Stakeholders in the port sector have said that the 283 clauses in the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS)’s 2022 Draft Bill with grey areas could hamper trade facilitation, import and export activities and the nation’s manufacturing potentials, if not urgently reviewed, BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
In 2016, the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hammed Ali (rtd), stressed the need for improvement in trade facilitation, simplification, harmonisation, operations and standardisation of trade procedures at formal presentation of the NCS draft bill for amendment of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA). He noted that the act did not undergo major review for over half a century after it was enacted. Ali stressed the need to update the law and realign its provisions with modern realities in the maritime industry, noting that it had become imperative to take a second look at the provisions for sanctions that were neither punitive nor deterrent enough to promote compliance. He explained: “Our objective is to produce a document that will address all fears and concerns associated with building strong and economically viable nation. We will therefore stress that the national interest should override all other interests in our submissions.”
Six years after, a new bill, the Nigeria Customs Service Bill 2022, surfaced at the National Assembly with 283 clauses of grey areas. Top among the drawback of the new bill was the scheme to seek the creation of ministry of Customs with a further constitutional clause that seeks the appointment of a retired Customs officer as minister.
Miffed by this, the National Council of Managing Directors of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDNLCA) has petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari about the on-going Nigeria Customs Service 2022 Draft Bill pending before the National Assembly, noting that not only is the bill in conflict with the functions of other agencies of government, but will in the long run interfere adversely with the national economy and international trade. For instance, the National President of NCMDNLCA, Lucky Amiwero, drew President Buhari’s attention to unwholesome conflict areas in the bill, noting that the observed conflicts, if not urgently reviewed and properly legislated on, could hamper trade facilitation and impair the nation’s import and export activities and also adversely affect the nation’s manufacturing potentials.
Amiwero expressed shock that the proposed law did not only failed to be subjected to stakeholders/ public hearing at the Senate, the same bill, which was rejected earlier by the Federal Government in 2013 got represented to both houses of the legislature. He stressed that some elements of desperation on the side of the Customs Service may have been at play.
Loss of power
The president noted that unless an urgent review of some of the clauses is undertaken, the service would ultimately take over the functions of sister agencies of government and could afford to do as it wishes. For instance, he said: “The report from the Senate on the Nigeria Customs Service Bill 2022 do not reflect the objective of trade facilitation process, which is predicated on Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) World Customs Organisation (WCO) Kyoto Convention Harmonisation and Simplification of Customs procedures, WCO Safe Frame work of standard to secure and Facilitate global trade, National Facilitation Committee of (IMO)FAL convention for Harmonisation, Minimisation and Facilitation of Maritime Traffic. “Furthermore, the Nigeria Customs Service is not under the Ministry of Finance in the draft bill as indicated in paragraph 3.0 (1-5) clause 8-(3)(a) indicate that there is a new Minster of Customs to be appointed by the President. “The Nigeria Customs Service Bill is designed and personalised for the management of Customs based on the removal of some power of the president and the total removal of the ministers and the overriding powers of other Federal Government agencies.” He was of the view that the title of the Act was structured by the content based on the application of international convention, treaties, protocol on trade procedures, which is mostly titled as follows: Customs Act, Trade Act, Customs and Excise Act, Customs Management Act and Customs and Excise Management Act. According to Amiwero, in the draft bill, Customs was unduly allocated uncontrollable powers over the President and Commander- In-Chief of the Armed forces, the ministers and other government agencies on policy making, regulation of the economy on trade and fiscal policies and other matters, which negate the principle of global best practices on administration, control and management of Trade/Customs Act. According to him, what the Senate and House of Representatives had done so far was to re-peal the existing administrative structure, which empowers the Presidency to oversight the functions of the customs service.
He said: “The repeal and reenactment bill 2022 conferred all function and powers to NCS, which includes to manage and enforce the provision of the act, and the Customs and Excise law, direct, administer, direct manage and enforce provision of the Act, the Customs and Excise Laws, collect and account for revenue from Customs duties, excise duties, other taxes, charges, fee and special assessments as may be assigned, administer trade and fiscal policies of government as it relate to this Act, promote trade facilitation in line with international conventions and agreements as it relate to Customs administration, carry out all border enforcement and regulatory activities required by law. “The minister, who shall be appointed by the president, shall be a retired officer not below the rank of a deputy comptroller-general, thus the board has no power, it is only to superintend over staff matters.” Citing various constitutional provisions, treaties and conventions on world trade and customs administration, Amiwero explained that policy initiation and regulation of the economy by the instruments of trade were the preserve of the executive arm of the Federal Government as contained in the provision of section 148 of the constitution, which only allow the president, vice and the ministers on foreign and domestic policy directions.
Due to this reasons, Amiwero, therefore, said: “There is a need to subject the draft bill to Committee of Trade Procedure Experts (TPE) and core stakeholders, to review the draft bill in line with international best practice, especially with the expected Trade Facilitation Agreement (FTA) and African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) coming on board, which is not included in the draft bill.”
Regulation of the country’s economy as contained in the provision of section 148 of the constitution should not be left with one agency of government alone.