Like the experience of most people, it is very unlikely to forget the year 2020 and its concomitant challenges and upheavals in a hurry. I had never imagined that anything could negatively impact our world as the Coronavirus pandemic has done. It is for this reason that I have continued to ponder on the theme of 2020 International Customs Day (ICD) celebration, “Customs Fostering Sustainability for People, Prosperity and the Planet”, which is aimed at highlighting the actions that Customs Service all over the world is taking towards ensuring a sustainable future that caters to the social, economic, health and environmental needs of the people.
So IWA decided to take on some Customs Area Controllers in Nigeria on the theme. Their responses are as instructive as they are insightful. On the efforts and activities of Apapa Area Command in this challenging period, Comptroller Abba-Kura, the Customs Area Controller of the Command has these to say:
IWA: Sir, what steps are you taking to ensure a sustainable future for a social environment in your Area command?
Abba-Kura: As you know, Apapa is the premier port in Nigeria, thus human traffic in and out of the Area command is usually very high. So to start with, the Area Command was designed and built to be well secured and ready for a lot of business activities. Now since I resumed here as the Area Controller and very conscious of this fact, I have continued to systematically build on and fortify both the human capital and physical infrastructures met on ground to ensure that whoever comes to do legitimate business in Apapa Area command will do it in a conducive and business-friendly environment. I have deliberately created a level playing field for every person/stakeholder that comes to do business here in accordance with world best practices. My officers and men also know that all stakeholders must feel welcomed to Apapa Area Command and their needs must be attended to with dispatch and as at when due.
IWA: What steps are being taken to ensure that the businesses of legitimate traders are sustained?
Abba-Kura: Like I said earlier, we make sure that there is a level playing field for every stakeholder that does business in our Area, we deploy every resources at our disposal and do everything that is humanly possible to encourage legitimate trade in this Command. Once declarations are done the way they are supposed to be done, definitely there will be no delays whatsoever and I, as the area controller, make sure that all mails that come to my table are cleared with dispatch and ensure that everyone down the line does the same.
Everyone knows that any stakeholder that has any issue at any point in the area command is free and always welcome to see me and I make sure that any complaint or observation is solved there and then and those that cannot be solved immediately, will always be referred to the Area Dispute Resolution Committee to look into it. Where a dispute is established, we make sure that the trade is facilitated either by the declarant bringing bank bond that is equivalent to the duty and other charges that they are supposed to pay and we release the consignment. And whenever that dispute is resolved, if it is in favor of the declarant, we write to the bank to cancel that bond and if the dispute is resolved in favor of the Nigeria Customs Service, we equally write the bank and the bond is converted into Customs duty and other related charges which is paid directly into the coffers of the Federal Republic Of Nigeria.
IWA: What measures are you deploying particularly during this period of Coronavirus pandemic to protect the lives of your officers and men as well as all stakeholders that do business in this Command?
Abba-Kura:Immediately the Federal Government swung into action through Ministry of Health and National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), we followed suit. With the directives from Customs headquarters, we immediately provided water kegs with taps, detergents to wash hands and sanitizers. We placed one at the gate, then at the entrance of the Customs Processing Centre (CPC), leading to my office. We equally have electronic sanitizers stationed in and around the CPC. The Desk Officers at all the entrances leading to the CPC have body temperature monitoring devices to check the temperature of everyone entering the CPC. If somebody’s temperature is okay he or she is then allowed to come in and that is after washing their hands and sanitizing their hands. Everyone is also expected to wear a face mask before they are allowed into the CPC. This same measures are replicated in all terminals and bonded warehouses of the command.
IWA: What is the command doing to avert any environmental hazard ?
Abba-Kura: Health is wealth, and one of the surest ways to achieving good health is cleanliness, thus we make ensure that our environment is kept clean in this Area Command always. In some way, our duty as Customs Officers is like that of an Octopus. Apart from revenue generation and rendering account for what is collected, we equally carry out anti-smuggling; we make sure that all the things that are harmful to the country are not allowed to come in. Even if they find their way into the port we will make sure that they are detained, seized, and eventually get court judgment to condemn them. Apart from that, we equally facilitate legitimate trade by strictly implementing federal government fiscal policies that will enhance the development of local industries. The federal government in its wisdom sometimes imposes certain taxes on certain imports that are equally being produced locally. By imposing all these levies and taxes on those items, it will go a long way in making the local industries grow and flourish. Our relationship with other stakeholders and sister government agencies is very cordial; whether it is NAFDAC, SON, NDLEA, Shippers’ Council, or the NPA. We are aware of the statutes that guide their functions, thus whenever they come around or they need our assistance to carry out their functions, we always make sure we render such assistance.