There is palpable tension at the Tin Can Island Port as the Nigeria Customs Service, Tin Can Command, owing to the introduction of a new valuation system called ‘benchmark value’ on all general cargoes coming into the country through the command.
The new benchmark seeks to impose N600,000 minimal duty on all 20-foot containers and N1.2million on all 40-foot containers.
While expressing their apprehension at the Tin Can Port yesterday, one of the clearing agents; Mr Ajao Olawale told Shipping Position Daily that the Customs Area Controller, Mr. Musa Abdullahi Baba introduced the benchmark in contravention of the Customs Valuation Act and the Transaction Value principles therein.
The clearing agent chided the customs for always coming up with what he called exploitative policies when the year is coming to an end in order to meet its revenue target.
He also threatened that agents would advise their importers to divert all cargoes from Tin Can Island Port, even as he assured that other far reaching steps would also be taken to protest the introduction.
Another top official of a popular freight forwarding association who pleaded anonymity said that, "the Benchmark Value means that all cargoes coming in would be made to pay 600,000 on 20- foot containers and N1.2million on 40- foot containers not minding the port of origin, quality and classification of the goods inside the container"
He alleged that already, the Customs Area Controller has punished some Assistant Controllers under him, for failing to apply the benchmark on some cargoes that have already exited the terminal.
"The controller has said that the Assistant Controllers are the ones that would use their own money to pay the difference. What this benchmark means is that officers can now begin to use their discretion and jerk up value on imports”.
When he was contacted by Shipping Position Daily, Public Relations Officer of the Tin Can Island Customs, Mr. Uche Ejesieme confirmed the development.
He however said that the introduction of the fees is not a 'benchmark', he described it as a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which the CAC introduced in order to block all revenue leakages and underpayments.
"The issue is actually a misconception, what the controller is saying and has repeatedly said, depending on the kind of cargo, don't forget that duties raised from zero percent to 20 percent to 35 percent, but in order for us to strike a balance and guide against unscrupulous under valuation and underpayment by stakeholders, what we are saying is that the least minimal that you can pay on a twenty foot container is that amount, we don't call it benchmarking, it is not a benchmark but a standard"
Uche argues that "some 20- foot containers can pay up to N20million depending on the consignment, but what we are saying is that considering the freight, CIF and other valuables, we pegged it that ideally, a 20- foot container is not supposed to pay less than that amount"
"There are some twenty foot containers that can even pay up to forty million depending on the cargo"
"It's actually an SOP, but people are misunderstanding it.
There is no way that a twenty foot container would pay less than N600,000 with all the CIF payable multiplied by the exchange rate" he said
Ejesieme assured that the command is planning to meet with clearing agents and importers and re-sensitize them during an enlarged meeting of stakeholders which will come up soon.
While reacting to allegations that the CAC punished some Assistant Controllers for releasing cargoes without following the laid down benchmark, he said that any cargo that has exited the port can still be revisited and that the appropriate unit that can do this is the post clearance audit.