The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) under Col Hameed Ali (rtd) has expanded beyond just collecting duty for the government. As the gate keeper of Nigerian borders, the NCS in the current dispensation has ensured a water tight screening of all goods that comes into Nigeria.
This is unlike the pre-Hameed Ali Customs where there were allegations that officials were being bribed at port and land borders to allow all manner of weapons into Nigeria, thus compromising the country’s security.
One of such diligent search by Customs officials led to the seizure of arms in January 2017.
The men of the Federal Operations Unit of the NCS had intercepted a truck carrying a container loaded with 661 pieces of pump action rifles along Mile 2 on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Lagos.
Three suspects: Oscan Okafor (an importer), Mahmud Haruna (a clearing agent), and Sadique Mustapha (who accompanied the consignment) were promptly arrested.
Assuming the arms had found its way into the Nigeria your guess is as good as mine. Suffice it to say that the seizure was a mark of changing paradigm in the effectiveness of the Nigeria Customs Service.
As Ali had noted, “such deadly contravention of the law is even more unacceptable considering the fragile security situation in some parts of the country.”
Unlike in the past, when high wire connections swept such crimes under the carpet, it certainly cannot happen under the Customs led by Ali.
Ali is not ready to leave the Customs in antiquity operationally. Under him, the agency has experienced a turnaround in leveraging on new technologies in securing the Nigerian land boarders and ports.
Ali, noted recently in a conference that, “over the years, our port system has been adjured poor performance by major right agencies in terms of its competence, in terms of its strategic importance to the realisation of the economic growth and recovery plan.
“Hence, the agency must expound on the opportunities presented by the new technologies to fast track complainant traders and punish the offenders.
“We have been strengthening our capacity to investigate offences against our laws and impose heavy sanctions that has deterrent factors.
“One way to improve our performance is actually to carry out an assessment of our operations identify areas where we have made progress and those were we still have lapses,” the Customs boss had said.
Leveraging on the federal government’s stance on the Ease of Doing Business and the Executive Order E01, the Hameed Ali-led Customs has breathed fresh into the operation of the agency.
The order imposes collective obligations on most stakeholders to work together to induce and observe orderliness in the operations of the NCS, achieve faster processing of cargo’s clearance, streamlining of procedures, and fight corrupt practices at the nation’s ports.
In the Japanese work theory known as Kaizen, the approach of creating continuous improvement is based on the idea that small, ongoing positive changes can reap major improvements. In order to accelerate the operational efficiency of the Nigeria Customs Service, Ali keyed into the Kaizen’s theory of work improvement when, and in collaboration with world Customs body, he launched a study which is expected to scientifically measure the time taken in clearing the goods between the time of arrival in the ports using the Apapa ports.
The study is meant to undertake an assessment of the clearance business process, collect survey, analyse data and publish result.
The Ali-led Customs Service believes that continuous improvement is the key in ensuring that everything that comes through the sea to our land in a container are properly secured. In collaboration with the federal government the agency now has enough scanners at the ports, boarder entries and airports to ensure that all inbound goods are scanned.
In Customs operation worldwide, the aim of the deployment of non-intrusive equipment such as scanners is to deal with the challenges of trans-border crimes including insurgencies.
One thing that has remained a major challenge in the Nigerian business environment is that the business space is dominated by stubborn men, who are hell-bent on circumventing rules of procedures.
To tackle this irresponsible disposition to rules of conduct, the Nigeria Customs Service is partnering with shippers’ council to see ensure that every shipping company is held responsible for the content of any goods.
Benin Republic is one of Nigeria’s strategic neighbours as it shares 800 kilometer of land borders with it. To facilitate regional trade, Customs authorities in Nigeria and Benin have adopted single goods declaration, as both countries introduce modern tools for inter-border clearance of goods.
Under the new system, declarations made for imports transiting from either of the countries to the other would be electronically shared to deal with corrupt tendencies and increase security.
The move is aimed at coordinating border management operations to enable stakeholders have seamless operations and facilitate trade between Nigeria and the Republic of Benin. The electronic connectivity is to facilitate trade and reduce cost of doing business while security is boosted.
The electronic platform is meant to integrate the two countries Single Windows trade platforms and also improve the compliance to trade regulatory and fiscal policy measures of both countries. The platform will create effective, predictable and transparent risk management system and reduction in smuggling activities in both countries and Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS)”.
The platform incorporated other government agencies of both countries with communication technology created to stop the communication gaps that could evolve during transactions.
With the tremendous transformation of the Nigeria Customs Service under the leadership of Ali, it is only proper for Nigerians to join hands with the Service as it continues to prove that Nigeria beyond oil is a possibility.
Nigeria is a potential huge market, with an economy anchored on estimated population of over 200 million vibrant people. Nigerians are enterprising and are very much acknowledged around the world.
All that is needed is obedience to constituted authority by avoiding brazen attempts to circumvent customs rules and import only those things that are permissible by the Nigerian law.
With motivated personnel and renewed vigour at the Customs, it is only a matter of time before the Service overtakes oil as the major contributor to the federation accounts.
Ogunmola, writes from Asokoro, Abuja