By James Emejo
The Comptroller-General of Customs (CGC), Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd), yesterday read the riot act to officers and men of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), warning against bribe-taking as well as disregard to the service regulations.
He however said though the country’s imports and export revenues had been significantly affected by the global slowdown in economic activities occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, the customs was nevertheless committed to collecting whatever revenue was due to the government.
He said the pandemic had not in any way prevented its officers from carrying out their responsibilities to fulfill their revenue mandate, adding it had adapted and restrategised all means of revenue collection.
Speaking at the decoration of the newly promoted officers in Abuja, he pointed out that contrary to insinuations in some quarters, the disciplinary actions taken against two Assistant Comptrollers General of Customs (ACGs) were purely based on the recommendations of the disciplinary committees following a thorough investigation.
He said no officer of the service was untouchable, adding that the punitive measures taken by management were further demonstration that nobody was above the law and no officer would enjoy special cover if found wanting in any area of responsibility.
The Board of the customs had at its 52nd regular meeting approved the appointment of five ACGs, promotion of 2,634 officers and dismissal of one ACG as well as compulsory retirement of another ACG.
The events leading to the dismissal and retirement of the ACGs reportedly happened when they were heading Sectors 3 and 4 of the ongoing border drill which was coordinated by the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA).
However, the CGC, explained that the disciplinary measures were “to ensure that discipline is maintained and to assure everybody from top to bottom that nobody is above law.”
While congratulating the beneficiaries of the promotion exercise, he said the NCS had been able to fully established a well-orchestrated standing operational procedure for promotion.
He warned that the era of unmerited or favoured promotions were gone, stressing that going forward, “the only way to get promoted is to work hard.”
Ali said: “There’s no shortcut and there’s no easy way of getting promoted: if you don’t get promoted you don’t blame anybody but blame yourself.
“Let me also say this that of recent, you probably would have seen that we have taken some disciplinary measures which affected members of the management. Just a couple of days back, the Board had approved the dismissal and compulsory retirement of some of the members of management.
“Your position does not matter, the rank does not matter but what matters is your behaviour, character and that is what will save you and move you forward.
“I believe this should now be a deterrent to anyone who feels he or she has reached a certain rank and untouchable: there’s no untouchable rank in the customs.
“The only way you become untouchable and abide by the law and do your work diligently then you are untouchable.
“As much as we have been able to reform ourselves, there are still some elements within us that for whatever reasons have decided not to conform to the current situation.”
He said some officers had recently been found to have derailed from established principles set out by the service, warning that they should live within their income and shun bribe-taking or risk the resulting consequences of their actions.
He said: “I caution that officer must be of good behaviour and apply themselves diligently to their responsibilities and officers must understand that you must limit your expenditure within your earnings and no extra money should be an attraction.”
On the revenue prospects amidst COVID-19, the CGC said: “The COVID-19 pandemic is something that has affected the global structure entirely. Therefore, we are part and parcel of the globe and what goes all over the world also affects us.
Most of our revenue is dependent on imports and therefore, when it comes to import and export, there is a slowdown in the process. We are grateful to God that so far we are collecting what is collectable and we are hopeful that at the rate we are going, we should be able to collect what is due to the people of Nigeria.
“And therefore, at the end of the year hopefully, we should be able to report to you the amount collected.
“I am confident that the pandemic has not stopped us from doing our work effectively and efficiently.
“Our men have been at the ports and borders from the beginning to this moment and we assure Nigerians that we will not let them down in the performance of our due diligence.
“Therefore, we have been able to reorient our people with regards to confirming with all the standards established by the NCDC so that they can remain safe and healthy to perform their mandate and I think that has helped us so far so good.”