The Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Alhaji Abdullahi Dikko Inde, in an interactive session with journalists in Abuja, spoke on his achievements so far. The Economic Confidential was represented at the event. Excerpts:
How has it been since your appointment?
I came in when late president Umaru Yar’Adua was still alive. He rarely had discussions, even with the retired Customs officers, but I related well with him. He told me how he wanted the Nigerian Customs transformed; he was even developing more interest in seeing that the Customs changed and repositioned itself from where it was. When Mr. President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, emerged on the scene, he too has given the Customs Service the necessary support to thrive.
How is the relationship between the Customs and the Presidency?
I want to assure you that my relationship with President Goodluck Jonathan has been very cordial and is trusting, because he is a man that is approachable because anytime I approached him with a problem, he finds a solution to it, there and then. And I must add here, with all sense of responsibility that this relationship between the Customs and the President is unprecedented. I can remember two incidences that we had, and in fact, the action he took, I couldn’t believe it. It was the issue of inspection in the ports, I had said in a complaint to the President, that some scanners were not provided, that some people contracted to bring them could not provide them within that period of time. Those scanners were very important to the Customs Service because we used them to check things that are hidden in containers. I was expecting an executive procedure to commence as it was done with all government agencies, but the President immediately ordered that the contract be terminated if the contractors were not up to the task, which came to me as a pleasant surprise. Apart from that, another decision was the right of importation where some of our cargoes were being diverted to neighbouring countries like Cotonou and other places, so that they could go through the waterways and land borders. You can see that from there, with the right of importation, our ports were booming and other ports were being blocked. So in terms of projects, in fact, it was during his time that he initiated the intervention ports when we were approaching our economic emancipation and increase in economic activity, you found out that we had a lot of losses and the facts have been kept under the carpet, licenses were inflated for a lot of money, but we had to continue to harness things by ourselves, and it has helped to motivate our economy and the revenue is really growing.
What other areas needed intervention?
There are other aspects of Customs and Duty, which are really suffering but we are working assiduously to bring them under control with innovations like the importation of our new arms, the purchase of sea boats to combat marine related criminal activities and the like; besides that, the President still supports us with two life boats which are very difficult to get, in fact, it has never happened before. So these are the two things that I think are worth mentioning, not because he supports us with everything we ask for, but because the President listens to us, and you can see for the first time, the prestige that is coming to Nigeria in appreciation of the support that the Government is giving to the Nigerian Customs. The WTO is looking at Nigeria as a decent destination for business and the Nigeria Customs is being recognised all over the world by other Customs and in fact, we now assist others in running or organising their own Customs.
How have you been able to tackle corruption in the Customs Service and what advice would you give to other agencies or parastatals on how to stem it?
I believe in motivation, I’ll advise that let every agency try to motivate their officers, after motivating them, and depending on whatever mode of operation introduced, really they would accept and embrace new reforms, but while the staff are hungry, I don’t think they would be able to accept or be susceptible to any new development, or any changes that would help the growth of any agency, so I believe in motivation.
Can you give us a rundown of some of your activities in the last one year?
Well, so far so good, I’m always glad to give an account of my yearly activities because it has been more eventful than I thought it would be. In terms of revenue collection, we have an increase of almost 150 billion naira in revenue, which I think is a very remarkable and good achievement, and in terms of smuggling, we made a lot of seizures that ultimately, made smuggling activities unattractive to most of its perpetrators. So I can say we’ve done well in that aspect.
What is your scorecard on welfare?
In terms of welfare, actually we have sustained 100% salary increase yearly; our staff is highly motivated in terms of housing accommodation which we conceived, and we are sure it would be concluded; we have a housing estate just concluded, which President Goodluck Jonathan, made time out of his tight schedule, to commission. We are launching an owner-occupier housing estate, possibly, and we are moving out of Abuja to another location in the country to make sure that our staff are accommodated with their families, comfortably. We were able to secure and supply almost 280 sets of arms to our men to be able to combat smuggling, of which most of them are within the area of commands.
