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Litigation, suspicion stall implementation of E- Customs project

CGC, Ali


—As CGC Ali queries sincerity of House of Reps committee

Eyewitness reporter

Suspicion among the leading players in the execution of the E-Customs modernisation project may have stalled the final implementation of the multi-billion dollar project, three years after it was conceptualised.

It could be recalled that in  2019, the Federal government approved the engagement of a consortium of four firms to enter into a 20-year concession arrangement with the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) for a Customs modernisation project and establishment of digital and paperless Customs administration.

On September 2nd, 2020, the Federal Executive Council (FEC), presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, ratified the NCS modernisation scheme estimated to cost about $3.1billion.

The presidential initiative on the NCS modernisation or “E-Customs Project” requires the establishment of a digital/paperless customs administration.

The government then approved the engagement of the consortium composed of Bionica Technologies West Africa, Bergan Security Consultants & Suppliers, Africa Finance Cooperation and Huawei to establish a project special purpose vehicle to enter into a 20-year concession arrangement with NCS and ICRC.
However, suspicion and misunderstanding among the Nigeria Customs Service, the Ministry of Finance, Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN) and the concessionaires have dogged the implementation of the project.
It has also led to court cases from an aggrieved party in the project, Adani Mega System, who felt shortchanged in the process.
At the public hearing hosted by the House of Representatives Joint Committee on Customs and Excise, Banking and Currency and Finance in Abuja on Monday to resolve the logjam, the session was also marred by an exchange of altercation between the Comptroller- General of Customs, Col. Hammed Ali(rtd) who sent a representative and the committee members when the Customs lord makes a pass at the lawmakers.
In his presentation before the committee, the CGC, through his representative, the Assistant Comptroller General (ICT), Galadima Saidu, said he was curious that the House was resuscitating the issues on the project which the same committee had earlier treated and dispensed with.
Ali told the committee that the contractor; Adani Mega System Limited who was supposed to execute the project had been relieved of it.

In his submission, the CGC declared  “investigations carried out by the Service revealed that Messrs Adani Mega Systems Limited outsourced the agreement to an unauthorized third party Adani International Limited (UK) registered four months after the agreement was signed and the Company has since been dissolved ( Copy of the search result is hereby enclosed as Annex A).

“Therefore, the assertion by Adani Mega System Ltd that its international partner has a proven track record, capacity, expertise and competence to execute and operate within the project field covered by the agreement was false and misleading.

“It was upon the realization of this misrepresentation that the Committee on CISS canceled the agreement entered into with Messrs Adani Mega Systems Limited, via a letter Ref:TED/DIR/GAM/GEN/Ol/OZS dated 18th September 2017 (Capy attached as Annex ‘B).

“It is worthy of note also that the House of Representatives Joint Committee On Finance, Customs and Public Petition passed a resolution suspending the Concession Agreement on e-Customs pending the outcome of an investigative hearing.

“The hearing was conducted and the Committee Vide a second letter NAS S/9/CHR/2019/JOINT/002 dated 20th December 2019 (Copy of the letter is hereby attached as Annex C) stated that after due consideration of the process towards the award, has found no breach in the award of the contract for the e-Customs Project.

“The committee recommended that the agreement be finalised and the Consortium awarded the Contract (Copy of the House Committee’s report is attached as Annex D). It is therefore curious that the same House is raising the issue over again.”

Apparently,  the word “curious” as used by the Customs boss which was considered derogatory,  unsettled the lawmakers, as a member of the Committee, Ndukwe Nkole, asked the Customs Comptroller General to withdraw the remark and tender an apology.

“The CG of customs in his address to this parliament, especially in paragraph 4, is very derogatory to the parliament and it is very wrong for a public officer, an appointed officer to address elected representatives, that he’s curious.

“So I demand that the CG of customs must apologise to this parliament for using such a derogatory statement on the parliament.”

However, rather than apologise,  ACG Saidu, who represented the CGC,  merely emphasised the importance of the project until he was prevailed upon by lawmakers before he reluctantly said “I apologise”.

