The Nigeria Customs Service stinks, reckons Joshua J. Omojuwa

Chances are that your room smells funny, but you aren’t aware of this. Whilst this may sound impossible, it is indeed normal. I’ll explain later.

It was during the holidays, so I decided I needed to make more friends outside my sheltered boarding school system. I knew I didn’t fit in with the boys I was moving with, but I moved anyway, while being conscious that I didn’t belong. I wondered if they knew that too. One day, I followed them to visit one of the boys. When I stepped my head into the one-room apartment, I was jolted by a force that immediately pulled me into a retreat. However, I couldn’t stay outside, so I had to ready myself to go in again. I did, but it wasn’t without negotiating this pungent smell that swept the entire room.

I looked around to see if others were conscious of what I was dealing with. They weren’t. They all looked comfortable. I was the one who was visiting for the first time, others were regulars. It became a choice between staying or leaving and making others wonder why I left so early. I left anyway, knowing I was never to return. Whilst that didn’t end my friendship with the group, it made it clear to me one could be friends with people without visiting them at home.

At this point, I had learned about adiabatic process in physics. In a lay person’s term, it is a process where there is no heat exchange between two bodies. This happens when the difference between the heat in one body and the other is zero. To attain this point, heat would have moved from the system with higher heat to the system with lower heat, until both bodies achieve the same heat level. At that point, there is no longer exchange of heat. I started to equate the situation of the other boys and that room to be an adiabatic process. Heat is a form of energy while smell is not so it clearly didn’t sound scientific to me. It didn’t matter anyway, as far as I was concerned, that was an adiabatic process of a smelling kind.

That experience has since gone on to define my relationship with myself and other people and things in proximity to me. Other people see your nose better than you can even though you are closer to it. Take the judgment of your friends on whether your space smells funny better than your judgment. I am of the belief that, if a person lives inside a toilet, a time will come when the toilet will no longer smell because by that point, their olfactory nerves would have come to treat that smell as normal.

So, about your room, does it smell funny? Ask someone who has never been there or one who doesn’t go in there often. That said, it’s your personal space, so if your nose says it smells nice, then it smells nice.

That, fortunately, is not a privilege the Nigeria Customs Service can enjoy. The Premium Times investigation that revealed monumental malfeasance at the highest level of the Customs reflects a norm that even the actions of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) helped to validate. According to the report, the EFCC caught these Customs guys red-handed — seven officers caught with N12billion. That’s a ‘B’. They even refunded some of the proceeds of their acts of corruption whilst making commitments to refund the rest. They were then released by the EFCC.

To this point, this would be an anomaly in systems that are not used to the smelly nature of corruption. However, things got much worse because the same people were released to the Customs to continue their work. Can you wrap your head around this?

This is a Nigerian tragedy that is at the root of other Nigerian tragedies. Because as with corruption elsewhere, the effects are multi-dimensional. Here, might is proven to be right again. Junior custom officers who aren’t exposed to opportunities for big corruption get punished for the little ones they commit whilst the senior officers who can between seven of them steal as much as N12billion get to steal enough to induce the system to let them get away with it.

They return to continue. A person who steals billions and gets away with it does not stop, and in fact is encouraged to do better, better being steal more. That way, if they were letting in 10 containers of illegal arms, they can do 100. Hello Insecurity.

The Nigerian Police, on account of being exposed to more citizens every day, is seen as the most corrupt service unit. I am certain the Customs Service sees that and chuckles, because they know, when it comes to corruption per capita, the police could be a poor collective compared to their vast prosperity.

So, when you hear a Nigerian complain about the difficulty of importing inputs of production and other goods into the country, remember this corruption report. When the government bans goods and closes borders, whether those who behind that policy intend it or not, the greatest beneficiaries are these Customs officers who are then empowered to use their discretion to decide what comes in, according to the pleasing of their bank accounts.

Like that stinking room, the Custom officers who aren’t corrupt are the anomalies, because they are able to still perceive the in-house pungent smell. Seeing how everyone moves along like it is the norm, they are endangered species. The reason nothing is yet to happen about that Premium Times report is because everything that was reported is the design. Sometimes, when you say a system does not work, ask yourself, does your own expectation match its design? If it was designed to not work, then it works as designed. That you expect it to work does not mean it does not work. The Nigeria Customs Service stinks, whoever isn’t perceiving it is in an adiabatic process with it.

 Omojuwa is author, Digital Wealth Book

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