For the past one week, clearing agents operating at the nation’s seaports have been jubilating over the rejection of the amendment of the Customs Excise and Management Act (CEMA), by President Muhammadu Buhari. The act, according to clearing agents, would have thrown the sector into chaos and eroded some powers confered on the President by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
President Buhari had returned the bill to the National Assembly after refusing to sign the amendment into law, raising observations on about 24 clauses and the schedules in the bill as passed by both Chamber of the National Assembly.
The President identified some of the problematic clauses to include; 4(b), 7(2), 7(3), 10(1)(a), 10(1)(b), 12, 14(1)(g), 16(3), 17(4), 18(1), 18(3), 18(6)(c), 111(3), 165(5)(a), 170(1)(a), 171, 175(1)(2), 180, 181, 184, 189, 194, 279, 181 and the Schedule.
However, applauding the rejection of the bill, the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), stated that the bill was hurriedly packaged and as such negates some existing acts.
The acting national president, ANLCA, Kayode Farinto, said, “For instance, if you look at section 7, it negates the rights of any Nigerian to take Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), to court on issue of litigation. Before you can do that, you must seek for clearance or notify them before you take them to court.
“If you also look at the powers given to the board, it eroded the power of the supervising minister and even the power of the President himself. The issue of Authorised Economic Operator (AEO), that one too, we have not started it yet, they already laid public might for this process, which would have assisted to move our economy forward that also must be reviewed.
“The other one is the issue of Protection of Intellectual property, which we have an act already supervising that. The people that brought this CEMA bill together never envisage or they forget to know that protection of Intellectual Property, is an act itself, so if the President signs this bill into law, it will be conflicting with other acts.
“Also, the issue of the Export Processing Zone (EPZ), where a lot of incentives are given to Nigerian importers and exporters, this bill if signed into law would mean that NCS will start collecting tariffs or levies on exported goods.
“Above all the bill if signed into law will now arrogate the issuing of licensing of companies and firms to NCS, don’t forget that we have the Corporate Affairs Commission, and the Corporate Affairs Acts, which empowers them to register any company in Nigeria.”
Farinto, however, disclosed that the association has made necessary intervention on the bill during public hearing, saying a clearing agent from the Council for Regulations of Freight Forwarders in Nigeria (CRFFN), must be present on the Customs board.
“And this is also an opportunity for CRFFN to make their inputs because there are anomalies which the council have looked into. Also, our association has made this projection when we are making our public hearing, that for the board of the Customs Service, a freight forwarder must be represented and that the person must be from CRFFN, so for the President not to sign this bill into an act is a welcome development and in the interest of the nation because if it had been signed it would have negated lot of acts.
“The issue of remuneration, salaries and pensions. We know we have pension scheme that is created by an act, but this bill did not put into cognizance that there is a particular act that has actually dealt with the pension of civil servants. If signed, Nigeria could be in a state of confusion,” he said.
On his part, the National President of African Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria (APFFLON), Otunba Frank Ogunojemite, said the rejection of the amended act was a golden opportunity for CRFFN to make input on the requirements for granting Customs licenses.
“The biggest worry for CRFFN and practicing freight forwarders should be the discrepancies between the Customs Excise and Management Act (CEMA) and the CRFFN Act with regards the requirements for obtaining a Customs license. Going by the Council’s Act, only CRFFN accredited companies should be granted Customs licenses but the new CEMA only requires a company to be registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC),” Ogunojemite said.
He further observed that this issue is captured on section 19 of CRFFN Act and 153 to 157 of CEMA.
Responding, the Zone A, Public Relations Officer, of the service, Uche Ejesieme, said that the review of CEMA, wasn’t intended to be anti-clearing agents or any other group but to upgrade some of the extant laws to align with current global realities.
Ejiseme said “I stand a better chance to inform us that there was a consensus between the committee from Customs led by the Legal adviser, comprising members of the National Assembly Committee on Customs, legal drafting experts from Ministry of Justice and representatives of the Minister of Justice, to effect some corrections in the proposed bill.
“Let it be on record that the review was intended to upgrade some of the extant laws to align with current global realities and nothing in tbe CEMA is intended to be anti- clearing agents or any other group for that matter. And so its not a case of outright rejection but a mutual agreement with the parties to effect necessary corrections to enable us have a perfect document.
“The legal drafting experts in that meeting are the best the ministry can afford and they really demonstrated legal expertise.
“Same for the committee from Customs that were carefully selected from a team of highly cerebral very senior officers most of whom are part of the modernisation team of the Service.”