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When the figures are not right, how can a people be sure to get their own end of governance right? Ijeoma Nwogwugwu once hinted at this struggle to twist facts and figures. In an explicit piece, she showed that government departments, ministries and parastatals have been doctoring figures to suit their narrative of late. Yes, it is very easy to exploit loopholes in data, and this is what some supposed technocrats have been using their expertise for lately; perhaps to make the picture of the national situation appear less grotesque.

So it was with disappointment that many witnessed the declaration over the weekend by the Special Assistant to the President on New Media, Bashir Ahmad, that the Customs is projected to remit a whopping ₦1.5 trillion as revenue for 2018. What was disappointing is that even though Customs remittance in Naira equivalent appears to be increasing, the US Dollar equivalent is actually one of the lowest remittances in the last three years. If the Naira to Dollar exchange is factored in, it implies that the performance of Nigerians Customs Service under Col Hameed Ali has been dropping with respect to total GDP contribution and in dollar equivalence with other nations. One is confused about this being worthy of any celebration.

A farmer, during the weekend, lamented online how she was swindled by a customs officer who was to inspect her imported container of peat moss. She was supposed to pay just 5% import duty, but the officer charged her a 50% instead on a $2000 container. The importer knew her consignment would be held in demurrage if she does not baulk.  She took a spontaneous decision to avoid any delay and demurrage outcome and paid the inflated duty – a 45% difference. Of course, she got a receipt too; which is quite strange. In fact, the remittance from Customs should be more than the abysmal figure with this inconsequential and unofficial additions to the import duty.

Now you may ask, why is there a difference in the figure on the books and what she was asked to pay? Is Customs trying to scrape business people and ordinary Nigerians of the little resources left of them after a recession just to shore up government revenue? I think yes. In the case stated above, it is clear that the excess charges are not going to the pocket of the Customs officer, except he has been offered a percentage byline by the same agency employing him; just like marketers get a percentage bonus their sales.

We all know how extortion works. We all know that importers desperate to get their consignment out of the port fast would succumb to whatever demand is being made of them. We are also aware that this cost is spread thinly over the direct or indirect users of such product the importer might have been exploited on. No wonder inflation figures are still double-digit for years now.

As if that is not enough, you get to realise that the cost of moving a 20ft container from the port to other parts of Lagos is as high as ₦450,000 while it takes ₦900,000 to move same 20ft container up north. Would the cost have been this high if the road networks in Nigeria have been well suited for haulage? Would the cost have been this unimaginable if the rails were working by now?

The stringent policies of the government have so much locked up other previous avenues of revenue generation that the government is gradually rendering itself broke. It is also not surprising that since the ban of the 41 items from the imports list, nothing less than 20 shipping firms have left the country. For a country that is as dependent on importation, albeit at the moment, squeezing the borders shut will definitely have severe repercussions such as we have already seen.

What we need, as Elections 2019 approaches, are those candidates who will be real with the figures and not aim to swindle less smart citizens with cooked up figures made to appear beautiful. What we need are those who will understand that our institutions need competent hands and who are sure of their technocratic discipline. What our nation now needs is a call to sincerity and individual honesty; that is when we shall begin to tackle corruption and poverty itself from a major root cause.

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This article was first published on 29th October 2018


Macaddy is mostly a farmer in the day who also dabbles into technology at night, in search of other cutting edge intersections. He's on Twitter @i_fix_you

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