Dikko Abdullahi’s legacies and shortcomings

By Shulammite ‘Foyeku

After six years in the saddle as Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Dikko Abdulahi on Tuesday, August 18th 2015 bowed out of Service amidst rousing farewell following the acceptance of his voluntary resignation by President Muhammadu Buhari.

With feelings of fulfillment to have completed his six-point agenda, Dikko said that he had to resign to give chance to others so that they can come up and continue with the legacies and structures he had put in place, adding that he has no fear of ongoing investigation of the agency.

While his resignation has continued to elicit commendations from stakeholders in the industry, with many saying it was wise to quit when the ovation was loudest, others were of the opinion that Dikko had voluntarily resigned for fear of being sacked by the President.

The Buhari-led administration ha since inception replaced the leadership of critical government agencies including the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) and recently as part of wider reforms, announced an extensive audit of all revenue generating agencies of government.

Dikko was appointed as Customs CG August 18, 2009 and within that relatively short span he had left an indelible record, which could not in any way be equated with that of his predecessors. He was able to completely transform the NCS and left behind visible and verifiable legacies which have impacted phenomenally on many aspects of national life.

Dikko was loved by many Customs operatives especially the rank and file because of his welfare policies and has been described as the messiah that has taken the agency to the promise land.

On resumption, he flagged off a six-point agenda as the road map for his intended reform. In the last six years, his administration has taken the agency to unprecedented level. Among the many accomplishments include a 100 percent salary increment and capacity building programs extended to all levels of officers and men across and beyond Nigeria as part of human capital development and motivation program.

Added to that is an aggressive infrastructural development which saw the building of new barracks, rehabilitation/upgrade of old ones, construction of office buildings, printing press, hospitals, schools among others across the country in addition to the Regional Training Academy in Gwagwalada, Abuja.

The revenue profile of the Customs also shot to an unprecedented high, with the agency raking in a record of N100 billion monthly as against monthly average of N30 billion in past administrations.

One of the biggest achievements of the Customs under Dikko’s watch in the last six years was the introduction of the Pre Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR), which replaced the Risk Assessment Report (RAR) managed by the erstwhile service providers.

Maritime stakeholders had one year after implementation scored the PAAR application high having been able to surmount its initial teething problems and has since been regarded as very effective for honest traders eliminating delays formerly experienced during the destination inspection era conducted by the private inspection firms.

With PAAR, importers do not have to wait for their goods to arrive the port before processing their import document. PAAR provides that the importer goes ahead to pay his duties even before the examination of his consignments but is subjected to scrutiny as to the authenticity of his claims on the duty paid when the consignment is examined.

PAAR has thus remained one of the best tools that have been recommended by the World Customs Organization (WCO) for other countries pursuing Customs modernisation to adopt.

Coming along the introduction of PAAR was a web-based application known as the Nigeria trade hub portal. It was developed with a view to encouraging trade process compliance and to simplify the entire trade process by providing information and guidance for international trade business processors in the areas of import, export and transit trade.

Through this portal, trade processors are enabled to find exact harmonised system codes (HS Codes) required for related tariffs and duties.

Due to the efficiency of this unique application in easing trade processes, the WCO had also included the application in its revised Single Window Compendium which it’s about 180 member countries can benefit from.

All these efforts were made by the Dikko led management team with an objective to make for ease of doing business in the at the nation’s seaport, airport and land borders.

No doubt, the reforms embarked upon especially in the areas of information technology, capacity building and enhanced staff welfare will for days, months and years to come remain in the minds of officers.

While recognizing that there is no such thing as a perfect leader, there are some shortcomings of Dikko which stakeholders have also identified.

Some have accused Dikko of being corrupt and had managed the NCS as his own ‘personal estate’ while reserving promotions and juicy posting for his close allies and cronies especially those of northern extractions.

A group, Nigerian Customs Transparency Initiative had also recently petitioned the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences (ICPC) to probe Dikko over allegation of abuse of office.

The allegations against Dikko include alleged contravention of the Public Service Rule, manipulation of promotions, high handedness and inflation of the prices of BMW cars purchased for senior officers.

The Dikko-led administration had also in 2014 announced that the Service had concluded plans to purchase 50 new scanners in batches to replace the obsolete ones it inherited from the erstwhile Service providers.

However, not a single one out of the 50 scanners has been supplied with most of the scanning machines installed at the ports by the erstwhile service providers no longer working, while the rate of physical examination of goods remain alarmingly high thereby slowing down the process of cargo clearance.

Some unscrupulous Customs officers are also cashing in on some loopholes in the PAAR implementation. Such officers issue frivolous demand notices to importers and agents only to turn around to negotiate for the downward review of same at a fee which goes into their own pockets rather government coffers.

National Publicity Secretary, Association of Nigeria License Customs Agents (ANLCA) Kayode Farinto said the incoming customs administration should not only focus on revenue generation but facilitating genuine trade.

“Dikko has tried though he has one or two mistakes which are normal for every human being. If you meet any anybody that is perfect you are meeting Christ. Customs is really interested in revenue with little emphasis on trade facilitation. So our advice is that whoever is coming on board should focus on trade facilitation. He should also ensure that all the various agencies that are yet to hook up to the customs platform do so. With that, if any of the agencies want to stop any container based on declaration, they can do that online, that waythey will be facilitating trade,” he said.

Also speaking, National President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) Eugene Nweke eulogize Dikko’s achievements saying that with his resignation he has only paved way for others to consolidate on his achievements.

“Dikko has achieved more beyond the expectations of everybody. However, there are areas that his policy never scored 100 percent because there are no policies that will achieve 100 percent. He has a six point agenda he achieved them but there are some grey areas that need to be fine-tuned. We still need to review complain areas of PAAR application in order to make it a final document,” he said.

 



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