The proposed $3.1 billion customs modernisation deal, according to the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), is a debt trap that should be avoided.
Iju Tony Nwabunike, the National President of the ANLCA, stated this in Lagos over the weekend, urging President Muhammadu Buhari and Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, not to sign the deal.
Nwabunike warned on the sidelines of an ANLCA National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting that the country is already in debt and should avoid entering into a deal that would bind her to pay back for a service of lesser value for a period of 20 years.
The ANLCA’s president also urged the National Assembly to scrutinize the agreement in detail.
“We also want to caution the Federal Government before agreeing to the $3.1 billion Customs modernisation project, which, according to reports, will last 20 years.” We strongly advise President Muhammadu Buhari and the Finance Minister to reject the deal.
“Nigeria is already in serious debt, and customs, as a non-oil revenue generator for the government, should not be tied to another two-decade repayment schedule.”
“On this, we urge the National Assembly to examine the details closely and ensure that the Federal Ministry of Finance, the Nigeria Customs Service, and all other parties involved exercise due diligence to avoid trapping the country in another 20-year debt repayment for a lesser value.”
He bemoaned the fact that newly imported scanners for use at ports under the modernisation project were not deployed until months after they arrived in the country.
Nwabunike, who also criticized the NCS’s N4.1 trillion target for 2022, said the figure is exorbitant and will result in poor economic performance due to undue double taxation, which will frustrate businesses.
He suggested that instead of such a high revenue target, the NCS should focus on trade facilitation, as suggested by the Permanent Secretary of the Finance Ministry during a recent public hearing on the amendment of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA)
He went on to say that the high target will put the NCS under a lot of pressure to collect a lot of money, which will jeopardize the service’s ability to facilitate trade.
According to him, pursuing higher revenue while failing to strengthen trade will result in greater losses for the country because investments will be threatened, reduced, or eliminated as a result of the country’s harsh taxation regime.
In response to the charge of tenure elongation leveled against him, he stated that the ANLCA amended the constitution in December 2020 at a duly convened Annual General Meeting in Owerri, adopting a single tenure of five years.
He claimed that the single five-year term begins with his administration’s implementation of the amended constitution, which barred him from seeking a second term as he had previously desired.
He described the AGM decision as a bitter pill he had to swallow and a personal sacrifice he had to make in order to keep leadership separate from selfish ambition.
He described the alleged misinformation about tenure elongation as the work of suspended and expelled mischief makers misinterpreting an outdated constitution to cause confusion, while reminding ANLCA members and other stakeholders that his term will expire in April 2023.
He stated that if genuine remorse and repentance are shown by those who have been expelled or suspended, the ANLCA is willing to reconsider its previous decision and grant them amnesty and readmission into the organization.