By Shola Fadeyi
Alhaji Hamman Ahmed , Ex Customs CG
A former Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service (NSC), Alhaji Hamman Ahmed has faulted the Service, for planning to transfer, to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) the issue, concerning its recent seizure of $8.061 million ( N2.9 billion at the prevailing exchange rate of N360 to the dollar ) at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) tarmac in Ikeja, Lagos.
Alhaji Ahmed , while reacting to the seizure in a telephone interview with the Marine and economy, commended the Customs for the act , but said that it was not necessary for the Service to turn over the case to the Commission , because it has the powers under the law establishing it , to handle it on its own.
He said it was also wrong for the Customs to have been transferring cases that have to do with other goods it has impounded in the past , such as arms and ammunition, drugs , among others to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) , National Agency for Foods, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the Standards Organisations of Nigeria(SON).
It will be recalled that the Customs announced recently that it intercepted on January16, 2020 ,the foreign currency, packed in six big bagco bags , in a bus belonging to the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company(NAHCO), at the MMIA tarmac, while it had arrested and took into custody, one Chimezie Okonkwo , whom it said was the driver of the bus.
It said it has been carrying out preliminary investigations on the seizure, while it would later transfer the money and the suspect to the EFCC for further investigations as it as to do with money laundering.This is even as the NAHCO management has denied having anything to do with the seizure.
But Ahmed said the seizure is primarily a case of smuggling, and that Customs is the only body in Nigeria vested with the statutory powers to prosecute such , wondering why the Service should be transferring all its seizure cases to agencies of government when it has powers of prosecution.
He said specifically that; “the Exchange Control Code gives the Customs the powers to prosecute currency smuggling cases and as such the Customs should not transfer the matter, but prosecute the culprits under sections 63 and 64 of the Customs and Excise Management Act(CEMA) for attempting to smuggle the dollar out of the country”.
The former CG disclosed that , after the conviction, the culprits will be sent to prison for five years and the money would be forfeited to the Customs, emphasizing that that the issue should be prosecuted as a smuggling case, which it is.
He said though the Customs acted in a haste in arresting the culprit, otherwise the officers would have waited for him to start loading the money inside the aircraft before effecting the seizure , but pointed out that the fact still remains that it was a smuggling issue, that falls within the purview of the customs.
Ahmed stated that, seizures of arms, drugs among others are all cases of false declarations with intent to evade duty payment, through importation of prohibitions or restrictions which can be prosecuted under sections 46 and 47 of CEMA.
Citing the relevant section of the law that is section 177 of CEMA to back his claim, Ahmed said that the ‘’Customs must know that Customs proceedings in Court have priority over any other processings and as such it is needless turning over cases it can successfully handle by itself to other agencies of government’’
The former CG thus admonished Customs to wake up to its statutory obligations otherwise ,’’ it would should start transferring seized vehicles to road safety, rice to plant quarantine, petroleum products to civil defence and so on and so forth’’, according to him.