"If you go to the car parks now, most of the vehicles there are actually accidented vehicles and there is nothing customs can do about it"
Comptroller Musa Baba Abdullahi is the Area Controller in charge of Tin Can Island Command of the Nigeria Customs Service. In this interview session with Shipping Position Daily correspondent; Dapo Olawuni, he spoke on the peculiar nature of the command and the recent increase in importation of accidented vehicles, alleged cloning of valuation papers by clearing agents, and a host of others.
"Very lately, we have discovered that some agents go ahead and clone valuation papers"
“Right now, it is humanly impossible for anybody to hack into our system
How is the NICIIS 2 working at Tin Can port, there were reported challenges
Recently, the Nigeria Customs Service migrated to the NICIIS 2 platform, and the essence of that migration was because of some anomalies and issues identified as shortcomings of NICIIS 1. Our team of experts studied and saw some of these areas that needed to be fine-tuned, they did all of that painstakingly before we migrated to NICIS 2. We started with the pilot stage in order to test run at various commands, when it got to Tin Can we noticed that they were having some teething challenges which is always associated with such innovations, but the good thing about the challenges is that the implementation team headed by DC Yusuf was on ground with the technical partners to react to some of these challenges that were always coming up. But now I can assure you that everything has been going very seamlessly, the only challenges we experience occasionally is the challenges associated with natural weather conditions, recently we have torrential rains and heavy breeze thereby causing damage to the mast, what we do is to quickly draw the attention of Web Fontane who are the technical partners and it is always gratifying to note that the engineers are always on ground to address the issue. Few days ago, we had the same issue, but if you go to the CPC now you will see that the process is running seamlessly.
With the coming of NICIS 2, stakeholders expected it to address challenges of alerts on cargo, why is it not so?
With due respect to our stakeholders, the issue of alert is something we have classified as FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions); because anytime we are meeting with stakeholders, it has been a recurring decimal, there is no way that in this kind of environment we would not have such interventions, but the good news is that we have built a one-stop-treatment area like an extension of the processing centre where all the critical officers that usually put alerts on declarations vis a vis, the CIU, query and amendment, the valuation and so on are put together. Once a complaint gets to this one- stop -shop, the likelihood of further alerts would not come hopefully. Before now, this issue has been creating a lot of concerns and creating bottlenecks that sometimes agents visit Valuation, Enforcement and so on because of alerts, but right now, we are trying to save time and facilitate trade.
Recently, we had reports of hackers going into your system and releasing some vehicles without your notice, what are you doing to forestall recurrence of such incidents?
The good thing about NICIIS 2 is that it came with bio-metrics and some very strong security features that would make it difficult for anybody to hack, however, this scenario would have been possible in the old order which is NICIS1, during that time we had issues like that and this was why the CGC in his wisdom quickly directed a rejigging of the process, right now, it is humanly impossible for anybody to hack into it, right now we don't have issues about hackers and internet fraudsters hacking into the system.
Tin Can Island Port is currently flooded with damaged vehicles; there were even reports of such vehicles being cleared by lowering their years of manufacture to attract lower duty?
I am happy you are bringing this up and it is an opportunity for me to clarify the position. in customs parlance, there is what we call accidented and dented, if you want to consider any vehicle as accidented in order for it to enjoy the 30% rebate officially approved, you can be sure that the chassis of the vehicle, the airbag and other key components of the vehicles must be clearly seen to be affected after examination before it can now enjoy the 30%, initially it was 50% but now it is 30%. For dented vehicles, we don't give any rebate because, for dented vehicles with probably a small scratch, we charge appropriately, even in countries where these vehicles come from, they don't sell the same price with vehicles that are accidented . For anybody to tell you that we clear the vehicles just like that or we circumvent the process, it cannot be possible in this dispensation because everything is automated, I don't know how you are going to do it without capturing through the system and going through the entire gamut of the processes.
Is there nothing that Customs can do to discourage this type of importation (of damaged vehicles)?
We don't have control over what you are importing, we can only control if you are bringing contraband, then we apply the relevant sections of CEMA for sanctions, but for this, I believe part of the reasons importers bring in accidented vehicles is to save cost, we discovered that some of these accidented vehicles are cheaper even from their countries of origin, and for some of the vehicles that they might want to sell thereafter, they might decide to bring these ones just to make some profit. However, you are very correct, if you go to the car parks now, most of the vehicles there are actually accidented vehicles and there is nothing customs can do about it, if tomorrow the federal government decides that customs should stop giving rebate on accidented vehicles, our own is to enforce fiscal policies in terms of trade.
