Customs officers must declare their assets

The recent directive by the Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali to all officers and men of the Nigeria Customs Service to declare their assets within 14 days is laudable.

To be sure, this is not the first time Customs operatives and other government officials will be required to declare their assets. In 1999 shortly after he was appointed Customs Comptroller-General, Ahmed Mustapha issued the same order, though the level of compliance was considerably low.

Ordinarily, assets declaration should not raise any dust, as it is required of every senior civil servant. But those who have skeletons in their cupboard have cause to be afraid.

It must be noted that the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Chapter 58 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990 gave the Bureau the mandate to establish and maintain a high standard of public morality in the conduct of government business and to ensure that the actions and behavior of public officers conform to the highest standards of public morality and accountability.

The CCB has the mandate to receive declarations by public officers under paragraph 12 of part 1 of the fifth schedule to the constitution; examine the declaration in accordance with the requirements of the code of conduct or any law; retain custody of such declaration and make them available for inspection by any citizen of Nigeria on such terms and conditions as the National Assembly may prescribe; ensure compliance with and where appropriate, enforce the provisions of the code of conduct or any law relating thereto; receive complaints about non-compliance with or breach of the provision of the code of conduct or any law in relation thereto, investigate complaints and, where appropriate, refer such matters to the code of conduct tribunal.

It is not out of place to describe the Code of Conduct Bureau as the country’s pioneer anti-corruption agency; saddled with the responsibility of checking corrupt practices in the public service.

The Code of Conduct Bureau has its origin in old institutions found in governments all over the world. It operates under different names in different countries and can be traced back to the 6th century AD when it was established within the Islamic court of the Caliphate in the Middle East to monitor the behavior and check the excesses of public officials.

There is, therefore, nothing unusual if Customs officers and men are directed to declare their assets in line with the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.

We believe the order by Customs Comptroller-General, Hameed Ali will further enhance the fight against corruption and unrestrained avarice which is threatening to consume Nigeria’s public service.

Many Customs officers see their postings to the seaports, airports and border posts as avenues to amass wealth. They lay in wait for importers and agents; devising all manners of schemes to extort money even at the detriment of government revenue. Perhaps, these recalcitrant and chronically corrupt officers will change their ways once it becomes difficult for them to hide their ill-gotten wealth, which is the aim of the asset declaration order.

As the deadline for the asset declaration looms, we encourage all operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service to ensure prompt compliance with the directive of their Comptroller-General. Those who are not ready to correctly declare their assets must be ready to face the consequences. The NCS management must not hesitate to sanction officers who have not declared their assets by close of the order deadline on Friday January 29. The asset declaration forms must also be carefully scrutinized to fish out and confiscate illegally acquired wealth.

Other government agencies in the maritime industry including the Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Nigerian Shippers’ Council and others should take a cue from the Nigeria Customs Service and compel their officers to declare their assets.

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