When President Bola Tinubu appointed Wale Adeniyi as acting comptroller-general of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in June 2023 and subsequently confirmed his appointment in October, there was jubilation in the port industry owing to the wealth of knowledge that he was to bring to bear.
No doubt, in less than 100 days, he was able to hit the ground running by leading extensive reforms targeted at resetting the operations of Customs. This resulted in an increase in revenue collection by over 70 percent to N343 billion in his first two months in office, between July and August 2023.
Adeniyi expressed the optimism that Customs under his watch would exceed this year’s N3.6 trillion revenue target going by the reforms aimed at plugging revenue leakages, streamlining the customs clearance process, and addressing the existing gaps at the time.
Before his appointment, the Service’s monthly revenue collections averaged N202 billion in the first half of the year, indicating about N105 billion shortfall from the N307 billion budgetary target.
“We’ve consistently exceeded the monthly target collection of N307 billion, marking a remarkable departure from previous performances. We embarked on a comprehensive overhaul of the Nigeria Customs Service, guided by our policy thrust.
“We recognised that to effect real change, we needed to incrementally challenge the status quo and instigate a transformation that was both dynamic and results-oriented,” Adeniyi said when he marked 100 days in office.
His appointment signalled the implementation of the new Nigeria Customs Service Act, which provides that only a serving Customs officer from the rank of an Assistance Comptroller General can become a Comptroller General and his appointment restored the confidence of officers.
Just last Wednesday, Adeniyi officially inaugurated a committee to dispose of overtime cargo from the port to decongest terminals burdened with longstanding cargo that has hampered port efficiency for years.
Overtime cargo has in addition to constraining terminal spaces required for new import, contributed to the deterioration of port infrastructure designed as transit locations.
During the inauguration, Adeniyi said the new Customs Act empowers the NCS to dispose of containers that have exceeded their allotted time within the ports.
“The Act stipulates that the disposal of cargo exceeding its allotted time can now only occur through a court order and that such goods must be disposed of through public auction or tender, which will be widely publicised through national newspapers, television, and the service’s official website.
According to him, the move will enhance port efficiency and facilitate trade at the port.
Over 7,000 overtime containers have occupied spaces at the port terminals for years, said Durowaiye Ayodele, general manager of MD’s office at the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
The renewed commitment of Customs under the leadership of Adeniyi to rid the port of overtime cargo has given the NPA a reason to heave a sigh of relief.
For instance, Ayodele said that there are containers that have been at the port for over 10 years, occupying economic space.
“So, this is a significant relief for our operations. We are delighted that we have reached a point where we can begin to remove some of these lingering containers and overdue cargo from the port,” Ayodele said.
In addition, Adeniyi disclosed plans to implement a 48-hour Customs clearance process, a Federal Government policy that aims at facilitating trade.
According to him, the NCS has implemented strategies to address issues related to Customs processes and procedures and he listed the strategies to include the plan to launch the Authorised Economic Operators (AEO) programme, a robust risk management system, and a time-release study scheduled for the first quarter of 2024.
“The objective is to enhance Customs procedures, reduce both time and the cost of doing business at port,” he said.
Reacting to this, Tunde Keshinro, a terminal operator, suggested that it would be more efficient to dispose of the cargo at their current location, streamlining the process and expediting the necessary steps.
On assumption of office, Adeniyi facilitated the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Nigeria Customs and the Customs of the Republic of Benin, and he will forever be remembered as the Customs CG that facilitated the removal of barriers to legitimate trade between both countries in with the ECOWAS trade liberalisation scheme.
The two countries decided to ensure strict compliance with transit rules; harmonise the list of products prohibited by the two countries and integrate Nigeria into the Interconnected System for the Management of Goods in Transit (SIGMAT), which already includes the Customs Administrations of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.
Both countries also agreed to facilitate the issue of Laisse passe for a short stay in one of the countries as a means of transport registered in the other country.
They also settled to strengthen the fight against cross-border crime through cooperation, intelligence sharing and the pooling of resources, and to hold meetings twice a year to discuss matters of common interest.
Adeniyi said the objective was to review friendships with Benin’s Customs administration and expand collaborations in areas of common interest.
“We saw the attention that was given to the Port of Cotonou, the progress that is being made in reducing clearance time, ensuring that there is no congestion at the port and, most importantly, the use of technology to drive operations of the Customs administration.
“The attempt which Benin Customs has done towards trade facilitation is something that Nigeria Customs will also be doing particularly to look at where we can use our processes to reduce the cost and time of doing business,” he said.
Trade between Nigeria and the Benin Republic suffered a setback in August 2019 after Nigeria’s government, under President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, ordered the nation’s land borders to be closed.
Though, the Seme border was reopened in in December 2020 alongside Illela, Maigatari and Mfun, the controversial border closure had already dinted trade between both countries, which the current Customs CG wants to revitalise.
In the long run, the MoU will eventually allow a Nigerian licensed Customs agent to be able to clear goods on the Benin Republic border while a Benin Republic licensed agent will also be able to clear goods on the Nigerian border.
In the area of suppressing smuggling, the Service in July intercepted smuggled ammunition of different types concealed in two different containers.
It includes 31 various types of rifles and other ammunition; 10 dangerous arms and various rounds of live ammunition; three new Pump Action rifles and one new unit of an armed rifle, six new different makes of pistols, one new millennium G2 pistol, one new sarsilmaz SAR-9X pistol, one new Lugger Security-9 pistol, one new Taurus Banbridge G3C pistol, one new SCCY CPX-2 pistol, and one new Taurus (63 pistols), 14 empty magazines, and 442 rounds of live ammunition.
This massive seizure recorded under his watch, was in addition to various contraband including hard drugs, explosives, rice, and second-hand used clothing among others that were intercepted in various Customs commands in the country.
Within 100 days in office, he had a robust engagement with stakeholders including importers, exporters, media and other sister agencies which enabled him to apply the instrument of dialogue and negotiation to expand the goodwill of Customs.
A few days on the saddle, Adeniyi started a reform aimed at eliminating delays by disbanding the CGC Strikeforce, an enforcement unit of Customs, whose operations clogged Customs processes and added to delays in cargo delivery to importers’ warehouses.
Before then, Customs had multiple units that created cargo clearing delays at ports and made import dwell longer at port resulting in additional costs for the importer.
Reacting to this, Tony Anakebe, a Customs agent, said in addition to streamlining enforcement outside the port, Customs needs to collapse the several structures inside the port that are involved in cargo clearance.
Citing an example, Anakebe said that for an agent to clear one container at the port, the person might receive as many as five alerts on one container from five different units of Customs.
Emma Nwabunwanne, a Lagos-based importer, said the Nigerian shippers have been calling for a one-stop-shop or a single window that will transform cargo clearance at the port.
“If all the Customs units assemble at an examination bay to inspect a container at the same time and write a report that can be uploaded in a system that can be assessed by all the units of Customs, it will help to reduce delay,” he suggested.