Thursday, May 30Nigeria's Authoritative Maritime News Magazine

Dangerous ignorance of Nigeria’s Customs Boss…Emeka Akabogu

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance…”

These words of Martin Luther King Jr. echoed in my mind as I listened to the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service advise against implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement and the African Continental Free Trade Agreement in a presentation before the Nigerian Senate last week. The shock of his incredulous advice is matched only by the reasons for his position – that it will negatively impact revenue generation!

Colonel Hameed Ibrahim Ali 

Col. Hameed Ali’s theory is that if the Trade Facilitation Agreement is implemented to ease current challenges being faced in import and export of goods, customs revenue will drop, so better not to implement the reforms.

This may explain why the Nigerian Customs Service seems to have abandoned any pretenses it used to have towards trade facilitation – Nigeria used to have scanners for inspection of imports, but the customs took them over from private operators and decommissioned them, now relying on 100% manual inspection of all imports. Advance rulings, post-clearance audits and single window systems are not in operation, despite billions spent. A new Customs and Excise Management Act was even drafted and passed by the National Assembly to make many progressive measures of the TFA legally binding, but it was never signed into law. Nigerian borders have been closed to goods for the last one year, resulting in many bankruptcies and commercial debts.

Yet the foundation for this de facto policy of border brigandage is founded on ignorance. 90% of local manufacturing is dependent on imports of machinery and raw materials. Border closure and customs restrictions are a dagger in the heart of jobs, production and exports from manufacturing. With an efficient monitoring mechanism through single window systems, customs earnings will multiply tenfold, and so will efficiency. I suspect the customs officials know all these – they are very enlightened and play key roles at the World Customs Organisation.

But for them, it pays to conduct 100% manual inspection, to raise arbitrary debit notes, to interface physically with importers and clearing agents. It pays to appear ignorant.