STORIES abound about corruption in the Nigeria Customs Service.
The Service told its own story at a public hearing of the joint Senate Committee on Agriculture and Industry.
While everyone accuses the Customs of failing to stop smuggling, Customs Comptroller (Import and Export), Mr. Julius Nwagwu threw the issue back to the high and mighty in society.
Without their cooperation, smuggling cannot stop.
â€œCustoms officers have no access to the powers that be when smugglers are being discussed. When an officer is reported, the story is that he is not facilitating trade but the truth is that because an officer refused to facilitate fraud, he is marked down and will not even know what is happening to him,â€ Mr. Nwagwu told the gathering.
Obviously, careers of officers who get to this point are over. Mr. Nwagwu said smugglers were powerful people who had means and contacts in high places. They ensure things are done their own way. At most of the border posts, they are the owners of the quarters Customs officers rent.
Mr. Nwagwu left the audience to wonder the type of relationship a Customs officer would have with his landlord whois a smuggler.
Smugglers, according to him, are powerful enough to get uncooperative officers sacked.
They could do worse things to the affected officers.
These issues are not new. That Mr. Nwagwu raised them does not mean that they would not continue to be ignored. We have a system that runs on the impunity of the powerful and their friends who promote illegalities.
Mr. Nwagwu identified a new angle to smuggling, which might overtake the one across our vast land borders.
Nigerians in high places and their relations aid smuggling by living above the law. Their family members who travel abroad smuggle and depend on their connections to evade the law.
â€œWe receive telephone calls from quarters you do not imagine, telling us, â€˜please, my wife travelled.’
“Somebody who travelled one week ago returns with 10 suitcases, 12 suitcases. We are supposed to clear the person without knowing the contents of the suitcases.
â€œAs we are sitting here are we not just mounthing policies? We are all involved, we all stand accused, we are all guilty,â€ Mr. Nwagwu rounded off.
We hope that someone is taking Mr. Nwagwu serious. The loss of revenue to government through smuggling is huge. It is difficult to estimate because nobody has a tab on the value of the items smuggled or those that evade duties through unofficial waivers, which is what these officials offer their families in aiding their illegal activities.
Unfortunately, public hearings have become more of charades, unhelpful in shaping policies, and failing to utilise the information they unearth for the benefit of Nigerians. The powerful Nigerians behind smuggling would ignore Mr. Nwagwu or devise new means of continuing with their activities.
The National Assembly would not stop smuggling because as Mr. Nwagwu said, â€œwe are all guilty.â€
Who would prove him wrong?