A conglomeration of business professionals has called on President Goodluck Jonathan to remain steadfast on the promulgation of a new law that will replace the outdated Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) that has been in existence since 1958. At a press conference in Abuja, leaders of the groups, led by Dr. Sani Maikano Abdullahi, said the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was being misadvised by those against the review of the Act.
According to the leader, the groups hold Okonjo-Iweala in a high esteem, but wondered why anyone would write to the President of the country misinforming him that the new law is going to strip him of his powers over the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS). "How can that be possible when even the appointment of the Customs Comptroller-General is at the pleasure of the President? They just want to hoodwink President Jonathan so that they would continue granting waivers to their cronies, as they did recently to the tune of N1.2 billion to an importer of vehicle spare parts.
"Mr. President needs to respectfully be reminded that even such globally-respected organisations such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has recently supported the review of CEMA, saying it will bring it in line with international best practices of the revised Kyoto Convention, thereby supporting revenue collection, trade facilitation and the giant strides in the Customs Service modernisation," the group said.
The groups stated further: "The process of replacing CEMA with a new law started long before the present Comptroller-General of Customs, Abdullahi Dikko Inde, became the CG.
"It was initially spearheaded by the Ministry of Finance in 2004, and the first chairperson of the Inter-Ministerial Working Group of Customs Legislation redraft was Hajia Binta Bello, Deputy Director Trade Relations and Home Finance in the Federal Ministry of Finance.
"Of the 17 members of that committee, only five were from the NCS. Why then are some current top officials of the ministry trying to create all sorts of bottlenecks against promulgation of the new law, just because it will deprive them of powers to continue to milk the nation?"
The business professionals also advised the minister to be cautious of those officials of her ministry who, according to them, are misleading her.
"Dr. Okonjo-Iweala should know that other Nigerians are watching her utterances and body language. She started well so she has to ensure she ends well. She should be cautious of those who are trying to hoodwink her.
"If the minister is interested in the development of Nigerian economy, as we want to believe she is, then she should actively support the new Customs law being considered by the National Assembly.
"This is because the most important reason why CEMA needs to be replaced is economic. The new law will reduce poverty and increase cargo security through specific enabling provisions that will improve the efficiency of customs operations and its attendant benefits of trade facilitation.
"It will harmonise, simplify, standardise and modernise trade procedures and operations in the overall interest of Nigeria," they said.
Continuing, Abdullahi stated that even the customs itself does not have legal basis under CEMA, adding that the use of modern customs technologies and procedures are not provided for in the outdated law.
"There is also the issue of recent international agreements which are not being applied. More importantly, collection of revenue by the customs and the enforcement of laws will be seriously improved," he said.
The groups commended the National Assembly and urged it not to relent in its determination to pass the new law. UNCTAD recently released estimates showing that the full application of the ASYCUDA World Customs ICT System and related customs procedures increased revenue by 47% in East Timor. A 47% increase in revenue collected by the NCS could amount to an additional N195 billion per year to be collected, the business professionals observed.