How has the bad access road to the port affected your revenue collection?
Surprisingly, our revenue has been on the upward swing, our comparative analysis of revenue collected from January to August 2016, 2017 and 2018, you would see very clearly alone in August we made N31.8 billion whereas in the corresponding year of 2017 we made N28billion and in 2016 we made N26billion this is a difference of N3.2billion. If you now want to check from January to August, you see that the command has made N221.6billion as against N186.1billion of 2017 and N156billion of 2016. however, this is beyond revenue collection, what we have succeeded in doing is development of modalities to check declarations, using the system to ensure that appropriate collections are made, we track people that are trying to circumvent the process, this has given the command an edge, customs has actually gone beyond revenue collection to revenue generation. However, there are certain deliberate creations we have put in place, we have the dispute resolution committee which is an unbiased and neutral body, once you bring any issue before them, they must sit everyday to treat complaints whenever they come.
Apart from this, there is also a help desk where you can get information on our workings, and of course we have another platform we have created to measure our speed of work and compliance to 48 hour clearance procedure, this is called the time release studies, anytime there are delays, we would see it on the system and know who is causing it and what can be done to mitigate it. With regards to the bad roads, we read in the papers that government has awarded the contract and we are sure that by the time the roads are fixed, we would have a higher turn around .
On what cargoes do you generate most of your revenue?
Tin Can Island Port is mostly for general goods, raw materials for industries and vehicles, don’t forget that vehicles also accounts for a larger chunk of revenue. In a particular year, it was discovered that revenue from vehicles alone accounted for the humongous amount of money collected that year. Here at Tin Can we do a lot of vehicles, if you go to the Car Park ‘C’, you will see that the car park is filled to the brim, we rake in a lot from vehicles, general goods, raw materials and so on.
Differentials in duty of vehicles cleared at PTML and Tin Can port, why is it higher to clear vehicles here?
It is not higher to clear vehicles here, this is one of the allegations we have been confronted with, however what we did was to take declarations from PTML and Tin Can Island port, when we put the two documents side by side, we did not see any difference. The areas of challenge we should be looking at is non-compliance, sometimes and very lately we have discovered that some agents go ahead and clone valuation papers, once you come and we discovered that you cloned papers, certainly there would be issues and consequences and you will go in for it.
Why has it been difficult to achieve crowd control at Tin Can port?
We are actually doing something and working assiduously to overcome this challenge, Tin Can has been synonymous with that kind of crowd, it didn't just start now, it has been like a tradition. But since my resumption here, we have started some internal cleansing; facilities that were hitherto moribund have been opened up to ensure that everywhere criminal elements are hiding, we convert it into use for officers. If you also look at the compound, the football pitch donated to us by Pepsi as a CSR has helped us to minimally control the crowed , what we are doing is to talk to our stakeholders, part of the challenges sometimes is that five to six people are following a particular transaction, we discuss this on regular basis with our stakeholders that it is not appropriate for more than one or two persons to follow a particular declaration. Comptrollers were recently reshuffled and transferred but you were not affected, are you one of the ‘CG boys’?
Don't forget that part of the concept of the PSI is that the transfer of officers is not at officer's request, it is when the service feels that the services are no longer needed there, don't forget that the Customs management has certain things they look at before considering deployment of very senior officers, you will see very clearly from the way the CGC is operating, the era of godfatherism in customs is gone, what will work for you is your capacity to deliver on your mandate, once you have capacity to deliver on your mandate, nobody can wish you away, the era of godfatherism is actually gone and everything is now done based on merit and not mediocrity.
There is a high level of police interference in customs duty; stopping containers under the guise of intelligence
There is what we call inter-agency collaboration and synergy, I want to assure you that, in Tin Can here, all the security agencies are working as one, as security officers, our mandates are clearly spelt out in the statute book, meaning that there is no issue of overlapping functions. For instance, in customs, if we intercept anything that has to do with NAFDAC, what we do is to write to NAFDAC, the last time we intercepted cocaine worth N2billion, we invited NDLEA and handed it over to them, issues of arms and ammunition were also handed to DSS. What we try to encourage here is that once any agency has intelligence, we pass it to the concerned agency, this is why we are calling for automation, we want agencies to key into our single window so that issues can be resolved electronically.