The Comptroller General (CG) of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) , Abdullahi Dikko Inde (OFR), who assumed office on August 18, 2009 delivered a paper to the Integrity Group of the World Customs Organisation (WCO) at its 117th/118th session in Brussels, Belgium on the reform initiatives of his administration to improve efficiency in the service. In this interview with EMMANUEL MASHA, the CG speaks on some salient issues.
At this period of security challenges, what is the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) doing to better control our borders and other entry points to prevent weapons and other dangerous materials from being smuggled into the country?The issue of security is not about the customs alone; it is about all the agencies of government working at the borders that should help us keep our borders safe and free from weapons and other dangerous materials. But as for Customs, we are doing the best we can.
As far back as last year, we saw the danger some of these threats pose to us, and started reorganization. In terms of strategy, we concentrated our activities more on the borders. You remember that all our internal check points were ordered to be dismantled with the exception of information control in some places.
So, we concentrate our strategy and focus around the border areas. And we have gotten support in doing this from the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, because just last year we got over 400 vehicles to patrol our borders. Now the creeks have been an area of some concerns for us, because if you police the borders adequately people will want to smuggle goods through the water. Now, we are happy that we have the approval of the Federal Executive Council to acquire two seaworthy patrol vehicles to checkmate smuggling activities through the water.
So far, are there proofs that your administration’s strategy on security is yielding the much expected results?
We have been getting results. Going to the level of dangerous arms, just last recently at the airport, our operatives thwarted an attempt to bring in three hair rifles with ammunition, and 120 pellets into the country through courier. If you are familiar with our operations, you must have seen seized frozen chicken, dangerous drugs. Some might say they are not direct assault on security, but they constitute serious threat to public health. When people bring in fake drugs into the country, or when people bring in frozen chicken that can lead to epidemic, they should be checked.
From 2009 to date, what has your administration done to build capacity among officers in the service?
2012 is a very strategic year in Nigeria Customs history. The contract for destination inspection terminates this year, and in 2013, it is expected that Nigeria Customs personnel will take the contract over. We will be the ones fully in charge of DI operations, and all of that. All these trainings have been carefully organized and planned to build our capacity, and our ability to take over the responsibility when the contract would have expired. Before 2009, capacity building of officers and men of the service did not receive the deserved attention.
Training was limited to ASYCUDA and refresher courses in our training colleges in Kano and Lagos. Realizing the place of capacity development in the effective performance of the workforce, a department of Human Resources Development was created at the inception of this administration in August 2009. Between 2009 and July, 2011, a total number of 12, 510 officers of the men of the service have undergone training both locally and internationally.
Again, there has been increment in salaries with over 100 per cent. The Customs Officers Wives Association (COWA), has become a rallying point which the administration has used for women empowerment, skill acquisition programmes, family support, malaria eradication, and a number of other programmes that affect our families as the major supporters of customs officers. And it is only when you have a good and healthy family that is well looked after that you can have officers that will really give a good account of themselves in their various callings.
There is a disparity between Degree and HND holders in terms of career advancement in the service. How has the issue been handled?
I have not seen any disparity between degree and HND holders in the service. What happens in the customs and most other organizations that I know is that there is a scheme of service which specifies the entry point. Every entry point has its own career projection, and these are clearly spelt out right from when you are joining the service. So, you have a choice to accept or reject it when you are coming in.
Even when you accept that letter, it is not automatic; you are not yet in the Customs, because you still have to do what we call a documentation process. It is at the documentation process that they will look at your papers. Oh you have HND, then you are Level 7, and when you signed it off, it means that you have agreed to start from that level.
So, there is no such disparity. Now, this same scheme of service provides that this is how your career can go through existing opportunities for you to move from one cadre to another, cadre provided certain conditions are met. For example, those with HND can cross to Superintendent level if they go to the university and do a Diploma programme.
They can cross and become superintendents. So, all these things have been clearly stated in the conditions of service, which everybody signs up before coming in.
What is the service doing in the area of ICT?
A lot of progress has been made from 2009 to date. Now all major customs operations are done electronically from declaration to manifest to submission of processing of SGD to payment in banks to reconciliation. Even release to terminal operators are all done electronically. We are going beyond that now to talk to our stakeholders that we can now begin to employ single window technology to clear goods. Single window is a very simple technology: instead of importers going to all the agencies one by one, they can submit their declaration at one single place and all the agencies of government that have interest in such information will access the information and date submitted, and effect the clearance of goods.
What is being done to increase revenue, and block loopholes in revenue drive?
A lot is being done by the service in that direction through the intensification of anti-smuggling operations, particularly at the border stations. We have also set-up a special team in Lagos and Port Harcourt to carry out investigations on cases related to fraud, especially the non-payment of appropriate duties. We have blocked revenue leakages by reducing abuse of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme by visiting factories in member countries to find out the eligibility of products.
What is the relationship between the Nigeria Customs Service and the World Customs Organisation (WCO)?
It has been a success story. Nigeria was re-elected Vice Chairman of the West and Central African Region. The visibility of Nigeria in WCO continues to improve. You remember that at the last council meeting, Nigerian President was the special guest of honour at the 60th anniversary of the organisation.
In addition, we are incorporating international best practices in line with WCO’s reform measures. The reforms in the service led the WCO invitation to us to deliver a paper in June 2011 at the WCO headquarters in Brussels, which equally made Customs Administrations in countries like the United Kingdom (UK), the United States of America (USA), Kuwait, Turkey, Canada, Vietnam, South Africa are requesting to partner with the Nigeria Customs Service.