I’ve grown premature gray hairs serving as Customs chief – CGC
An encounter with Comptroller-General of Customs Dikko Inde Abdullahi at any time reveals the inexplicable depth of his passion to make the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) a most worthy brand, that efficiently executes its brief and grows by the day. Just a few years away from his former watch as Customs Area Controller (CAC), Seme Border Command, and, subsequently, Assistant Comptroller-General, Customs Headquarters, gray hairs have flooded Abdullahi’s head, confirming that the position of Comptroller-General is not a tea party for the occupant that is set on leaving a positive mark. In this interview, the Customs chief reveals why he gave himself a target of N1.2trillion for 2012, a great leap from the N800billion target the Federal Government set the Service this year; efforts at enthroning an efficient and friendly Customs; and a regime of compliance with due process by importers, among other critical issues regarding the Nigeria Customs.
N1.2trillion revenue target is a huge sum. Is this realisable this year?
The Federal Government did not give me the N1.2trillion target; I gave it to myself. The actual target by the government was N800billion, and I should thank the country and the President, His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, for giving me the opportunity to serve my country. We are working hard to making sure that we collect the maximum revenue as stipulated in the law and to do away with corruption and corrupt officers. Honestly, I don’t think the amount is much for me, but we pray we work for the benefit of all Nigerians.
You performed well last year. What are your expectations this year?
What is to be expected this year is high level of compliance by stakeholders, because we have mapped out a timetable and the first point of call is Lagos. In fact, I hope to meet with the importers of electronics at Alaba International Market; the importers of spare parts at Ladipo and Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN). We will have a very friendly Customs, a Customs that would do away with corrupt tendencies and work with importers to make their business less stressful. I envisage a Customs that the personnel will do things when they are expected to be done; Customs that will advise port users on what to do when they find themselves in difficulties. We are expecting an excellent 2012. We pray God to give us good health and the will to execute our programmes dutifully.
We have seen the gains of the reforms initiated by the Federal Government. Could you tell us other positive change we are to expect to see with these reforms?
The future target is about capacity building, first. To achieve our vision, mission and to compel officers to, indeed, serve their nation, we would ensure that we reach out to stakeholders to meet high level of compliance, that is to declare their goods properly, pay the correct and appropriate duty, divest themselves of concealment and other sharp practices to shortchange the government. Name them. I believe we will get there.
Recently, the Service appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Customs and stated that Nigeria has no records of her oil imports and exports. Does the Customs have records of these activities?
In Nigeria today, there is no organisation or agency that keeps records like the Customs. Don’t forget we have a very robust system called ASYCUDA (Automated System of Customs Data). All our records are system-based. Whatever is imputed into the system, stays there. So, we have a very strong record and we are proud of our records.
Spending N500billion to fight smuggling this you, as announced by you, do you consider it a good investment?
If this will bring about high level of compliance, where people pay their duties through the right channels, then the investment is not only wise but very good, because reaching out and blocking our borders will help bring about high level of compliance. To that extent, it is a very good investment.
Do you think the war against smuggling would be won, considering the immense influence of political and traditional leaders, agents and, particularly, the residents of border communities?
We have already started reaching out to the border communities, by employing their children in the Customs. Let them be part of the system and see exactly what we mean by stopping smugglers from passing through the borders. Secondly, we are reaching out to the communities to have a friendly relationship with them, particularly in areas the Service can be of assistance to them. We are reaching out, especially using our facilities, such as medical care to help them. We would construct boreholes for them, so that they know we are doing good job. We are making them know that whatever services we provide is to complement the efforts of the Federal Government. By the provision of these facilities, we want them to know that the money we are getting from them, we are using for their benefits. The Federal Government can construct roads, the state government can give them free medical care and the local government area would give them employment and primary care. We are reaching out to counsel them on the importance of paying revenue, to fight smuggling together with us.
How would you rate Nigerian Customs globally?
You can see from the international outlook. We successfully held a policy commission and over 30 to 40 countries were in attendance and they were highly impressed by the performance of the Nigeria Customs. We are now the new pride of the world. Other countries wanted to associate with the Nigeria Customs, not because I am the Comptroller-General, but because the difference is very clear and people can see it for themselves, considering where we are coming from. The right thing will now be from stakeholders and from observers, and journalists like you.
It has been alleged that the Nigeria Customs has shifted focus from trade facilitation, concentrating on revenue generation. How true is this?
Why they are saying that is because there is low level of compliance. If all complies, definitely, the importer will get his cargo as easy and as soon as possible. Because of the likelihood of sharp practices, we have to protect the revenue of the nation. So, I believe the whole issue is all about compliance. People are not complying enough. Definitely, we will help facilitate trade. And the security situation in the country does not warrant us to just ignore and keep our eyes off some cargoes that have not fully complied. So, those are the basic issues. We hope people understand our situation. We would like to facilitate trade, but we won’t like to compromise security.
Electronic transaction rules the world globally. Has the Customs keyed into this, looking at the capacity building of the staff?
Let me tell you, today, everybody in Customs is computer-literate. And, in fact, we are not looking at Africa. We are even rated among the world leaders as far as Information Technology in Customs is concerned. We just opened a Staff College and it is IT-based, the first class e-library in our system. One, we have to establish an IT Department here in the headquarters. I can assure you that we are not rated among the African countries. We are far ahead of them in IT. So, we are improving and I can assure you that Nigeria Customs is a giant in IT.
The Service already has various building projects for the staff. This year, are you planning anything in that regard?
This year, we are shifting to border communities. We are going to construct five star housing estates for each of our border communities. Looking at situations at the borders, mostly, our officers are at the mercy of the smugglers. This time to ensure they are comfortable enough to fight smugglers and have the facilities like we have in Abuja or Lagos, that is where we are hoping to erect more infrastructures.
How can the challenges facing the Service be effectively addressed?
As regards the Customs, our challenges include funding and the issue of compliance. If everybody complies, we will have less work to do. If people stop smuggling, we will have less work to do. We will sit down in our offices and, with that, trade will be facilitated. The operators and importers will enjoy fast tracking system. Most times, people bring in their cargoes and we tell them to take it at the premises of the owner, it can be examined there. But this is only possible when one has shown compliance.
How does it feel like being the Comptroller-General of Customs?
It is a big challenge. As you can see, I have grown much gray hairs overnight. Sometimes, I wake up with high level of blood pressure. There are things that need explanations on why they were not done the right way and it is only me that has answers to the numerous questions. So, it is a very big challenge. I don’t have break. I am always on my toes to make sure that the right things are done. Don’t forget that, apart from revenue generation, we are also part of the security agencies that man the borders, seaports and airports. So, it is not a chair for tea. It is a chair for struggle and struggle continues. It is a challenge to our nation, to our name and to our families.
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