At the same hearing on the “Need to Resolve the Debacle Between Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)/Technical Committee on Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme (CISS) and Adani Mega System Ltd Hindering the Take Off of Nigeria Customs Services E-Customs Modernization Project’, which was boycotted by the CBN, one of the leading parties to the project, the ministry of Finance informed the committee of how court cases have frustrated the take-off of the exercise.
In her presentation, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning,
Zainab Ahmed who was represented by the Director of Home Finance, Stephen Okon, informed the committee that the Finance Ministry was liaising with the Office of Attorney General to ensure quick resolution of the legal drawbacks so as to implement the project.
“There is no doubt, the pending cases are impeding the commencement of the E-Customs Project.
“In order to pave way for the take-off of the project, the ministry is liaising with the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation to ensure that the arbitration is speedily concluded.
“This we believe could settle all the pending matters and allow the E-Customs project to commence without further delay”,
However, the Chairman of the committee, Leke Abejide, told the gathering about the concerns of the lawmakers over the delay in the implementation of the project which he claimed is causing Nigeria the loss of about $8.810 billion annually.

He expressed the belief that if the project is properly implemented,  it will go a long way in reducing Nigeria’s vulnerability to external debts and also strengthen its currency.

“The cost of concession implementation over a 20-year period is $3.1 billion American Dollars and the project is projected to generate about $176.2 billion American Dollars within the 20 years Concession period.

“We equally understood the SPV is to recover their investment based on negotiated and staggered recovery strong ratio from the Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme (CISS) and Nigerian Export Supervision Scheme (NESS),” he said.

However, the public hearing was adjourned to March 4, 2022, to allow Adani mega systems, the litigant and the remaining parties such as the CBN to present their own submissions to the committee.

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Adewale Adeniyi: Crusader for trade liberalisation, modern customs operations 

