Why are Customs People this Wealthy and Healthy?

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku
nigeria customs

On the 7th day of May, 2024, I visited the headquarters of the Nigeria Customs Service in Abuja to try to find out why and how I was charged N174, 981.00 as custom dues for a Canon Camera sent in from the United States of America. The camera cost $450usd.

Being naturally anxious about my parcel vis-à-vis the image of the Customs as one of the epicenters of underhand dealings in Nigeria, I got to the Abuja Headquarters at 8:30am. In spite of all my protestations to the reception that at 8:30am on a Tuesday morning was not too early, I was asked to go away and return till 10am. Even though I was vexed to my bones that coming early appeared a waste of my time, it was while waiting outside the Customs headquarters, under that hot Abuja sun, that the above question crossed my mind. One by one, as the officers and men showed up, I observed first that they were all driving in, in very sleek cars, like some celebrities going to a musical concert. Each and every one of the individuals that alighted from those cars did not look Nigerian of year 2024. Let me tell you why: recent increments in electricity, fuel and outrageous cost of living have made it impossible for any Nigeria alive today to look that robust, that coiffured and as well-fed as the chaps who sauntered in as lethargically as they did.

About 9:50am when I returned to the reception, I was to find the place filled to the brim with visitors who had arrived much later than I did. But no bother – I requested to see the PRO of the Customs but was informed that he was away on official duties. But to cut this extremely shameful story short, I met the national deputy PRO and asked why I was billed N174,981.00 for a camera that cost $450.  Why are they not charging me according to the weight of the parcel and under conditions that they have stipulated on their website? According to the deputy PRO, ‘you are expected to pay 20% of the amount the camera was bought at prevailing exchange rate amount plus additional charges like CISS, Surcharge, ETLS, etcetera’ – those are his exact words. He also said that the Nigerian government imposes heavy taxes on goods not produced in Nigeria.  

Even though the duty document given to me had the insignia of the Nigeria Customs, signed and stamped by Customs, the PRO accused NIPOST of handing me those (now clearly) arbitrary and outrageous duties. The charges were many – redirection charge, parcel handling charges, retention fee, recall fee and trade charge. Earlier, I had made it clear to this individual that first, the African Growth and opportunity Act, AGOA, allows Nigerian and US goods to interact at reciprocal duty-free levels, with a proviso that countries like Nigeria benefitting from AGOA may not undermine US trade interests (which the Customs was clearly doing by imposing those high tariffs on an item from the US). One of my other question to the dep PRO was this: if Nigeria does not want foreign goods to enter Nigeria, why are we part of AGOA, and why then are we not producing those goods we don’t want to come in here?  The Nigeria Customs Service has a CET-Tariff document on their website which stipulates costs for clearing goods and items coming in. Chapter 37, page 173 of that document indicates that all photographic items coming into Nigeria under a certain kg pay a 20% ‘ID’ and a 7.5% VAT. At no point did that document (Act No. 4) indicate that my item, weighing just 2.8kg was to enjoy those outrageous charges – the CISS, Surcharge, ETLS, and especially the ‘etcetera’. As a matter of fact, other duties, IAT and EXC, ascribed to photographic items like mine were to have zero charges. What is even silly about the duty imposed on the camera is that it is a gift from a beloved relative.

The question now is: who imposed those charges? After collection of those (now) fake charges, where do they end up? A Leadership Newspaper publication with the title, Customs Exceeds N307bn Monthly Revenue Target’, indicates that these people collect these fake charges because they have a ‘target’, the purpose for which is not clear at the moment. 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 a little 200 billion. The growth amounts to 70.13 per cent increase in revenue collection’.

Therefore, it does seem that to meet this ‘target’, the Nigeria Customs imposes these arbitrary and outrageous duties, most of which support the very comfortable lifestyles of the people working there. My interactions with people who know the Customs system indicate that if I did not go there through the front door, back door deals would have offered me another duty and I would pay a lesser duty – for a handsome fee.  In the words of my aunt who sent the camera: ‘people have lost trust and respect for Nigeria all over the world because of this kind of scenarios. It is a shame on the Bola Tinubu administration’, she said.

———- Image: Syaibatul Hamdi Pixabay remix

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