Eradicating corruption is not easy-Ogun Customs CAC

Comptroller MultafuWainduJilantikir, Customs AreaComptroller Ogun State Command is anofficer who has first-hand knowledge about the psychology of miscreants parading the corridors of Nigeria border posts.Ogun State has many of such borders with neighbouring countries.  Early this year, Ogun state governor, Senator IbikunleAmosun raised alarm that the state has over 100 illegal border crossings all over. 

This was the same time that Multafu resumed at the Ogun Command.  The Customs Area Comptroller, who has served at the Command earlier, was obviously brought to calm the menace of smugglers that was becoming highly volatile. Multafu once described Idiroko as the most notorious of border posts in West Africa where many Customs officers have been killed in battle against smugglers.

His words, “Once in a while, if it happens that we are on the defensive, we have to use our guns. “I cannot say how many of our officers were killed right from Seme up to Idiroko and Imeko.The lands are accessible to any would-be smuggler;the terrain is another obstacle to smooth operation because everywhere is road,’’ he told the media.

Recently FOSTER OBI was with him to find out how the command has fared since his resumption. Besides smuggling, he talked about corruption and reform in Customs.

Excerpts:

.What has been your experience with smuggling so far?

It has been a wonderful experience. As far as I am concerned it’s not a new thing. I washere once so i know the terrain; so when I came back as Area Comptroller, I didn’t find it hard to start from where I stopped. We had to renew our vigour to combat smuggling because this Area Command is one of the premier border stations characterised by smuggling and some official connivance. I thank God we are on top of I; we are not shying away from our responsibilities.  The summary is that we are on top of the situation and in control.

Can we know some of the seizures you made this year and how it happened?

We make seizures almost every day. Yesterday we made seizure of rice which is the major commodity that these smugglers bring into this country all over. But some of the spectacular seizures we made; recentlywe intercepted two trucks laden with 6, 412 sacks of mosquito coils valued at over N37million.The items were seized at Idiroko by our officers while on surveillance patrol. The mosquito coils were seized not only because they are not just hazardous but also for breaching the import prohibition order of the federal government “This particular item is number 14 on the import prohibition list. So it is prohibited for import.If you light this type of mosquito coil in a room and closed the gate, you will definitely suffocate and it can kill.

Also recently we confiscated 108 kilogrammes of cannabis and 170 jerry cans of petrol being smuggled out of the country to the Republic of Benin.Within the first quarter of 2016, we seized 6,705 cartons of frozen poultry products, 8721 bags of rice, 139 used vehicles, 199 motorcycles, 330 jerry cans of vegetable oil, 12 bales and 38 sacks of second-hand clothing.

Likewise we impounded 996 pieces of second-hand tyres, 80 pieces of teak wood and 1,732 pieces of unprocessed wood. The smugglers were trying to smuggle the cannabis, concealed in 20 bags, into the country, while they were trying to smuggle the jerry cans of petrol out of the country.

Talking about rice, it is one of the essential foods that almost every Nigerian eatsbut because of the high duty it’s becoming out of the reach of the average Nigerian.Do you subscribe to the view of some Nigerians that it should be banned out rightly instead of making the duty paid on its import so high?

Well you are aware I am a civil servant and we work with government fiscal policy.Whatever mandate government gives us that is what we carry out. The issue of rice has become a national issue for discourse because in almost every part of the country you discover that rice is being smuggled. The reason for stopping rice from coming in through the border is because at the border it is hard to control the influx but it is not prohibited from coming in through the approved ports.  You can import and clear rice at the approved ports.  As you said earlier because of the duty on rice, some major importers like to take advantage of the difficult terrain of our borders in order to cutcost by smuggling them in bits in order to evade duty payment.  But you remember the Comptroller General granted special privilege to border commands to collect duty on rice but it became a subject of abuse; that was why the decision was rescinded but however, the smuggling of rice continued unabated. For us we had to put our legs down and said no for rice smuggling. Even if we see you carrying one bag; we remove it from your vehicle. So far so good, we have been recording tremendous seizure of rice, and we have reduced considerably the smuggling of the commodity through the border.

How secure are the borders especially here that you have so many outlets for smugglers?

The security is tight. We are working in synergy with the Police border patrol, Operation Mensah, the army and other security operatives. We are working in synergy. Once in a while we get information on what to pursue and we mobilise some of these agencies to follow us for joint operation.

Looking at this period of recession, how would you describe your revenue record?

You know the recession has affected our revenue collection, however, inspite of the prevailing situation it is my prayer that I exceed the revenue collected last year.  There are some limitations though. Now we are not collecting revenue from rice like last year.  Last year alone we collected duty on rice totalling N1billion which impacted heavily on the increased revenue of the year 2015, but my prayer is that I exceed that of  last year target even without collecting duty on rice.

