The Imperatives of A Modern Nigeria Customs
By Obiajulu Agu
The essence of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) cannot be overemphasised.
The Nigeria Customs has the critical brief of generating revenue into the national coffers to finance much-needed developmental projects.
Similarly, the NCS performs critical security functions, by checking illegal importation and exportation, as well as traffic, within the national borders, of smuggled, contraband and dangerous goods, such as illicit drugs, and arms and ammunition.
It is gratifying to note that the Nigeria Customs has not been found wanting in the execution of its onerous responsibilities, be it revenue collection or anti-smuggling effort.
Every year, the NCS attains and exceeds the annual revenue target the Federal Government sets for it. No less commendable, in spite of whatever challenges thrown at it by circumstances, the Nigeria Customs has been unrelenting in prosecuting the anti-smuggling war. The resoluteness of the Service in battling smugglers has been curbing revenue leakages, and checking potentially-dangerous haemorrhaging of the national treasury.
Apart from helping to prevent revenue losses, the unequivocal stand of the NCS against smuggling is a key factor promoting Nigeria’s security integrity. This role the nation has increasingly been tapping into, because, ever faithful to the Nigerian Project, the Nigeria Customs, as situations demand, mobilises personnel and material, who form a vital component of multi-disciplinary task forces for crucial security duties during elections and other national exigencies.
Indeed, the NCS is a most relevant component of the Nigerian Project; the relevance of the Service more-than-ever enunciated under the administration of the incumbent Comptroller-General of Customs, Alhaji Dikko Inde Abdullahi.
At inception, in 2009, Abdullahi’s administration emerged with a Six-point Agenda to drive the Service. The components of the Abdullahi Six-point Agenda include:
• Maximising the potentials of the Service through capacity building;
• A moral re-birth to enhance discipline and integrity;
• Enhanced welfare package;
• Consolidating on e-Customs;
• Collaboration and partnership with other stakeholders and international organisations; and
• Fostering mutual understanding between the Service and the general public.
Without fear of contradiction, the Customs Management is assiduously actualising the Six-point Agenda. Consequently, the Service has completed, inaugurated and is optimally-utilising the Nigeria Customs Command and Staff College, Gwagwalada, Abuja. The World Customs Organisation (WCO) has since accredited the institution as the Regional Training Centre for the West and Central Africa region. Further testimony to the great confidence the WCO reposes in the Nigeria Customs Service was the renewal, for a second term, of the tenure of the Nigeria Customs chief as the Vice-Chair for West and Central Africa.
There is a general upbeat mood among the personnel of the Nigeria Customs, because their working conditions are worthy of celebration. Apart from being better kitted and accommodated, promotions have been regular and remuneration enhanced.
The trend globally is electronic transactions, otherwise known as e-transactions. In its modernisation agenda, the Nigeria Customs is keenly-keyed into keeping abreast of developments. In this regard, the Nigeria Customs has developed an indigenous cargo clearance data base – Nigeria Integrated Customs Information System (NICIS), which has enhanced its service delivery, moving the Service ahead of the outdated Automated System of Customs Data plus-plus (ASYCUDA++).
The 2012 Comptroller-General’s Annual Conference, which held in Katsina last November, had as its theme Borders Divide, Customs Connects, and provided ample opportunity for the Service to, among others:
• Assess its performance during the year and strategise for the years ahead;
• Strengthen its partnership with stakeholders on the operations of the Service;
• Foster better collaboration with stakeholders to ensure speedy clearance of goods and trade facilitation; and • Assess the progress of various information technology projects aimed at enhancing qualitative service delivery.
Emerging from the conference, the Service held a Stakeholders’ Meeting at the Nigeria Customs Zone ‘A’ Headquarters, Harvey Road, Yaba, Lagos, which seriously deliberated on the Nigeria Customs Service Organisation Strategic Plan 2013 – 2018. It is instructive that the forum marks the very first time the Service would involve the stakeholders in such a project, with great expectations that they make their various inputs in order to factor these into the Strategic Plan.
At the Stakeholders’ Meeting were representatives of the Customs Consultative Committee (CCC), a body comprised of the Customs, Customs licenced agents, importers and the Press.
Comptroller-General of Customs Abdullahi, it would be recalled, established the Joint Committee on Monitoring and Compliance on Tuesday, March 13, 2012, when he led other top brass of the Service to a maiden Town Hall Meeting with a cross section of importers at the Lagos International Trade Fair Complex, Ojo, Lagos.
Membership of the Joint Committee on Monitoring and Compliance comprised the Customs, Customs licensed agents, importers and the Press.
The Committee was mandated to:
• Help in addressing and bringing to the notice of the Customs Management challenges faced by importers in the cargo clearance process;
• Help in removing bottlenecks in trade facilitation;
• Help in ensuring that importers give honest declarations, and pay requisite duties on their consignments; • Help in strengthening the evolving synergy between the Customs and importers;
• Help in strengthening the existing relationship between the Customs and Customs agents;
• Help in sustaining monitoring of and compliance with rules governing International trade; and
• Help in promoting sustained awareness campaign about Customs policies concerning the trading public.
The Chairman of the Joint Committee on Monitoring and Compliance, and Zonal Coordinator, NCS Zone ‘A’, Assistant Comptroller-General Victor Osita Gbemudu, on Wednesday, August 1, 2012, led on a delegation of other members to submit a report to the Customs Comptroller-General at the Customs Headquarters, Abuja.
The Report detailed the work of the Committee, including the challenges, observations and recommendations.
Clearly, the Customs Management was mightily-impressed by the efforts of the Committee. Consequently, the Comptroller-General of Customs graciously re-designated the Committee and it metamorphosed into the Customs Consultative Committee (CCC), thereby expanding its terms of references and scope of operations in addressing distinct trade administration concerns. In further affirmation of its faith in the CCC, the Customs Management has established a state-of-the-art Secretariat for the Committee at the NCS Zone ‘A’ Headquarters.
Similarly, a late model 18-seater Toyota Hiace bus has been procured, with a Customs personnel attached as driver, to facilitate the operations of the Committee. Both the Secretariat and bus were launched in person by the Comptroller-General of Customs. These incentives have only added fillip to the work of the CCC members, who have, in answering the call to this particular national assignment, consistently demonstrated that patriotism and great capacity for individual and collective sacrifices abound in each and every one of them.
In its meetings and consultations, the CCC has studiously beamed the searchlight on trading situations in the country, with the sole aim of identifying impediments to the smooth-running of Customs operations in the trading milieu, i.e. factors promoting non-compliance to trade laws by certain importers and Customs agents, notable delays inherent in cargo clearance out of Customs control, and persistent practices that promote revenue fraud.
The Nigeria Customs has come a long way since its establishment in 1891, and its experiences have forged it into a veritable tool for national development. Therefore, the Nigeria Customs needs all support the government and the people of Nigeria can muster for the Service in the discharge of its duties as a modern Customs administration, which is attuned to international best practices.
Obiajulu Agu, the Editor of SHIPS & PORTS DAILY, is the Press Representative in the Customs Consultative Committee (CCC).