Funso Olojo 
Adewale Adeniyi, the 14th indigenous Comptroller-General of Customs and 31st since the establishment of Customs in 1891, is vigorously but steadily prosecuting a new order in the agency.
A new order in customs operations and administration, aided by the revolutionary Customs Act of 2023 and engendered through far-reaching reforms that are unprecedented in the service.
A reformation agenda that is meant to berth modern customs administration in the country.
No sooner was he appointed as Acting CGC by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in June 2023 than he hit the ground running to change the face of the Customs.
As if he was impatient to transform the operations of the agency and lend it to the aspirations of the trading public, Adeniyi triggered a flurry of activities that made the operations of customs buzzing with pulsating intensity.
Pronto, he announced the disbandment of the notorious CGC strike force used by the previous customs administrations to terrorise importers and their agents and which encumbered the clearing process.
He also went on to streamline the multiplicity of customs checkpoints hitherto used as points for extortions.
All these measures are meant to remove the encumbrances in the process of goods clearance and delivery system to facilitate trade.
The confirmation of his appointment as the substantive Customs boss in October 2023 only helped to galvanise him more to carry out his crusade for modern customs operations with higher velocity.
Eager to align Nigeria Customs with modern tools for customs operations and administration as enunciated by the World Customs Organization(WCO), Adeniyi activated the use of twin modern tools for trade facilitation which are Authorized Economic  Operator(AEO) and Advance Ruling concepts.
An Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) is a designation that is granted by customs authorities to economic operators established in the customs territory of the European Union, who are part of the international supply chain, involved in customs-related operations and who have met certain standards of security and compliance.
AEO status is granted by customs authorities once the economic operator meets certain prescribed requirements and criteria.
AEOs are considered, from a customs procedures perspective, to be low-risk and are granted benefits such as expedited clearance, reduced inspections, and easier access to simplified customs procedures.
The AEO programme is designed to enhance international supply chain security and facilitate legitimate trade.
Similarly, Advance Ruling is a concept wherein the Customs Administration provides a written decision upon request from the importer concerning valuation, tariff classification, or origin of goods before they are imported.
Advance Ruling has been proven as a valuable tool for trade facilitation, benefiting both Customs administration and traders.
It enhances predictability and certainty in Customs treatment for goods.
This procedure also promotes cooperation and confidence between Customs and traders, following the guidelines set out by the World Customs Organisation Safe Framework of Standards.
 WCO has over the years encouraged its member- nations to take advantage of these tools for facilitating modern and legitimate trade.
However previous customs administrations in Nigeria had consistently ignored the WCO advice, thus making goods clearance and delivery system cumbersome.
But desirous of changing the narrative in customs operations and administration, the NCS, at the prompting of CGC Adeniyi, gave vent to these modernisation tools which he hoped to deploy for enhanced performance.
So, in one fell swoop, the customs launched the use of AEO and Advance Ruling concepts in the first quarter of 2024, asking the trading public to take advantage of these modern tools for trade facilitation.
As a follow-up to this, the Customs management established a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the implementation of Advance Ruling.
The decision was reached during the 6th Management Meeting of the NCS held on August 23, 2023.
The basis for this SOP lies in Section 24 sub-sections 1-9 of the new NCS Act, 2023, and Article 3 of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).
Similarly and during the same period, the Service launched a Time Release Study (TRS) to enhance the quick release of goods by determining the time actual time goods leave customs control.
The World Customs Organisation’s Time Release Study is a strategic and internationally recognised tool to measure the actual time required for the release and /or clearance of goods from the time of arrival until the physical release of cargo with a view to finding bottlenecks in the trade flow process and taking necessary measures to improve.
Not done in his passionate efforts to enthrone efficiency in customs operations, Adeniyi said the service is committed to implementing the Lagos Continental Document produced through intensive stakeholders’ engagement and participation at the December CGC conference.
According to him, such measures as the resolution of multiple alerts, deduction of Customs’ multiple checkpoints and improvement of officers conduct are vigorously being pursued.
“The Lagos Continental Declaration document was a product of exhaustive consultations with stakeholders during.
” This document is presently undergoing implementation.
“Initial measures, including the resolution of multiple alerts, reduction of customs checkpoints, and improvement of officer conduct, have been actively undertaken.
” Additional components of the declaration will be pursued with thoroughness, and we anticipate completing due diligence by the end of the first quarter of this year”
All these measures are meant to give the trading public an efficient service delivery rooted in the use of modern tools for customs operations.
Added to these initiatives is the establishment of Customs laboratory.
”All these activities, centred on stakeholders,as previously committed, will soon be fully operational, illustrating our dedication concrete action” the CGC said.
He however gave a caveat that only compliant traders will enjoy enhanced Customs operations as his administration will not compromise strict adherence to Customs guidelines and regulations.
The icing on the cake of the CGC’s efforts to enthrone modern, efficient and customer-sensitive customs was his recent trip to China.
The China trip was strategic to his crusade for modernisation of customs operations and administration as it coincided with the 6th WCO Global AEO Conference, held between Wednesday, 8 to 10 May 2024.
The CGC leveraged his attendance to sell modernisation programme of NCS to the international world.
He also used the platform to integrate Nigeria’s fledging AEO programme into mainstream international practice.
Adeniyi also told his international audience the determination of his administration to nurture AEO programme from its present infancy stage in Nigeria to the full-fledged maturity stage that will be deployed to facilitate and expand the frontier of trade in the country.
While in China, Adeniyi led his management team to the Headquarters of Huawei, a famous information and communications technology company in Shenzhen, China, where he discussed opportunities embedded in the Nigeria Customs Service Trade Modernisation Project.
His discussion with the IT giant centered around his passion to modernise customs operations and administration.
Similarly, in China, NCS, led by Adeniyi, signed a strategic Memorandum of Understanding(MoU) with the General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China (GACC) to foster bilateral relationship for the enhancement of economic growth.
This MoU was instructive given the volume of trade between Nigeria and China. From statistics, Nigeria is a net importer of Chinese goods and services.
Therefore, the Customs MoU with China will not only strengthen bilateral trade agreement between the two countries, but it will also help Nigeria’s business community which has China as its business hub.
The MoU will also probably stem the tide of some of the fake products imported from China by unscrupulous Nigerian importers.
So far, Adeniyi has shown an uncommon passion for leading modern, automated and digitalized customs that is committed to the facilitation of trade and removing any identifiable encumbrances in the goods clearance and delivery system.
His commitment to enhancing trade facilitation through the deployment of modern customs tools is rooted in his belief, and rightly so, that trade facilitation will enhance revenue collection as espoused by the WCO.
Little wonder that during his less than a year of stewardship, the revenue performance of the customs has grown exponentially.
In the first quarter of 2024, the service recorded over N1.3 trillion in revenue,  representing an increase of 122.35% compared to the figure for last year.
During this period, the service witnessed astronomical growth in revenue collection with a significant increase in January 2024 with N390.824 billion earned, marking a 95.6% rise from January 2023’s N199.81 billion.
The revenue growth rates for February and March 2024 stood at 138.68% and 132.76% respectively when compared to the same months in 2023.
This also explains why the CGC was confident that the service would be able to meet the 2024 revenue target of 5 trillion with his highly motivated and determined team of men and officers of the service.
The 2024 target was higher than 2023 figures of N3.67 trillion from which the service collected N3.21 trillion.
However, to whom much is expected, much is given.
This reversed axiom signposts the officers’ welfare programme under CGC.
To enhance their performance, deserving men and officers have been rewarded with promotions and appointments to higher ranks, the quantum and rapidity of which was described as unprecedented in the history of the Service.
When Adeniyi assumed duties in 2023, he promised officers that they would be given their dues.
As promised, there were promotion exams in September 2023, two months after he was made an Acting CGC and a month before his appointment was confirmed.
The results for the September promotion exams came out in December, the same year, very unprecedented and a cleared departure from the previous practice of delayed promotions.
Twice in 2024, deserving officers have been given their deserved promotions and appointments.
The first one was in the first quarter of 2024 while the second one this year was the one announced this month, May 2024 where 13 officers in the management cadre were appointed to their next ranks.
In the latest appointment, the customs board confirmed the appointment of five Deputy Comptrollers- General and eight Assistant Comptrollers General of Customs, all of whom have since been decorated.
This was part of the motivational tools adopted by the CGC to galvanise his men and officers to key into his vision of modern Nigeria Customs Service.
With his transformational efforts, Adeniyi is set to bequeath a long-lasting legacy of efficient, modern and automated Nigeria Customs Service on the country and which effects will reverberate till the next generation
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In China, Adeniyi expresses commitment of Customs to use AOE platform for enhanced service delivery 

