A maritime expert, Prince Olusegun Ologbese has flayed the attempts in some quarters to concession some of the present roles and responsibilities of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
Since its establishment decades ago, revenue generation, anti-smuggling operations and trade facilitation remain the three core functions of the NCS besides assisting the federal government to attain set goals and objectives in line with its fiscal and monetary policies.
The NCS also maintains the import prohibition list (IPL) and the export prohibition list (EPL) through the laid down rules and regulations provided by its supervisory ministry, the Federal Ministry of Finance, among other things.
Ologbese who is also a Lagos-based licensed customs agent with decades of experience and exposure in the maritime industry maintained that the proposed plan by the federal government to concession any part of the NCS to a group of few Nigerians using different names at different times to make sure they deceive the people in the government and take over the critical operations in NCS does not augur well for Nigeria nay, Nigerians.
He noted that the argument in support of concessioning Customs functions is fraught with danger to the country in the long run.
Describing the move as fraudulent, the maritime expert gave a historical insight into how the concession of the core functions of NCS has become a recurring decimal in the Nigerian economy over the years.
He said: “Concession of any part of Customs under any guide is fraudulent. They first succeeded during the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo which they called at that time pre-shipment inspection. As a result, the functions of Customs were concessioned to three firms namely, Cotecna, SGS and Globalcan.
“They succeeded to an extent because they made former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his administration to believe that it was the best thing to happen to Customs as far as the efficient clearance of goods in the nation’s seaports, airports and international land borders were concerned. They also made Obasanjo to believe that men and officers of Customs were corrupt.
“At the end of the day, it was discovered that they were not only more corrupt but that they added little or no value to the cargo clearance chain. They were eventually sacked and since then, they have been finding every possible means under different guise and names to stage a comeback”.
According to Ologbese, who is also the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ogbese Marine International Limited, this is the genesis for the use of crown agents based in London, United Kingdom at one time; as well as the use of customs modernisation; E-custom project; establishment of a digital paperless custom administration and so on at different other times.
He enjoined President Mohammadu Buhari and those working for him not swallow the baits of these persons and group who are bent on coming back into the system to exploit Nigeria and Nigerians.
Ologbese who is also the life patron of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Ondo and Ekiti chapters said he was breaking his silence to ensure that Mr. President and his administration do not swallow hook sink and line the arguments of those in support of the concession of Customs functions as they do not mean well for the country and Nigerians.
According to the maritime expert, Nigeria Customs has done so well in recent times especially in the area of revenue generation that it does not need any external companies to take over its statutory roles and responsibilities.
“What we need now is the support of every Nigeria to ensure that it can do more. Already, the headquarters of the World Customs Organisation (WCO) in Brussels has given thumbs up to the service. Just like President Buhari, the present Comptroller General of Customs (CGC), Colonel Ibrahim Ahmed Ali (retired) is incorruptible. He and his team should be encouraged to do more.”
He argued that nobody should buy the idea that the groups positioning themselves to take over the functions of Customs have any value to add to Nigeria but to exploit and take from Nigeria and Nigerians.
“Let me ask you, what are they coming to modernise? In fact, their argument that they are on a project of modernisation in Nigeria Customs Service is very insulting because our Customs has gone far on modernisation. Nobody can use or hide under the word ‘corruption and modernisation’ to fool us again in this country. It will dent the image of President Buhari as a man known for integrity to allow anybody under any guise to perpetrate corruption in name of coming to modernise Nigeria Customs Service.
“Ali should be praised for the high performance of Customs in recent times especially in revenue generation and curtailing smuggling. Remember, poor people are not the brain behind smuggling. It is the rich and they are fighting tooth and nail from different corners to undermine Customs. We should not fall for their trap,” he added.
He stressed the need for all hands to be on deck to ensure that Ali and his team succeed in their quest to meet set goals and objectives especially in the discharge of Customs statutory roles and responsibilities in the months ahead.
The maritime expert noted that President Buhari should at all times be mindful of the legacy he wants to leave behind as he was no more seeking for election into another political office.
He maintained that he should not allow anybody within his cabinet to rubbish his image or that of his administration as far as corruption is concern as he would not have another opportunity to come back and correct it in the minds of Nigerians.