Customs Comptroller General, Inde Dikko Abdullahi
By John Iwori
The Customs High Command has suspended the use of benchmark for the evaluation of cargo imported into the country.
The suspension of the benchmark regime had pitted the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) against the licensed customs agents under the aegis of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA).
This was sequel to the opposition to its implementation by port users across the country, especially those doing business in the ones situated in Lagos, especially Nigeria’s premier port, Apapa Quay.
In a bid to explain the rationale for the introduction of the benchmark which was mooted when the new revenue target given to NCS this year, the Customs High Command, led by its boss, Alhaji Inde Dikko Abdullahi, embarked on an enlightenment campaign.
In one of its outings tagged ‘Town Hall Meeting with Importers’ at Lagos International Fair Complex, Badagry, Abdullahi, flanked by other top echelon in the service on the podium, said the new regime was not meant to undermine importers, freighters or other port users.
The enlightenment campaign did not however yield the desire results as importers, freight forwarders, and other stakeholders continued to disparage the benchmark regime.
Apparently bowing to pressure, NCS in Abuja announced the suspension of the benchmark regime. The service said it has reverted to the old order, which allows importers and agents to under declare their consignments and face the consequences of any discrepancies discovered by the authorities. It said the move was meant to ensure full compliance with extant laws.
Accordingly, Customs Area Controllers (CACs) have been directed to invoke the dreaded Sections 46 and 47 of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA), which stipulate outright seizures for any goods involved in cases of under-declaration, followed by prosecution of the offending importers and agents of such consignments.
The Comptroller General of Customs said NCS would however continue to encourage importers and their agents to focus on honest declarations, even as he pointed out that the controversy surrounding benchmark model was not on the issue of value but that of quantity.
He explained that benchmarking was meant to be an administrative convenience to help importers, and highlighted that since the importers and their agents have indicated a low capacity to manage it, NCS has decided to suspend it.
It is on record that over the years, concealment and under-declaration of quantities is a common practice among importers and freight forwarders to evade correct customs duty payment.
While some importers and their agents got away with this act, the increasing numbers of discrepancies uncovered during inspections in the nation’s seaports propelled NCS to suspect fraud associated with under-declaration of imported quantities.
Similarly, Federal Government agencies have over the years realised that there are certain quantities that can be associated with most import, especially those that were containerized.
NCS maintained that the benchmark regime was not a novel idea as it had been in use in certain respect in the clearance of cargoes in the nation’s seaports, even as it wondered at the growing opposition to it.
“There are a standard number of cartons that can be found in a forty-foot container. There are certain numbers of cars that can be found in a forty-foot container. Even the FG maintains some form of benchmarking in the value for rice importation. The policy was not anything out of the blues.
“As an encouragement to make importers and agents embrace the virtue of honest declaration, incentives will be given to importers and agent who bring in goods five consecutive times without any discrepancies in their declarations. Consignments will be granted fast track concession, and their goods could be taken into their warehouses before Customs will examine it”, Abdullahi said.