
them out and bring them to record.

At the Airport, 
I told them not to ignore certain items that have very small weight, but
have values far bigger than some bulky. I told 
them that every Airway Bill must be accounted for, that every Bill of
Lading must be accounted for. Once we begin to do that with discipline, dedication,
certainly, we will be able to collect more revenue like in times of abundance.

Above all, discipline, self-sacrifice,
collective sacrifice is what we are looking to do the magic for us,
particularly dedication and love for Nigeria. We also told them if they don’t
sit up, government may be forced to look for other alternatives and that will
not be pleasant for us.

On
valuation issue

The issue of valuation is very controversial
that people will always cry. In the first instance, nobody wants to pay duty,
even the high and the mighty. Nobody wants to part with that. But because we
are there, we must make people pay what they are supposed to pay.

And then, somebody can travel, buy a pen for N10
and he comes and tells me it is bought for N10, and then, he thinks that is it.
But, I will also ask him where he bought the pen and he tells me. For instance,
if he bought the consignment in Michigan Flint, there is no port there. So, you
will have to package the consignment and transport it from Flint to Houston,
where there is a port. The cost of transporting that consignment from Flint to
Houston is usually silent. He will argue that that is not the price.

At Flint, they must also give him discount;
there are discounts that are allowed and those not allowed. He adds all of that
and by the time the valuation officer looks at it and say this man has not
added these and he computes it and adds the costs.

 I have vast
experience in valuation spanning nine years and was OC Valuation at two Commands.
People have often argued that they were made to pay higher duty on the same
product they imported and sent to different ports, not considering the fact
that the products may be different models that have different values, so will
attract different duty.

For instance, there are many specifications of Wrangler
Jeep, but the public just know the car Wrangler. Meanwhile, this product may
not be identical, though similar. The same applies to different cars and other
products that have different specifications and attract different values.

The same happens to containerised item, but
people should know that value is not given by container. Value is given in
terms of the unit price of items in a container, like different brands of
television attracting different prices, therefore, different duties.

Some importers even ignore insurance, which
should be added. So, by the time the officer looks at all of these and gives
his duty, the importer begins to shout that it is not what he bought.  But all the calculations must be made to arrive
at the value for Customs; it says ‘value for customs.’

The World Customs Organisation updates the
tariffs every four years, so items today that are classified in this chapter
may not be there again after the review, but the different countries have their
own rates.

For issue of value, it is cost, insurance and freight
times rate of duty. So, the valuation officer checks classification and then,
looks at the value for correction.
Individual
negotiation in trade
Of course, the individual position can come
either in terms of classification or value. The tariff is interpretative, but there
are six rules governing classification of tariff. Even among us, we argue when
we classify items and it is very healthy argument. Officers can have different
opinion and importers too may have different opinions, but it is for either of
them to understand a superior argument and accept. There is trade dispute,
which is acceptable.

 In trade
disputes, the importer can bring in a bank bond to capture the amount in
dispute. Where he is not satisfied he goes to  the headquarters or goes to the Finance Minister,
or even go to Brussels if he is still not satisfied. There are different stages
in which someone can make arguments or defend his position.

Also for value, if the valuation officer gives a
value and you have enough documentary evidence to show that what you imputed is
correct, of course, he will let you go.
Efforts
to boost operations especially at the marine command
We have two vessels at Marina; one for Western
Marine and the other for Eastern Marine. Sometime last year, another vessel
strayed and collided with the vessels where they were anchored. They are
currently being repaired and once they are done the CGC will commission them.
And once that is done, they will be put to use for operations.

Arising from the seizures by the Western Marine
Command, it is very clear that the Service will support them more in terms of
training and equipment. They have done well and certainly, the service will
respond, because the training will increase and strengthen their capacity. I
have also told the CAC what to do to enhance their work. 
Insights
on relationship with key stakeholders
We are encouraging the Area Commands not to
relent on organising stakeholders meetings. Tin-can Island already organised
one with exporters to educate them on the types of wood that are prohibited and
the ones not prohibited.

They invited the Ministry of Forestry to teach
exporters on those woods that are allowed for exports and those not allowed for
exports. So, commands are encouraged to relate with stakeholders through
meetings. Even here, we have finished with the commands and we are starting
with stakeholders, partnering government agencies and to also bring them to the
same page with us. 

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