Comptroller Steven Olakunle Oloyede, Customs Area Controller, Tin Can Island Command, Apapa.

The Tin Can Island Command of the Nigeria Customs Service has in the last six months witnessed a huge turnaround across all segments of its statutory core functions and mandates courtesy of Comptroller Steven Oloyede, an undisputed turnaround expert. Francis Ezem reports.

The Tin Can Island Command of the Nigeria Customs Service has no doubt witnessed some measures of turnaround in the last few months, sequel to the redeployment of Comptroller Steven Oloyede as the Customs Area Controller of the command. Recall that Oloyede, who has been repeatedly described as a turnaround expert, resumed at the command on February 14, 2022. He replaced the former CAC, Comptroller Abdullahi Musa, who also went back to the headquarters under the import and export department. For the record, Comptroller Oloyede was one of the eggheads at the Information Communication Technology ICT/Modernisation department of the service at the headquarters. As an ICT/Modernisation expert, his redeployment to the command coincided with the introduction of the new VIN Valuation system for imported vehicles. This is given that Tin Can Island Port is predominantly a Roll-on-Roll-off RORO Port, which is the country’s vehicle importation hub, accounting for over 97per cent of the automobiles imported into the country. Just like many new innovations, especially in climes like Nigeria where some operators resist change and innovations for some personal reasons, the VIN-Valuation system was having a major challenge due to this resistance syndrome. Many also did not genuinely understand the new system, which led to its suspension at some point.

From left: Comptroller Abdullahi Musa hands over to Comptroller Oloyede on February 14, 2022.

Comptroller Oloyede during his first official engagement with the maritime media said he was given specific instructions by the Comptroller General of the service, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd.) to grow non-oil exports through the command, which is in line with government’s economic diversification agenda.

As an astute administrator, the message was clear to the new CAC. Also being a team player, he was convinced from the onset that he needed the stakeholders’ buy in for him to succeed in the new and crucial assignment. He immediately hit the ground running, very conscious that time was of the essence, and evolved a robust stakeholders’ engagement strategy, through which he reached out to every segment of the stakeholder groups, who he also knew were very crucial to his success in this arduous national assignment.

Little wonder therefore, he opted to continue to up-scale activities at the command using all the ICT mechanisms at his disposal and a robust stakeholders’ engagement as the centre point of his turnaround strategy.

For instance, few days after he officially took over the reins of power at the command, he effectively commenced his stakeholders’ engagement, when he among several other strategic stakeholders, visited the Port Manager, Tin Can Island Port Complex, Mr. Jubril Buba. He made no hesitations when he told the Port Manager that he was there to solicit not only his support and cooperation, but also those of the entire port community structure under the Nigerian Ports Authority NPA, which is directly under his supervision and control.

“There is no way Nigeria Customs Service can do without the Nigerian Ports Authority. Even when I was a Special Assistant to some ex-Area Controllers, the first person to visit is usually the Port Manager before going to other stakeholders that are in the import/export transit supply chain. So, I deemed it fit since I’ve learned from my senior colleagues to make it a point of duty to visit the Port Manager.

“We have met unofficially at a forum but it is necessary that I come here today and ask and solicit for you unalloyed support. I need the support of all stakeholders most especially the support of the Ports Authority. So, I am using this medium today to ask for that. I’m sure without mincing words that I am in a safe place.

“This courtesy visit is important for me to see the faces of those that are making things work here at the port and to also present the members of my own administration that also make the work not too heavy for me”, Comptroller Oloyede had said without mincing words.

In the same vein, he visited several other stakeholders to seek their support and collaboration, all of who pledged to synergise with him. Today, these synergies are paying off as can be seen in the operational statistics of the command across all its core mandates and functions.

Like the Chinua Achebe’s proverb in his popular book Things Fall Apart, which says: ‘When a man says yes, his Chi (personal god) attests to it’, Comptroller Oloyede in his determination to deliver on his mandates said ‘yes’. He mapped out strategies and followed them through and positive results abound. Thus, true to his promise, within the first three months, he up-scaled activities at the command, leading to the seizure of 206, 000 pieces of machetes suspected to be for violent and criminal purposes loaded in eight containers and wrongly declared as vehicle spare parts.

