To achieve 75 percent of the N1.2 trillion target, there has to be seamless flow of trade- ACG Adeyemo

For the first time, the management of the Nigeria Customs Service has appointed a female officer, Assistant Comptroller General, Banke Grace Adeyemo to take charge of its Zone ‘A’ headquarters. The zone which houses the major revenue generating commands is expected to generate 75 percent of the Service’s N1.2 trillion overall revenue target. Faced with this herculean task and determined to prove she is equal to it, ACG Adeyemo, just barely three weeks of assuming office; has structured and designed a performance management system for the zone. In this interview with SHIPS & PORTS’ Shulammite ‘Foyeku, she said the Zone under her watch also intends setting up a Dispute Resolution Committee as part of `measures to prevent frequent attacks on officers  in the course of their duties.

Excerpts:

Zone ‘A’ is expected to generate 75 percent of the N1.2 trillion overall target given to the Service, what strategies will you employ to achieve this target?

Zone ‘A’ generates 75 percent of the revenue target that is given to the Service by government. It is a considerable amount because the zone is the economic nerve center of the nation. There are over 7,000 work force, by that I mean officers and men of NCS posted to the zone. There are 12 area commands, a training college, federal operations unit, and customs intelligent unit. There is also valuation unit, post clearance audit unit, anti corruption and transparent unit. Besides that, it handles the largest number of stakeholders for the service. On my watch I intend to restore and implement the public service reforms that have been put in place by the government. One of it is to implement key performance management. There was a time we were operating the manual form of clearance, from there we embrace the ASYCUDA, from there we went to NICIS, and then we have the Pre Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) which now replaces Risk Assessment Report (RAR) that was formally handled by the service providers. So we have gone a long way. There have been capacity building over the years to enable our officers attain the skills set for the implementation of best practices. We have the tools to work with, the tools to achieve that target. We have been trained over and over. With 7,000 workforces, it is a team work, it is not about me as the zonal coordinator, it is about the service. To achieve 75 percent of the N1.2 trillion, there has to be a seamless flow of trade, facilitation of legitimate trade. One of the reforms that we have put in place today, initiated by government is the implementation of key performance management structure. Today with my team in zone ‘A’ we have structured and designed a key performance management system, where there will be job description and responsibility.

There have been complaints about some officers not resuming early to work, what you will do to address this problem?

If officers are not patriotic and their integrity is questionable, such officers will demolish the reforms that has been put in place by the government and have been implemented by the management on the NCS. So officers have to be passionate about the job, it is a call to serve so all self interest must be dropped. It has to be a national interest. The target given to us by government is the Key Performance Indicator (KPI) but we have to design a performance management structure that will help us in the realization of the KPI, the transformation agenda and the vision 20:20:20. It is imperative on that note that there is a need for inter re engineering, there has to be a change of attitude to work. I want to appeal to the officers because, this is about team work I can’t do it alone. We have a federal government mandate. In every system, there is reward and punishment. Hardworking and honest officers will be rewarded adequately when they carry out their duty adequately and those who joined as revenue defaulters will be brought to book.

What challenges does the zone have to contend with?

We have challenges in the area of working environment; the city itself is a challenge. Challenges in the ways of uprising, pockets of resistance, tension form stakeholders. For instance, some Nigerian communities at the border see smuggling as a way of generating livelihood. They resist change because it is their way of life. There, we experience a lot of resistance and tension. Our officers have been killed and customs formations have been burnt down. The smugglers have sophisticated weapons and they don’t hesitate to give us personal attack. At the ports too we have tension. PAAR is in place. We have just taken over from the service providers. We have pockets of tension, personal attack, pure water frozen and thrown at us, chanting of music that is offensive psychological.

How do you think these challenges can be effectively addressed?

I have called my officers together, not only to address these challenges but to design together as a team, the strategic plan for the zone. We have come up with the following recommendations. These recommendations are supposed to solve some of the challenges that have been identified. For the uprising, tension mounting, the physical and mental attack that our officers are subjected to, which sometimes leads to loss of life, we have decided to set up a committee. The committee is called NCS Stakeholders Dispute Resolution Committee. As the zonal coordinator, I am the chairman, each area controller is the vice chair, members are drawn from the terminals, head of terminals are automatic members.  Where there is any disagreement in the port or any where over clearance of goods imported or exported, before things get out of hand, the complainant can meet this committee in the command and they will solve the problem on the spot. This is a safe guard measures to prevent personal attack, officers been shot and killed.  Secondly, the government has institutionalized over time, transparency and accountability in governance. So in all forms and component of governance, we are trying to implement as we have been doing, a form of transparency and accountability. So we have decided to procure help lines towards international best practices .These help lines, will be dedicated to commands. No longer shall we have telephone lines that somebody in Tin Can we will be calling somebody in Apapa for a challenge he has on ground. When stakeholders call the help lines, we will have our officers who would have been trained in answering telephone calls politely. They will have headsets instead of normal mobile phones so that they use their hands because they will have the system in front of them so that when an agent or importer calls, it will answer you welcome to customs and whatever compliant will be imputed into the system. This call will be monitored and recorded. So we implore members of the public to be patient as we shall publish these lines in the newspapers so that they can have hold of it to call us. Another thing that we have put in place is the restoration of the office of ethics and value. It will capture the discipline, patriotism and integrity of the officers. Each unit will have an officer that will be in charge of that. So we have team up and structure a plan so sustain the reforms. Today we have carved out a vision statement for the zone, to make it the model zone

What is your message to trade defaulters?

For importers, who will want to default, or make false declarations, a lot of factors are responsible. If it is a deliberate act on the part of the importer to make false declarations, the sense of patriotism of that importer is called for questioning. Importers go abroad to imports goods, trillions of naira is exchange in forex to bring in the goods, they fulfill international obligation, so it is just right for them to patriotic and fulfill national obligations. In the past, there have been complaints about our procedure, that the cost of clearance in the country was high; the time of clearance was too much. Today the government has procured and implemented a world class ICT system to take over and abridge the issue of tariff and non tariff barriers. In the past because of physical contact with our officers, there are negotiations and corruption. But with the ICT system, it is cost saving, time saving quite robust and friendly.  With the full automation of our system, the trade hub and the PAAR as well as the modernized website; there is no room for ignorance on the part of the traders. If you can’t come to the ports or customs formation, you can just log in to the website if you have internet on your mobile phone to make enquiries about any consignment, duty, procedures that you want to inquire about. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse. We have a valuation data base, if you are bringing in used cars for instance, the car was manufactured in 2010 and somebody wants to make sharp practices, what we have seen often. On the seat belt, there is a year of manufacture, some ignorant importers will cut it away but we have a data base of cars that are manufactured so that from the chassis number and the engine number which you can not erase or cut, we can tell you the date it was manufactured, ex factory price as well as the depreciating value for it. With all the development put in place by the service, the automation system with the banks, shipping companies it will be difficult for importers to cut corners. 

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