By Ifeyinwa Obi
Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Dikko Inde Abdullahi, in this interview, says that the past eight months of his administration has brought about a revolution in the service such that officers now shun corruption and other unethical practices as a result of better welfare package.
You seem to be investing so much in the welfare and well-being of customs officers and men. What informed this?
We are setting out an agenda that will help us to pursue the actual goal of the service. I rose from rank and at various level of any officer, I actually can tell you how I feel and how he feels. So while setting up this agenda, we look at first of all the welfare of officers which is very paramount to our activities in terms of revenue collection. Donâ€™t forget right from time, earlier than this time; the aim of the Nigeria Customs is, let us see how we can minimize the perception of public which always borders around corruption.
Customs initially were the ones collecting this money (customs duty) and then we deposit in the bank but actually that sole responsibility has been transferred to the banks who are now collecting this money.
Today we have achieved electronic operation whereby in fact today I can tell you and I can assure you that a custom officer has no business or contact with an importer or agent while clearing his goods but yet look at what we achieve in terms of revenue collection, what improvement in the revenue collection? Then I called the management and said let us look at the welfare of the officers because once one is looking at this money that one is collecting, one can be tempted.
So we sat down, we designed and asked â€˜what can we do?â€™ Do we now look at the allowances of the officer and improve it or do we look at may be something that actually can make them happy but we actually resolved that, look, let us look at and examine the take home pay and we decided to say ok letâ€™s look at the percentage, how can we give them at least the desired pay so that at least we can see whether there is going to be an improvement in the revenue collection and then we concluded that look, let us improve it by 100% and today it is history.
I can assure you we had paid the 100%Â increase for January, February and March though this thing came in March, we paid the arrears but I can assure you if you compare the revenue collection of January to March 2009 with January to March 2010, there is a significant improvement of 27 billion.
So you can see that, that aspect of thinking worked. Then we looked also at the aspect of promotion which also you know improves the morale of officers. We looked at the ranking, who stayed long, which rank needs what? So within this 8 month, I can tell you that there were three sets of promotion within this particular period because we have the vacancy and we believe that with promotion which is also part of welfare, our officers can be motivated and I can assure you now I have high_morale officers and they are really working hard and they are really living above expectation.
We have now made them happy and they know they are happy. Anybody who now tries to cut corners will be brought to justice and we will surely make him face the wrath of the law.
A month ago, President Goodluck Jonathan, presiding over the Federal Executive Council meeting, approved the purchase of 120 housing estates at Kuje here and I can assure you that this will go a long way to really accommodate most of the officers at the headquarters and I think with that, the officers are really happy.
So how have you been able to get all these done within the short period of time that youâ€™ve been in office?
I believe in contacts and I believe in going to whoever is concerned to tell him look this is my problem and for me to achieve excellence you really need to help me. Whoever is in the position to help, I believe will honestly do so. I can assure you with this approach, the Nigeria Customs Service is getting better and right now I can tell you people are envying us.
How do you measure that? How do you measure your performance?
The only way to measure the performance of the service is by revenue collection and by the way we are combating the smuggling.
So if the revenue profile is rising, then definitely you know that people are shying away from conniving with those that may have the intent of defrauding government.
We cannot say that we will totally eradicate corruption but I am telling you that we will almost achieve that. I can tell you from now, 70% of our activities aim towards eradication of smuggling.
The officers realize now that our funding is coming from the cost of collection. So if you actually collect higher, 7% of that collection is coming to you comfortably and you know with that amount of salary you can do anything and you can defend it but if you acquire wealth illegally, you will shy away from even driving a good car but now you have the confidence that this is the money I earn from my own salary and my income.
We have told our officers that if they allow this opportunity to slip away, then tomorrow they should not complain to anybody that they are not being taken care of.
Is the 7% funding adequate?
Actually it is not; know 7% from the non-federation account is not ok; but you see we have an emergency fund that will help us at least to add to what we have so that at least to measure our performance and thank God with the assistance of the legislators â€“ the upper and the lower houses, they see reason with our demand.
They did their best. The President also came to our rescue and heard. Now they have seen the result of what we actually presented before them. So it is not enough but we will manage it and I believe the more we impress the government, the better it will get for us.
With so much given to them, what are your own expectations from your officers now?
Nothing more than revenue collection to its maximum because we have no excuse, we have no reason why we should complain, we have no reason why we should say we have not being taken care of. So to whom much is given, much is expected. My expectation honestly is surpassing the target that have been given to us.
So what is the next line of action for your management team?
The next line of action is capacity building. Donâ€™t forget that when I assumed duty as Comptroller General, there were only four DCGs and we looked at the Corporate Support Service; in fact the capacity building is matched to that department and it is a very large department.
We talk about finance, administration of staff, welfare ofÂ the staff the promotion, training; then I made a proposalÂ to the then minister of finance look in order to achieve greatness in this service, capacity building is very important.
The officers know their bearings because we have been under pre-shipment inspection for quite a long time whereby all goods were being assessed. So the only job remaining for a custom officer is to sit down and make sure that what is sent to him in Clean Report of Inspection tallies with what the agent have.
So we are really made redundant for almost 20 to 22 years. Customs officers need training and retraining and also now we are injecting 5,000 work force into the system so those ones that are coming in; we really need to set a programme for them in order to learn into the system. And for those who are there before, we also need a programme of training and retraining.
So my request was granted and I now have a DCG who will take care of human resources development and now the number of my DCGs has become five.
The service providersâ€™ contract expires in 2012. They are on Build, Operate and Transfer. So we now set out a one year calendar programme for training and retraining. You know we have to have officers that are going to take care of the scanning machine, the technicians, image analysts and then at the same time now we build the Nigeria Customs to international standard.
So we now have a programme for one calendar year. In fact personally I attended a course at Hilton that lasted for two weeks for two to three days just to show my officers that it is very important; even me that is sitting on this chair can still learn.
So with that, I am telling you that by the end of this year, we are going to have a full blown standard custom officers that can work anywhere at any level.With our potentials, our population, we are still behind, hence we need to race so that we are not left behind, he said.