What measures do you have in place to actualise this?

Sometimes it is not just about collecting the duty but generating it. These are two different things.  You have to devise means of blocking avenue of leakages so that every moneycollected is accounted for and properly remitted to the federation account. You see, when we collect duty it is duty that is declared that has to be paid but when we generate revenue, we look for other avenues of making money for the government by ensuring that every loophole manipulated by miscreants are skilfully blocked. We are on top of the situation. Sometimes we talk to the stakeholders that it is better to pay the correct duty to the government than cutting corners. We constantly create that awareness on the consequences of evading duty. One thing that is permanent is change. One cannot continue to live in the past. This government is the government of change. You don’t need to announce it for everybody at the border to know that it is no longer business as usual. What they used to get before cannot be what they will get now because even the officers have to be accountable. You collect every revenue that is meant for government and remit it properly. It is the system that we have put in place that has led to increased revenue at the Command.

How do you motivate your officers to give their best?

We ensure that all the logistics needed for their performance are provided.  Before then it was not really like that. I have acquired arms and ammunition, body protection armour, bullet proof helmets, jungle boots that can enable them move into the bush without fear of snake bites or any of such. Sometimes when you want to spur your officers to perform, whenever they make seizures be there, appreciate them or send them text messages to tell them well done. With this you encourage them to do more.  You don’t have to go to sleep and say well… Once in a while you call them. Like today I am going to call them to congratulate them on some small small seizures of rice even as they move for total blockage to arrest the smuggling. This time around not even a single bag will be allowed to pass through.  So to motivate them you encourage them and when something happens you stand by them. Once you identify with them in such ways you will get the best.

What challenges do you encounter doing this job?

There are challenges but they are made to be surmounted.  Some of the challenges have to do with the incidence of operatives not conforming to the present situation. We have other challenges like we need more operational vehicles. We still need more arms and ammunitions;we need other aides that have to with curbing smuggling whereby we will be using high powered motorcycles side by side with our patrolling Hilux. The two need to move together.  The kind of smuggling we experience at this border is not lorry load of rice.  It is this small cars and motorcycles that can ferry 50 to 60 bags.And when you are chasing a motorcycle that is carrying eight bags of rice, there are many routes that it can veer into.  When you are using a Hilux you cannot apprehend them. So we want to start developing this motorised patrol team that will pursue them to wherever. Since they will be carrying so much load of rice they will not be able to manoeuvre their way since they are being pursued by high powered motorcycles.  So this is another measure we are introducing so we can bring down the rate of smuggling by motorcycles.

Does Abuja know about this?

Yes we have made proposals to the headquarters but you know the economy as it is presently. It is not everything you request that you get. It depends on the availability of resources. When the resources are made available I believe the Comptroller General will oblige us all we want in order to make our job successful.

Can you tell us some memorable experiences you have had doing this job and how this has shaped your attitude to work?

You know before when we didn’t have much in place, the smugglers will come and pursue our officers; this time we have stood firm not to shy away from our responsibilities. We stand firm and give it back to them and this has made this bother station very calm because now when they take on us we don’t retreat. It is no retreat no surrender.

How would you describe the reforms in the Custom so far?

The reform is a welcome development. Of course you have seen how government has changed. This is a sign that every part of our lives will have to change for the better. The Comptroller General has tried to change any negative perception that the public has against the Nigeria Customs Service. As he came he realised that we are not what the public think we are because we are not being paid comparable to officers in the similar agencies.  This of course can in some way encourage corruption, but he’s looking at how he can improve thewelfare of officers to reduce the temptation by anybody wanting to take bribe before doing their job.

You talked about bribe, how you deal with any officer that compromise on the job?

Eradicating corruption totally is not that easy. As you can see, the present Comptroller General has been doing his best in disciplining any officer found corrupt. People can now see that the man at the helm of affairs is not a traditional Customs man, he is a no nonsense man who everybody fears.  Whenever he barks everybody goes to hide. I think we are witnessing a new dawn. It is no longer business as usual. Whatever you do you have to be sure that it is the right thing.  So people have come to that realisation and have taken a cue.

There have been suggestions that the Nigeria CustomsService (NCS) should be removed from Ministry of Finance to Trade, others recommended it should be merged with FIRS. What do you think? Should the NCS stand alone or should it be merged with FIRS?

As far as I am concerned I am not qualified to tell the government what to do. Whatever government decides, my own is to implement it.  However in my opinion, merging the Customs and the FIRS is going to pose big challenge concerning the areas that Customs covers and the area FIRS takes care of.  The two organisations may be too much for one person to head. So I want to believe that each of us can stand independently on our own and give our best. 

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