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Freight Forwarders may drag Customs to WCO over VIN controversy

Kayode Farinto, VP, ANLCA
—-say 30-day window not enough to clear backlog of cargo
Opeyemi Adesogbon
There seems no end to the war of attrition between the Nigeria Customs Service and the agitating freight forwarders over the controversial Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) evaluation policy.
The freight forwarders, who seem not satisfied with the way the Customs authority is handling the issues despite the suspension of the policy, have vowed to drag the revenue-generating agency before the World Customs Organisation (WCO) for resolution of the impasse.
Ventilating the grievances of the Customs brokers, Kayode Farinto, the Vice President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) said the confraternity of the clearing agents has mapped out a multi-prong approach to tackling the problem of VIN and making the Customs authority play the game by the rules.
Farinto, in an exclusive interview with our reporter over the weekend, lamented that the agency has not yet engaged the agitating freight forwarders in any strategic discussion on how the VIN policy would be reviewed.
“The customs haven’t engaged us in discussion up till now. If we have not forced them to do the right thing, probably the 30-day window they conceded to us would not have been possible.
”It is unfortunate that Nigeria is a country where anything goes. By now, somebody should have lost his job for making Importer pay over N600millon as storages charges, which was not the fault of the importers but due to lack of professionalism of the Customs, which is very very unfortunate,” Farinto lamented
He revealed that the customs brokers have decided to, first of all, take the customs before the National Assembly and if nothing meaningful comes out of that, the body will eventually petition the World Customs Organisation (WCO).
“We are going to report this issue to the National Assembly and by next week(this week), a letter will be going to the National Assembly on this issue in the interest of the nation.
“What happened at the National Assembly yesterday( last week Thursday) on the issue of e-invoicing and e-valuation where CBN thought that it can arrogate power to herself and we had to go there and discuss it.
“We must force Customs to go to National Assembly which will be subjected to debate and we will now look at the laws.
“There are two laws that we are talking about (1) we have the Customs and Excise Management Act (2)we have legal notice 30 which talk about wear and tear, wear and tear means that by virtue of your year of manufacture, you are entitled to 10% rebate, even a 2021  used vehicle, if you import it to Nigeria now, whatever is the value of that vehicle is entitled to 10 percent rebate and most of these vehicles are even entitled to 50% rebate, so what we were telling customs is that the value you have gotten, where did you get it from? where did it emanate from?
“We are talking about artificial intelligence, the issue of artificial intelligence deals with data and existing data.
“Where did you get your data from, what they did was to go on the internet, look at values, supposed values, assumed values that they imputed into the system. That is criminal, it’s illegal, it’s not in line with international best practices, it’s not professional.
“If WCO hears about this, it is going to expose Nigeria customs and we are going to give National Assembly one week, if by one week nothing is done, we will report this whole issue to WCO because in Nigeria now, we are suffering” declared the ANLCA Chief.
Farinto, who said the 30-day window created by the customs to enable the clearance of the backlog of cargo caught up in the strike action would not be enough, claimed that some importers have decided to suspend importation due to VIN controversy and watch until there is a clear-cut direction taken by the customs.
He further claimed importers have incurred a whooping sum of N600m demurrage charges due to the strike action instigated by the VIN controversy.
“They won’t be able to clear the backlog of goods within the 30-day period”
“I have like 20 importers who have told me that they would stop importation because they said they didn’t have an enabling environment, that the situation is unclear” Farinto declared.
“So, the 30- day window will not be enough and even at that, it is expected that they should engage the stakeholders. Who are the stakeholders, we are the licensed Customs agents?
“The WCO (WORLD CUSTOMS ORGANIZATION) yearbook 2013, said that every Customs nation must engage the stakeholders,  the licensed Customs brokers in the area of operations, and that will give you the smooth running of the operation, that will make you achieve whatever is your policy.
“The Customs cannot shave our heads in our absence.   Whether they like it or not, it’s a two ways thing.
” Nigeria customs service is looking at this as a bossy affair, it’s not true. We have licensed Customs Agents, I pay duties on behalf of my importers.
” All Customs does is to midwife the duties we pay. So the issue that Customs generate revenue is even an aberration, it is a wrong use of English Language.
“When you say somebody generates revenue, that means someone takes the money to the bank, and that is what we do and then give Customs the receipt who then midwife whatever we have paid.
“Our Customs operations here in Nigeria is still in a medieval stage despite the so-called automation processes.
“Even the Customs operations in the neighboring Cotonou is far better as they operate according to international best practices.” the ANLCA stated.
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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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