The draft bill seeking to amend the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) might be dead even before arriving the floor of the National Assembly as key stakeholders in the maritime industry unanimously kicked against Section 5 of the draft bill which suggests that the Comptroller General of Customs be made Chairman of the Board of Customs, as against the previous provision which gives the position to the Minister of Finance.
Those that kicked against Customs CG chairing the board included: the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) led by its president, Mr. Frank Jacobs Udemba, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) represented by Mr. Momoh Alhassan, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) represented by Mrs Julie Ogboru and ANLCA led by Prince Olayiwola Shittu.
Others are: the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMARTO) as well as many private organisations and individuals
In his opening remarks at the stakeholders meeting, Customs Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali said it was pertinent for the service to subject the Act for stakeholders’ scrutiny in line with provisions of World Customs Organisation (WCO)
He noted that customs has over the years clamoured for a review of its laws in order to realign it modern realities.
Ali however warned that Customs will not pass the CEMA to the National Assembly for review if any of its sections is in conflict with any other existing Act, including the CRFFN Act.
The Customs CG however expressed surprise at the refusal of stakeholders to accept Customs head as chairman of customs board, saying that this is the only option to facilitate trade.
He warned that placing the Finance Minister as Chairman of Customs board will subject operations of customs to government bureaucracy.
“If you look at FIRS, CBN and others, the board is chaired by their boss, the Customs service needs to be semi-autonomous and when you subject it to government bureaucracy, it will cause delay in trade processes”
“My minister has a lot on her hands already, so it means that I must get approval from my minister before I can act on any of your complaints, even if your vessel is delayed at the port with perishable goods”.
“The issue of customs chairing the board should not scare us, so far the laws are complied with, we are not trying to make customs untouchable by this law, we are doing so in order to facilitate trade for everyone” he said.”