The Nigeria Customs and Excise Management Act (CAP C45 Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria) came into being 54 years ago. It will surprise many that this law has not been amended, except shortly after independence in 1960 when the mode of exchange was changed from pounds to naira.
The law, to say the least, has since been overtaken by events, and it surely does not capture prevailing realities. More importantly, it is shocking to realize that many of the subsisting practices by the Nigeria Customs Service are not captured by any law. Going by the obsolete law, the Service cannot sue, and it cannot be sued.
For example, the Nigeria Customs Service currently practises destination inspection for imports. However, the erstwhile law, i.e., “Pre-shipment Inspection of Import Act Cap P 26 Laws of the Nigerian Federation 2004 is still operational. It provides for pre-shipment inspection of imports but what obtains – and which has been certified as most effective the world over – is destination inspection.
The extant law on pre-shipment inspection of exports by Service Providers appointed by government should not be listed for repeal in the new bill, as it is considered adequately structured to enable monitoring of the sector.
A major indication that the current law is no longer in tune with current realities can be seen in the punishment section, which provides for fines as low as two hundred naira (N200), which clearly is not deterrent enough. It has been encouraging criminality, in that some people prefer to pay the fine and go back to the same offences.
Presently, the entire operation of the Nigeria Customs Service is ICT-driven. Payments are effected electronically, yet there is no legal backing for these strategic operations. The Service intends to operate the single window environment. The subsisting law does not capture that, too.
Some powerful individuals and institutions, who feel the new law being proposed will strip them of the huge gains they are making, have embarked on a campaign of calumny against the law, going as far as spreading the rumour that it would strip both the president and the minister of finance of their powers of the Customs Service.
But nothing can be further from the truth. The powers of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are fully retained and even re-inforced in the proposed Act. The powers over the finance minister to guide and direct the Service are also fully retained. The occupant is going to continue as chairman of the board of the Nigeria Customs Service.
The call to revise the Customs Act follows a request made by the Federal Ministry of Finance in 2005 and His Excellency President Goodluck Jonathan in 2009 to reform the Customs Service.
The Ministry of Finance with technical assistance from USAID (Markets) established a technical committee which would examine the Customs Act with the intention of updating its content and ensuring that the new Customs Act comply with international standards.
The draft Customs Act has been discussed at stakeholder meetings in Kano, Lagos and Port Harcourt. It has also been vetted by the attorney-general of the federation. The revision of the Customs Act is expected to improve the efficiency and performance of the supervision and inspection of imported goods into the country.
There is no way the Nigeria Customs Service can be effective with the current law standing. The proposed new law should, therefore, be supported by all well-meaning Nigerians.
It is re-assuring that the Dikko Inde-led customs is spearheading unprecedented efforts to reposition the service for better service delivery. The National Assembly should be commended for efforts being made to pass the new Act into law. Nigeria will be the better for it.