The command also impounded 145kg of Colorado Indian Hemp concealed in two units of ridgeline trucks and two pieces of Toyota Corolla cars and 640 bales of used clothes., 236, 500 pieces of used shoes, 62, 500 pairs of brand new lady’s shoes, 1, 814, 400 pieces of (500mg/5ml) Novalgen injection, 48, 850 rolls of cigarettes and 23, 800 tins of bromate and baking powder; all with a duty paid value of N1.04billion. These products contravened section 46, 47 and 161 of Customs and Excise Management Act CEMA 2004.

Within first quarter of 2022, the command also changed the dynamics in revenue collection, netting a whooping N135.4billion, compared to the N112.7billion collected in the comparative period of 2021, representing an increase of N22.7billion or 20.18per cent growth.

The same feat was achieved on the export desk where the command achieved a 63 per cent growth in non-oil export. Non-oil exports at the command grew from 44.5 metric tonnes in the first quarter of 2021 to 71 metric tonnes in 2022 with Free On Board FOB value of N56.2billion, in the first quarter of 2022, which represents a growth rate of 62.7per cent.

While speaking on this performance, which he described as the beginning of the turnaround exercise, he said: “My arrival here signalled a new dawn in the overall performance of the command and this is simply in view of the fact that I was emphatic and categorical on my vision for a renewed enthusiasm in the areas of discipline, trade facilitation, and revenue drive devoid of extortionist tendencies.

“Tin Can Port Command’s operation for the first quarter was significantly aligned with the statutory responsibilities of the service in the area of revenue generation, trade facilitation and enforcement/anti-smuggling activities. In addition to the above, my mandate also included putting modalities in place to boost export and increase revenue through the use of risk management mechanisms in identifying areas of revenue leakage with a view to blocking them.

“It is also instructive to note that the command’s operations drew inspiration from the theme of the International World Customs day: Scaling up Customs digital transformation by embracing a data culture and building a data ecosystem.

“The command continues to leverage on this theme to harness such facilities that have been made available on the NICIS ii platforms such as the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report PAAR, Advance Manifest, Selectivity Engine and data analysis, which to a large extent enhanced our Risk Management Processes, culminating into trade facilitation, expedited Customs processes and ensuring collection of appropriate duty and taxes”.

The command has not only sustained this growth trajectory, but it has also surpassed it as indicated by recent statistics. For instance, the command recorded a 27.5 per cent revenue growth in the first half of 2022, having collected a total of N274.billion as against the N229.3billion collected in the same period last year. It has also stepped up its enforcement and anti-smuggling activities, which has led to the seizure of many illicit goods comprising arms and ammunitions, vehicles, used clothes, drugs and other prohibited items, most of which have been handed over to relevant government agencies with a duty paid value of N1.3billion.

In line with its mandate on non-oil exports, its outward throughput rose to 139million metric tonnes of goods as against the 105million metric tonnes handled in the preceding period of 2021, representing a 73per cent. The FOB value of these exports stood at N100.5billion, which represents an increase of 60per cent compared to the value recorded in the comparative period of 2021

Comptroller Oloyede, while speaking on these recent statistics, attributed the superlative revenue performance partly to the new VIN-Valuation system, which has simplified valuation processes on imported vehicles, which attests to the face that these turnaround strategies are yielding results.

He assured that the pockets of teething challenges during the initial stage of the policy were largely due to stakeholders’ low understanding of the system and that most of those challenges and fears expressed by the stakeholders have been addressed, which is also a product of the robust stakeholders’ engagement and synergy.

“So far, the VIN-Valuation has helped the command to achieve an expedited clearance process due to the predictability of value assessment, increase in revenue generation, increased ease of doing business and generation of accurate statistics for the government.

“At the command level, we faced challenges at the early stages of the deployment of the system due to the degree of understanding the process, most especially on the part of the stakeholders. Never the less, we have been able to overcome these challenges as we put into force Article 2 of the Trade Facilitation Agreement through continuous engagement and consultation with the relevant stakeholders, which led to updates and upgrade of the service to address some of these challenges.

“We have also strengthened the risk management structure to mitigate the consistent attempts by some non-compliant agents to abuse the process through acts of commercial fraud such as falsification of documents and forgery of signatures.

“The objective of the VIN-Valuation service is to simplify and facilitate the Customs clearance process of legitimately imported vehicles by providing a uniform, fair and neutral value across board on vehicles with identical brands, model and year of manufacture in line with the provisions of Article V111 of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs GATT, 1994”, the CAC had said. With these giant strides achieved even within this short period, even the sky cannot be the limit, especially given the zeal and energy seen around him. Until then, only time will tell.