Aniebonam seeks uniform application of rules in cargo clearing


…Says there’s dire need to review CEMA

The founder, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Boniface Aniebonam has called for a uniform application of rules of engagement in cargo clearing at the nation’s seaports.

Aniebonam who made this call in a chat with newsmen in Lagos observed that the customs management needed to take a second look and clarify the mode of operations with respect to seizures adding that he was not happy with recent development where seizures had become the order of the day.

According to him, “Where you are not liked by a customs officer, something happens and he seizes your goods but someone else has exactly the same matter or the same offence but he only pays the penalty. So, there is no uniform application of the rules of engagement.”

While noting that matters of concealment, under-declaration, wrong description of imports were some of the anomalies that could lead to seizures depending on the customs officer one encountered, he, however, posited that an area that was hardly talked about was goods that fall under absolute prohibition.

“If there are goods under prohibition because of fiscal policies or trade matters within the period under review, there are remedies to that effect. It isn’t compulsory that those goods must be seized. There are provisions in the customs law that provides for penalties. The penalty is six times the value of the goods when an offence of that level is committed. Customs could also add 25 percent of the short collection”, he said.

While pointing out that a lot had gone wrong in customs, he recalled that the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) was before the national assembly for amendment adding that there was a dire need to review the law as it was archaic and obsolete.

“CEMA can’t be applicable with international trade”, he argued.

When asked to speak on the aspects of CEMA that needed to be addressed, he said, “The biggest problem is the punitive nature of the customs law. It is too hard on matters of trade. If you’re an international trader and you utilize the approved routes, you can’t be accused of false declaration, concealment or under-valuation when you made your goods available for examination by a proper customs officer.

“How can you be accused of concealment when you voluntarily presented your cargoes for inspection? You’re still charging someone on Section 46 and 47 of the customs law, when the cargoes were duly cleared at the seaports, airports or border stations. The intervention forces of customs like FOU, Strike Force or Customs Police could pick up such items and discover that what is in the container isn’t the same as what was entered at the ports, should they still consider the situation as concealment when the consignment was released by a proper customs officer at the point of entry?

“When we discuss issues of this nature, we can’t separate individuals from the Nigerian society which is a completely corrupt system. This takes us to the issue of leadership in this country.”

He continued, “Now, the Central Bank has created one problem on its own which somehow, technically, put some of these imports under prohibition list because these goods coming in without Form M is an infringement, meaning that for you to raise the Pre-Assessment Notice might be very difficult. So, now, the goods are into Nigeria, then, you rely on Sections 27, 28 and 29 of the customs law which is an evidence of what you call bill of sight  and under Destination Inspection, you are at liberty to make genuine declaration for customs purpose.

“So, all you need to do, whether Form M or no Form M, declare what you have in the SGD form, once you have declared that, it is in line with Sections 27 and 28, those Sections are discussing improper importation. That means, you didn’t follow the due process of importation but the law allows you to do that once it is a trade good and then, the inherent penalty will be given to you.”

Photo: Founder of NAGAFF, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam.

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