Funso Olojo 
The Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service, Adewale Adeniyi, has reiterated the resolve of the Service to use the Authorized Economic Operator(AEO) scheme to engender trade facilitation and reduction of cost of doing business in Nigeria.
Adeniyi, who joined his counterparts at the 6th WCO Global AEO Conference, held between Wednesday, 8 to 10 May 2024, told his audience in China that though the AEO programme is still at the infancy stage in Nigeria, his administration is determined to nurture it to expand the frontier of trade in the country.
He also expressed optimism that the recently launched programme in Nigeria will contribute to the broader objectives of the WCO in promoting border security and fostering sustainable economic development globally.

The CGC, who admitted that the Service’s level of implementing AEO is at the starting point, expressed his readiness to engage Customs officers in building their capacity about the program “so they will embrace the knowledge of how to implement it, and we will eventually get there.”

He said, “We started implementing a pilot AEO program a month ago, and we have been inspired by the policy and vision of the new Nigerian government led by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to enhance the economic competitiveness and diversification.”

The CGC further highlighted, “The indices that they used in compiling the ease of doing business is trading across borders, and AEO allows us to engage with our stakeholders and reduce the time and cost of doing business.”

CGC Adeniyi further clarified to the Moderator of the Panel Session, Mr Ian Sanders, the Secretary General of the World Customs Organization, that “although the Service gets the support of the WCO, the organisers of the conference must consider the challenges that the Service experiences in the area of optimising stakeholders’ engagement, amongst others.”

The Vice Minister of General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China, Wanga Lingjun, who earlier delivered his opening speech, welcomed the participants to Shenzhen for the 6th WCO Global AEO Conference, held between Wednesday, 8 to 10 May 2024.

Delivering his speech, Ian Sanders, the Secretary General of the World Customs Organization, applauded the participating members of the AEO and described this year’s conference “as a platform for sharing a common commitment to transparent, secured and resilient trade ecosystem.”

Ian Sanders, who highlighted the contributions of small-scale businesses in transforming the global economy, said, “As we explore the transformative potential AEO program, it is crucial to acknowledge the backbone of our local economy: the micro, small and medium-sized entrepreneurs or MSMEs”.

Emphasising the employment opportunities that MSMEs provide to global citizens and enhancing international trade, Mr Ian Sanders assured that the AEO program would engage the operators of MSMEs to benefit from the initiative.

During a separate panel discussion on ‘Advancing Women’s Empowerment through AEO Programmes’ with Customs Agents and Trade Experts from China, New Zealand and the Dominican Republic, CSC Nnenna Awa, the AEO lead to the Nigeria Customs Service spoke on factors addressing the barriers in global trade.

