By Uche Usim
WHEN President Muhammadu Buhari recently appointed Hammed Alli, the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), he handed him three clear mandates; to restructure, reform and increase revenue.
On assumption of duties, Alli, a retired Army Colonel, did not need to look to deep to decipher that bad eggs existed within the para-military organization, just as stakeholders had repeatedly stated.
The Customs boss has, however, pledged to completely reform the service and in so doing, those with indelible marks of corruption will not be spared but made to face the law.
He described the corrupt elements in the service as retardants slowing down the momentum of the organization.
Alli, who was in Lagos on a five-day working visit, stated that the restructuring would address perennial issues like stagnation, officers welfare, training and others.
In this interview, he speaks more about the NCS.
Lagos must always be my first port of call because 75 per cent of import, export and clearing activities and revenue are from Lagos. Lagos also hosts 60 per cent of Customs workforce. From what I can deduce from this visit, my men are doing very well. From standards I’ve seen, they’re doing their best in the circumstance they found themselves.
However, there are few administrative things to address to make the job better. We need to put things in place to ensure greater productivity. We also need to thinker with some things to make our relationship with stakeholders stronger. But one thing is paramount, we’ve to enforce the laws setting up the Customs. We didn’t make those laws but we’re to enforce them to the letter. During the course of my interactions with various stakeholders, I’ve made it clear that the music has changed. The mantra now is change. We must change the way we do things. We met with freight forwarders and had a nice time with them. They need us and we need them. We also met with various government and private sector players like the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), the Manufacturers Association of Nigerian (MAN), among others. I must stress that the visit has been very successful. As the NCS, our job is critical and also dangerous. But like I said, change is the mantra now. We must change in our attitude, relationship etc all for the better. The pain may require some patience and inconveniences and that’s what we must go through.
Yes! There are few bad eggs within the system. They exist and so we must identify them and get rid of them, especially if they are not willing to change for the better. All laws governing the NCS must be enforced. Where there is breach, we will come down hard on such a person or group of officers. When you create an example, it serves as deterrent. If you don’t punish, impunity continues. So the bad eggs should turn over a new leaf before you’re caught because once you’re identified, you will face the law. The law is no respecter of persons. No one is above the law. There will be no sacred cows or sacrificial lambs. A lot of people have been saying there will be mass sack in Customs and all that. That is not the case. My mandate here is not to sack because, honestly, we need more hands to do this job more effectively and take the service to the next level. But even at that, we won’t habour bad eggs in our midst. So, if the kitchen becomes too hot, some people may opt to leave the system because they can’t just fit in. Part of my reform and restructure plans is to turnaround the people on ground and make the service better. But if they don’t comply, they exit. We’re not threatening officers with sack. We’re reminding them of the law and that we’ll apply them as appropriate. We’re telling you to conform to the law and do the right thing.
A lot of people have queried that I don’t wear the Customs uniform. The job is not about whether I wear uniform or not, but carrying out the job within the context of the mandate given to me and the laws. As far as I’m concerned, it makes no difference whether I wear uniform or not but to deliver. My colleagues here know who the Comptroller General of Customs is.
We have various Customs commands that do different things but all their activities empty into the same organizational vision and mission. So you can’t really say you want to compare the activities or operations of Apapa command with Seme and Idi Iroko commands for instance. These are clearly two different operational areas. The Apapa command is in the seaport and deals mainly with importers, agents and vessels that ship in cargoes. That is a calmer working environment. You cannot say as much for Seme and Idi Iroko commands. These are border posts and must have a robust enforcement unit to tackle trans-border smuggling and other crimes. So, the enforcement officers must carry guns to tackle these smugglers that I call economic saboteurs. However, I have told my men not to have preference for any command. To me, they’re all the same. If you are used to influencing your posting to the so-called juicy commands so that you can be collecting kickbacks, then you need to have a rethink because the game has changed. Such lucrative places will now become dangerous grounds because it can put you in trouble. In fact, days of collecting bribe are over. If I were officers, I will prefer not to go to the so-called juicy areas to avoid temptation. The law will run its full course when you are caught. So, any wise officer should rather wish for non-lucrative areas. It’s safer.
We have not closed the case of recovering the money owed the government by rice importers. Indeed, no rice debtor will go away with our money. We will explore all right channels to get it. We will even go to find out how they got involved in such acts. No wishy-washy approach to it. It’s government revenue and we need to collect it.
Battle with smugglers
Battling smugglers is not an easy job at all. It is a 24-hour battle. If you see our arsenal, we have various weapons to confront smuggling. We even have armoured vehicles because these people are more dangerous than any Boko Haram you can think of.
The issue of Customs officers from the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) intercepting containers that have been duly cleared by Customs officers at the ports or other places is a normal thing. You see, we’ve the FOU divided into zones. It’s our own internal police used to police the system itself. We have the same thing in the Army. So, what the FOU officers are doing is in line with our duties because we know there are some leakages in the system.
In addressing that, we have intelligence unit that feeds the FOU officers with information that some goods have been released without proper documentation, without correct duty payments or other anomalies. They simply inform them of any wrongdoing and these enforcement officers swing into action. If you to various FOUs, you will see a lot of seizures. They are there. It’s not as if when they intercept the goods, nothing fishy is found. 80 percent of the times, they detect something wrong and when nothing wrong is detected, they let you go.
To ensure nothing criminal escapes the system, our men go after such containers or goods. Henceforth, if we arrest any goods on the highway, we will not just impound the goods and arrest smugglers, we will now trace the officers that released the goods and punish them appropriately. That’s how to block some of these leakages. So, we will keep policing ourselves. Even if we identify any warehouse where such illicit goods are kept, we will still confiscate them. We have the power to break into any warehouse and seize contraband goods or goods that were wrongly declared or the proper duties not paid for. So, it is not only on the highway that we seize goods but in homes, offices and warehouses. We recently impounded 41 brand new jeeps that evaded duty payment. They didn’t drop from heaven, our men cleared them. So because our men cleared them, we should not impound them. Will we keep quiet? Those who cleared them will face the music. That is part of the reform I am talking about.
We need to really increase the revenue and we know we can achieve that if we work towards it. If our men do their best, we will increase the revenue we generate. Again, we will also provide the necessary tools, especially boosting our ICT platforms to improve performance. Increased revenue generation is one of my mandates.
We have received several reports and complaints of faulty scanners. Scanners are vital in the clearing business. They really enhance our jobs. We know that some are bad. We’ll take a holistic approach to fix that. We’ll also acquire some where necessary and fix the ones we can fix. We want to solve the issue of scanners once and for all to speed up clearing procedures.
Source : SunOnline