Customs Eyes N1trn Target, As Importers Besiege Cotonou In Droves

  • Metuh’s firm, others received N1.4bn for doing nothing —ONSA

The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the nation’s business class are yet to be on same page, for as the Service is eyeing a revenue target of N1trn, more and more stakeholders are already diverting their cargoes into neighbouring ports.

The Comptroller-General, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hammed Alli  (rtd), while speaking at a modest International Customs Day (ICD)  ceremony affirmed that that Government was yet to indicate a revenue target for the year, he also highlighted that the Service was on its own, already bracing to exceed N1trillion revenue  this year.

Mr Jonathan Nicol,  President Shippers‘ Association, Lagos State (SALS)
Mr Jonathan Nicol, President Shippers‘ Association, Lagos State (SALS)

“We have not received the target from the Budget Office yet. But we normally set target for ourselves. We are looking at targeting all we could, blocking all the revenue leakages and making sure that all the systems work perfectly. And hopefully, the policy of government will also be in our favour. We hope to cross the N1trillion mark”, Ali, who vowed to further plug revenue leaking holes, told newsmen at the NCS Command and Staff College in Gwagwalada, Abuja.

He acknowledged that the capacity to achieve his feat would be anchored on smoother trade facilitation, a more friendly import and export regime.

Mr. Hassan Bello, NSC Boss
Mr. Hassan Bello, Nigeria Shippers’ Council  Boss

“What we will do inward is to be able to re-invigorate our own system, block all the leakages and make sure the system is working perfectly.
“With that, once we get influx of export, import and collect the right duty, we will put it in the coffer of government,” he stated further, describing Customs officers as “obedient” persons, who knows that he would noose them up, if they fail to comply with the directive on assets declaration, while counselling stakeholders to avoid sharp practices, or be visited, by the full weight of the law.

But while Hameed Ali targets N1 trn in Abuja, the Shippers‘ Association, Lagos State (SALS) in Lagos opines that the Customs dream may only be achievable through strong prayers, as the nation’s business class are presently moving in droves to neighbouring ports, as a result of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) foreign exchange restrictions on some goods.

Specifically, 50 percent of goods meant for the Nigerian markets, according to SALS, are already being diverted to Cotonou.

“When the CBN forex restriction policy came into effect, we appealed to the Federal Government to review the policy and remove some critical items because it is hurting our business and the country‘s revenue. The reflection of that restriction is beginning to show up because we are having less cargoes in our ports. Rather than shippers bringing their cargoes to Lagos, they prefer Cotonou and they do their foreign transactions there because Benin Republic does not have such restrictions as we have”, SALS President, Mr. Jonathan Nicol indicated, confirming massive diversion  of cargo by Nigerians.

This development, according to Nicol would no doubt seriously affect the nation’s revenue target.

In the meantime, the Office of the National Security Adviser told a Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday that it had in November 2015 petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to investigate about 78 firms and individuals, including a firm owned by the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olisa Metuh, that were allegedly paid about N1.4bn by the ONSA for non-existing contracts.

This was revealed in the electronic mandate issued by a former NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), to the Abuja branch of the Central Bank of Nigeria, authorising N1.4bn to 78 beneficiaries.

The document was tendered and admitted as exhibits by the court presided over by Justice Okon Abang on Tuesday, during the resumed trial of Metuh and his company, Destra Investments Limited, who were charged with seven counts of money laundering and fraudulent receipt of N400m meant for procurement of arms from the NSA office on November 22, 2014.

“What is written on the document is payment for security services,” a Legal Adviser at the Office of the NSA, Mr. Bali Ndam, said when EFCC’s prosecuting counsel, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, showed to him the electronic mandate on Tuesday.

Our correspondent on Tuesday sighted the e-mandate which showed that N1.4bn was released by the CBN on Dasuki’s instruction to the CBN.

When the defence counsel, Mr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), confronted Ndam with the document during cross-examination, the witness read other part of the document stating that the ONSA paid Metuh for providing “three operational vehicles.”

The prosecution alleged in the charges that Metuh and his firm used the N400m paid to them by ONSA for the PDP’s campaign, and were said to have given about N21m to a former Chairman, Board of Trustees of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih.

It alleged that the money was “part of the proceeds of an unlawful activity” of the immediate past NSA (Dasuki).

Ndam, who appeared as the third prosecution witness in court on Tuesday, said the incumbent NSA, Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno (retd.), sent a petition dated November 28, 2015 to the commission over “payment of contracts without award.”

Led in evidence by the prosecuting counsel, Tahir, the witness said “a list of companies and individuals about 78 in number” was attached to the NSA’s petition to the EFCC.

He said he could “vividly remember” that Metuh’s firm, Destra Investments Limited, with whom the PDP spokesperson is standing trial, was the 78th beneficiary of the allegedly fraudulent payment.

The witness said, “On November 28, 2015, the ONSA forwarded a letter to the Chairman of the EFCC and the title of the letter was ‘payment of contracts without award’ for their necessary action.

“The letter forwarded a list of companies and individuals covering almost about 78.

“The one I can remember vividly is Destra Investment Limited.

“Following the letter, the EFCC sent a letter to the ONSA requesting e-payment mandate for these companies. The (EFCC’s) letter dated January 13, 2016 and signed by one Ibrahim Musa.

“The ONSA replied the request of EFCC forwarding the list of e-payment mandate, number 0799 to the EFCC on January 14, 2016. It was signed by one M. Abdulraheem, Group Captain.

“After the letter was forwarded to the EFCC, I was also invited to write a statement which I did.”

Justice Abang later overruled the objection by the defence lawyer, Mr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), to the admissibility of the petitions and other documents with their annexure as exhibits.

The exhibits included a petition by the incumbent NSA, Monguno, to the EFCC asking for investigation of some payments to the 78 companies and individuals without any contract award.

The petition had with it an annexure of the list of the 78 beneficiaries.

The other exhibits also included a letter by the EFCC to the ONSA, asking for the electronic mandate authorising the payments to Metuh’s firm and other beneficiaries.

The last of the exhibits was the response by the ONSA to the EFCC attaching the electronic mandate issued by the then NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), addressed to the Controller of the Abuja branch of the CBN.

But during the cross examination, the defence counsel, Ikpeazu, said with Ndam’s witness statement only made after the charges had been filed against the defendants, it was obvious that he (the witness) was only “procured to manufacture evidence to entangle the defendants.”

Metuh, who has a pending application for variation of the conditions of bail granted him by the court, was also produced in court in handcuffs by prison officials on Tuesday.

Justice Abang fixed Wednesday for the hearing of the application for variation of the bail terms, which his lawyer said he had laboured unsuccessfully to fulfil.

Additional report from Punch