Where does Customs ‘target’ Money Go?

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku
nigeria customs

Last week, while discussing an awful experience with being charged an outrageous sum for a tiny parcel, I was to briefly reference a report attributed to the Leadership newspaper wherein the boss of the Nigeria Customs had said that the Customs had by far exceeded the target set for him and his institution. According to that report of May 19th 2024, with the title, ‘Customs Exceeds N307bn Monthly Revenue Target’, I had indicated that the Customs collect ‘etcetera’ charges because they have a ‘target’, the purpose for which was not clear to me. According to the Leadership publication, ‘the Customs has a N3.6trillion revenue collection target for 2023. This translates to about 307 billion per month. During the first half of the year, we were practically struggling to raise as little as 200 billion. The growth amounts to 70.13 per cent increase in revenue collection’.

Therefore, since the Customs service had begun to talk this openly about ‘targets’, it immediately precipitated suspicions that ‘target’ system is a mandate for all kinds of underhand activity akin to what takes place in the commercial banking sector. Most banks in Nigeria are often impose ‘targets’ on their ‘marketers’ – young men and women saddled with the responsibility of mopping up and maintaining a revenue base in the bank. Nobody would care what the young men and ladies did to maintain that revenue base as long as they brought in the cash. As time went on, very underhand practices like alleged sleeping with very wealthy clients became the norm, and was standard for promotion, perks and incentives.  It is unclear if such practices prevail in the other sectors like the EFCC, ICPC, NDLEA, SON, NAFDAC, FIRS, the police, immigration and the like. On the 12th of January 2024, the Punch newspaper carried a story of a young banker who committed suicide. In the note she left behind, she had said, ‘Nothing is working in my life. My figures are low. My brain is clogged up. The economy is getting harder. My decisions are wrong. My mind is messed up. The future doesn’t seem bright at all. I see extreme hardship. I can’t bear the pain anymore’.

On the website of the Nigeria Customs, there is a tariff system which says just exactly how goods coming in from abroad are rated and duty imposed. This tariff system is based on an Act of Parliament. It has a CET Tariff section, chapters, abbreviations & symbols, as well as general rules for interpretation of the harmonized System of the Customs system. Recent investigations seem to indicate however that rather than follow this system as clearly laid out on the website of the Customs Service in Nigeria, the ‘target’ system is what prevails today.

I was to be engaged in a discussion with a member of the Customs in Abuja. Unlike the others, he was not shy to identify himself as Abdullahi Aliyu Maiwada, Chief Superintendent of Customs, and National Public Relations Officer Nigeria Customs Service. According Maiwada, a ‘target” for customs generation refers to a predefined financial goal set by the Federal Government of Nigeria for the collection of duties, taxes, excise and fees on imported and exported goods.  He said that this target is part of the broader fiscal policy and budgeting process and is used to ensure that Nigeria Customs contribute a specific amount to the National Treasury. It serves as a benchmark for evaluating the performance of Customs operations and their effectiveness in revenue collection. Maiwada also said that the Nigerian government, through the Federal Ministry of Finance, began to set specific annual revenue targets for the NCS, to align with the national budget and economic plans. This practice has continued, with the targets being regularly adjusted based on economic conditions, trade volumes, and government revenue needs.

‘In Nigeria, the practice of setting specific targets for customs revenue generation became more structured and formalized in the early 2000s. This development coincided with broader economic reforms aimed at improving public financial management and increasing government revenue. These reforms were part of efforts to enhance the efficiency, transparency, and accountability of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS)’, Maiwada said. 

He said that all the monies generated by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) is collected and remitted into the Federation Account through a collection, remittance and allocation process where all the tiers of government benefit.

‘For 2024, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has a revenue target of NGN 5.07 trillion. In the first quarter of 2024, the NCS collected NGN 1.35 trillion, which represents a significant increase from the NGN 606 billion collected during the same period in 2023.  This indicates a 122.35% rise in revenue compared to the first quarter of the previous year’. CSC Maiwada said.

The issues that arise from this are legion. One, the Federal government appears to be breaking the law by setting aside its own law without due processes (amending the law to adjust tariffs). But by so doing sets the tone for impunity and illegality in the systems of revenue generation. Two, the Customs have generated about 2trillion in the first quarter of 2024. This is a good story of a country that generates so much money but has endemic problems of high cost of living and power problems.

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