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Cablegate: "Customs Duty" Hits the Small Screen

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS ABUJA 000276

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT PLEASE ALSO PASS TO USTR PATRICK COLEMAN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KCOR ETRD KDEM NI
SUBJECT: "CUSTOMS DUTY" HITS THE SMALL SCREEN

REF: A. ABUJA 235

B. LAGOS 309

1. President Obasanjo announced in January that he was
revamping the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) because it was
thoroughly corrupt and neither collecting proper duties not
keeping out items the President had banned from importation
(reftels). The NCS Controller General was sacked along with
several other senior officers. A "new" NCS is emerging, and
it now has its own TV news show, "CustomsDuty" at 10pm each
Monday.

2. This week's half-hour show was not badly done. The first
story was a stakeholders meeting of Finance Minister Ngozi,
representatives of shipping companies, the ports authorities
and NCS working out new procedures for clearing shipments,
and Ngozi told the audience she hoped all Nigerians would
watch "CustomsDuty" each week. The second story was on a
World Customs Association training program for NCS personnel,
supported by USAID. A third story refuted accusations in the
press that four seized containerloads of drugs had been
auctioned off by the NCS as auto parts, but the fourth story
reported the suspension of nine NCS officers for diverting
and selling four tankers of vegoil that were supposed to be
transshipped to Niger.

3. The show then turned to interaction with viewers. Acting
Controller General Ogungbemile started with a press
conference, pushing for a "Strong emphasis on plugging
revenue leakages" in the NCS. While he spoke and answered
questions from the audience, the show's e-mail address
flashed across the bottom of the screen with encouragement
for viewers to e-mail questions that would be answered on the
show. The last 5 minutes of the show then turned to the
uniformed NCS presenter of the show answering the questions,
ranging from defining what "commercial quantities" of an item
are compared to amounts "for personal use" to a rather
in-depth explanation for those who want to import items like
orange juice on the banned list.

4. COMMENT: If NCS administered the ban on imported orange
juice over the last several months as well it did the TV
show, one would not find more imported orange juice than
domestic on the shelves of most grocery stores in Abuja.
While we of course are working the GON to overturn the bans,
it should be noted that most items on the banned list have
been entering anyway by Nigerian importers paying a bribe to
customs officers that was less than the tariff before the
ban. Few U.S. companies have complained (Ref B) that their
sales in Nigeria have decreased after the bans, perhaps for
this reason.
ROBERTS

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