Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Alhaji Abdullahi Dikko Inde met on Tuesday with reporters of the foreign media to assess his performance in the last one year and especially how he was able to attract the president to commission one of his pet-welfarist housing projects in Kuje near Abuja. But the interview stretched to other matters of national importance and the economy.
By IFEYINWA OBI
COMPTROLLER General, can you just give us a run down of some of your activities in the last one year?
Well, so far so good, I’m always glad to give an account of my yearly activities because it has been more eventful than I thought it would be. In terms of revenue collection, we have an increase of almost N150 billion in revenue, which I think is a very remarkable and good achievement, and in terms of smuggling, we made a lot of seizures that ultimately made smuggling activities unattractive to most of its perpetrators.
So I can say we’ve done well in that aspect. And in terms of welfare, actually we have sustained 100 per cent salary increase yearly; our staff are highly motivated in terms of housing accommodation which we conceived and are sure it would be concluded.
We have a housing estate just concluded and the President made time out of his tight schedule to commission it. We are launching an owner-occupier housing estate possibly, and we are moving out of Abuja to another location in the country to make sure that we go round and make sure that our staff are accommodated with their families. Apart from that we are able to secure and supply almost 280 sets of arms to our men to be able to combat smuggling, which most of them are within the area of commands.
A lot of people were not so sure of what would happen to the Customs following the demise of the late President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua but here you are; how did you get things together?
Actually, even while the late President Umaru Yar’Adua was alive, the president rarely had discussions even with the retired Customs officers. I related well with him and from the beginning he told me how he wanted the Nigerian Customs transformed; he was even developing more interest in seeing that the Customs changed and repositioned itself from where it was.
Then the vice president now Mr. President Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan emerged on the scene. I want to assure you that my relationship with him has been very cordial and is trusting, because he is a man that anytime I really approached him with a problem he finds a solution.
And I must add here with all sense of responsibility that this relationship between the Customs and the President is unprecedented. I can remember two incidences that we had and in fact, the action he took I couldn’t believe it; the issue of inspection in the ports I sent in a complaint to the president that some scanners were not provided, that some people contracted to bring them could not provide them within that period of time. Those scanners are very important to the Customs Service because we use them to check things that are hidden in the containers.
I was expecting an executive procedure to commence as it was done with all government agencies but the president immediately ordered that the contract be terminated if the contractors are not up to the task, which came to me as a pleasant surprise. Apart from that, another decision was on importation where some of our cargoes are being diverted to neighbouring countries like Benin Republic and other places so that they may smuggle it to through the waterways and land borders. You can see that from there with the right of importation our ports are booming and other ports are being blocked.
So in terms of projects, in fact, it was during his time that he initiated the intervention ports when we are approaching our economic emancipation and increase in economic activity, you found out that we have a lot of losses and the facts have been kept under the carpet.
Licenses were inflated for a lot of money but we had to continue to harness things by ourselves, and it has helped to motivate our economy and the revenue is really growing but however, there are other aspects of Customs and duty that are really suffering and we are working assiduously to bring them under control, with innovations like the importation of our new arms, the purchase of sea boats to combat marine related criminal activities and the like; besides that Mr. President still supports us with two life boats that are very difficult to get, in fact, it has never happened before.
So these are the two things that I think are worth mentioning, not because he supports us with everything we ask for but because the president listens to us, and you can see for the first time the prestige that is coming to Nigeria in appreciation of the support that the Government is giving to the Nigerian Customs. The WTO is looking at Nigeria as a decent destination for business and the Nigeria Customs I being recognized all over the world by other Customs and in fact we now assist others in running or organizing their own Customs.
You have been able to weed out corruption from the Nigerian Customs. Knowing that corruption is endemic in our system, how and what advice would you give to other agencies or parastatals on how to stem corruption in the systems?
Well, I believe in motivation, I’ll advise that let every agency motivates its officers, after motivating them, and depending on whatever mode of operation you introduced, really they would accept and embrace new reforms.
But while the staff are hungry, I don’t think they would be able to accept or be susceptible to any new development, or any changes that would help the growth of any agency. So I believe in motivation.
Since you are talking about motivation, a lot of people think you that your training in Bulgaria has contributed toward getting people motivated, would you want to agree with that assertion?
Well, I believe what I have seen on ground and what I’m working with yearly motivated me; I have a socialist background, I believe in hard work, I believe in welfare, I believe in working tools, and I believe that I can do it better if I do it myself, so actually I would not say no. I have that background, and I believe that everybody must work before they eat, I think that is the slogan there. In essence I think that the vital pillars of progress depends on how effectively people think that their resourcefulness are appreciated and if these signs are missing the issue of improved services and reforms will be equally missing.
Like any other organization, Customs has its own challenges. What are some of these challenges and what strategies do you have to make the Nigerian Customs Service function in tune with the modern services?
What actually are our challenges from inside are more of things that need to be attacked from the administrative perspective …actually knowing what they are doing and how to address issues, and administratively how to address any problem that has to do with the service.
The outside one is the level of compliance of the stakeholders, you see now some items are being banned from the imports list but you find out that, some people get them in, and only God knows how; it is not necessarily through the Customs, there are one million and one hundred routes and what have you, these are some of the challenges.
You may wish to expatiate on the recent clash between the Customs and some smugglers in Jibia where you sadly lost one of your men. What would you say is the remedy to all those clashes?
I am from Katsina State and would like to say that what happened is unfortunate and we pray that it does not repeat itself. But I also want to sound a note of warning. That someone who is injured was almost attacked by a mob even while awaiting medical attention at a hospital is not just unfortunate but most callous of the mob. It defies logic and norms of human pain and punishment but I want to say that the attitude is ungodly and provocative at the same time.
Enough is enough
Enough is enough! The next time people attack Customs men while carrying out their duties, I shall descend on them regardless of the community with the full wrath of the law within the powers that the law allows me. Our men must be spared from the barbarism of non-conformists and deviants. I hope people get that right.
What about in the area of revenue generation?
Well, I think revenue is accredited to (I’m sorry to say) under development because most countries don’t collect it, they collect taxes from the local industries, and I’ll like to see Nigerian economy in a time when the Customs will only collect excise duty because we are no longer importing.
Because, one, we are using our oil and currency, and the only source we have for revenue is oil, and the moment now you allow that to consume our nation, that means we still remain underdeveloped, so that is the Customs we are helping to build that will bring material for the local industries; and where you have industries growing and Customs are sort of advising and supervising that we should add this, we should do that, then we can say that our economy is vibrant. And that is my dream for the Customs of the future.