Does your training in Bulgaria, have anything to do with your own idea of motivation?
I believe what I have seen on ground, and what I’m working with yearly, motivated me; I have a socialist background, I believe in hard work, I believe in welfare, I believe in working tools, and I believe that I can do better if I do things by myself, so actually I would not say no! I have that background, and I believe that people must work before they eat; I think that is the slogan there. In essence, I think that the vital pillars of progress depends on how effectively, people think that their resourcefulness are appreciated, and if these signs are missing, the issue of improved services and reforms, will be equally missing.
What are the challenges facing the Nigeria Customs Service, and what strategies have been employed to make it function and to be in tune with modern services?
What actually are our challenges from inside, are more of things that need to be attacked from the administrative perspective, actually knowing what they are doing and how to address the issues, and administratively, how to address any problem that has to do with the service. The outside one is the level of compliance of the stakeholders. You see, now some items are being banned from the imports list but you find out that some people get them in, and only God knows how; it is not necessarily through the Customs, there are one million and one hundred routes and what have you, these are some of the challenges. Still, we must find solutions to the problem because if we don’t, we will be indicted for failing to do so, and you’ll be seeing on the pages of newspapers that the Customs has been compromised, and allowed banned items into the country. We would not want to be so touted, as it will tarnish our image. I believe that those are the basic challenges, but we are now confronting the situation.
What measures have been taken concerning the challenges?
On the one inside, we are building up our capacity, building departments and some people are going on training; while we also have in-house training. And for the one outside, we counsel people, we have come back with ‘Customs Duty’ a TV show to sensitise people on our activities; we have radio programmes informing the people, on our dos and don’ts, and we have received complaints from them. Some of these items are not even bad, but the problem is with the way they get in without the normal procedures being followed. But when you violate the policy and the procedure, the punishment is serious and we may even prosecute you. We even stated that “whatever was allowed, please come through the normal procedure, you have your document, we have integrity and even you would have integrity yourself and your goods would be released to you, nobody would harass you”.
We learnt you lost some of your officers to smugglers in Jibia. How do you curtail the excesses of smugglers?
I am from Katsina State, and would like to say that what happened was unfortunate and we pray that it does not repeat itself. But I also want to sound a note of warning, along with my contrition on the incident. That someone who was injured, was almost attacked by a mob, even while he was awaiting medical attention at a hospital, was not only unfortunate but most callous of the mob. It defies logic and the ground norms of human pain and punishment, but I want to say that the attitude was ungodly and provocative at the same time. Enough is enough! The next time people attack Customs men while carrying out their duties, I shall descend on them regardless of the community with the full wrath of the law within the powers that the law allows me, and I pray that no one provokes me enough to make me bare my fangs on them. Just as the police do not make laws, but protect laws, we do not bear the blame for the laws that we protect. Our men must be spared from the barbarism of non-conformists and deviants. I hope people get that right.
What should we expect from you before your exit?
I have more to achieve because I want to see that wherever a Customs officer goes, he will be recognised internationally, and I want to do away with the mentality of whenever we are in uniform people’s eyes would be glued on us. I want to see a Customs that would stop bragging about revenue generation because that is a sign of underdevelopment. A Customs Service must go beyond that to a stage where we can take care of our local industries and not bother about what people import because the customs has a very vital role to play in the growth of the economy.
I want to see a Customs, where government would invite those who really want to develop the economy, a Customs that will partner with other countries that will help bring investments into the country; this is the kind of Customs I want to see in the future.
What about revenue generation?
I think most countries don’t collect revenue, they collect taxes from the local industries, and I’ll like to see the Nigerian economy, in a time when the Customs will only collect excise duty because we are no longer importing. Because, one, we are using our oil and currency, and the only source we have for revenue is oil, and if you allow that to remain our mainstay in the nation, that means we shall remain underdeveloped. The Customs we are helping to build is the one that will bring materials for the local industries to grow and the Customs sort of advice and supervise. This in turn makes our economy vibrant. This is our dream for the Customs Service of the future.