Adeniyi discussed Nigeria’s fledging AOE programme and implementation during a panel discussion with Sun Yuning, Vice Minister General Administration of China Customs (GACC), Helena Marla, Director-General Tax and Customs Authority of Portugal, Edward Kieswetter, WCO Council Chairperson and Selina Clerk, Deputy Commissioner Operations, Jamaica Customs Agency.
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Olomu talks tough as he takes over from Comptroller Jaiyeoba as new Apapa customs helmsman

—warns non-compliant traders to steer clear of Apapa port
Funso Olojo 
In a voice that resonated across the hall, Comptroller Babatunde Olomu, the new Area Controller of Apapa Command of the Nigeria Customs Service, has warned traders of illicit items, and non-compliant importers to steer clear of the Apapa port as he would not tolerate non-conformists to the extant customs Act and guidelines to ply their illegitimate trade at the port.
Olomu issued this stern warning while taking over the mantle of leadership of the command from Comptroller Babajide Jaiyeoba who bowed out in a blaze of glory.
While accepting the hand-over note and staff of office on Monday, May 6th, 2024 at the command, Olomu declared in unmistakable terms that his administration will have zero tolerance for illegitimate goods within the confine of Apapa Port Command.
“Let me state unequivocally that we shall implement all the provisions of the Nigeria Customs Service Act 2023, the Common External Tariff, Import and Export Prohibition Guidelines and other books of instruction as directed by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
“While promoting a robust Customs Community relations system where there will be regular interface with all government and private sector stakeholders, I shall upscale our enforcement with intelligence to ensure that only legitimate trade is allowed in Apapa port and all the terminals within the command.
” Our tolerance level for smuggling of prohibited items, concealment and declaration for duty evasion shall be zero and shall remain so”  the new CAC declared.
He agreed that his new task as the Apapa command helmsman is a serious assignment given to him by the Comptroller General of Customs, Wale Adeniyi but promised to deliver on his mandate diligently not only in revenue collection, fight against smuggling but also in trade facilitation and sustainable stakeholders’ engagement.
Olomu, who said he was greatly challenged by the intimidating performance of his predecessor, Comptroller Babajide Jaiyeoba in revenue collection and trade facilitation, pledged to leverage the well-charted course of his predecessor in order to improve on his performance.
He expressed happiness that he met a highly organized and well-structured command with highly motivated and efficient officers that would make his job easier.
He however asked all officers and other stakeholders to join in the task of making Apapa port as a launching pad for all the trade facilitation reforms as being championed by the CGC.
” Our country holds a strategic position for trade in West and Central Africa and Apapa port is critical in Nigeria’s participation in the African Continental Free Trade Area(AfCFTA).
” We are revving Nigeria’s readiness for improved trade with fellow African countries and the world at large “
Olomu further disclosed that he would enthrone a dispute resolution mechanism that will function 24/7, including the weekend to ensure that the command is a true front liner in global best practices in customs operations.
He therefore warned all his officers not to sit on documents but to treat them with dispatch as such delay may compromise government revenue.
Earlier, Comptroller Babajide Jaiyeoba had expressed his happiness for the opportunity to serve.
He took his succeeding counterpart on a memory lane on how during his stewardship as Apapa command helmsman from September 2023 till May, 6th, he shattered revenue collection records and set a new one
He recalled how he was scared by the revenue performance of his predecessor whom he said collected 10 billion in a day.
”When I heard that, I was scared. Even though as a man, I didn’t show it but that got scared as that amount is what we collected in about three to four months where I came from” Jaiyeoba reminiscent.
However, he said that with the support of all his men and officers, especially the members of the strategic revenue committee and officers of the Non-Intrusive Inspection Technology Unit(NIITU) of the command for their critical role in ensuring that, under his leadership, the command broke the daily revenue record set by his predecessor and set a new one.
According to him, the command has set a daily revenue collection of N12 billion while in the month of April, 2024, the command generated a whooping sum of N82 billion which was a record-breaking monthly collection in the history of the service.
He further claimed that, on February 23rd, 2024, the command recorded a revenue collection milestone by generating N16,021,669,412.00.
Similarly, Jaiyeoba said the command, between January and April 2024, collected a total sum of N672, 172,624,033.03 as revenue.
The former CAC attributed the string of his revenue successes to the dedication of officers and men of the command, the cooperation of stakeholders and other sister agencies.
Jaiyeoba enjoined them to give the new CAC maximum cooperation for him to succeed, assuring them that Olomu is a team player and result-oriented officer.
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