Arguably, the story of what is today known as the Nigeria Customs Service started in 1891 when one Mr T.A Wall was appointed as director in charge of the department of Customs and Excise. Others have also argued that Nigeria Customs Service as an agency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria can not be said to have existed until1964 when a Nigerian (Mr Ayodele Diyan) was appointed as head of the Nigeria Customs Service.
After Diyan, the Nigeria Customs Service has been headed by: Mr Henry Duke (1967 to 1975), Alhaji Shehu Musa (1975 to 1977) and Chief Oyebode Oyeleye (1977 to 1981). After these first generation chief executives, the Service has also been headed by Alhaji Abubakar Musa, Dr Bello Haliru Mohammed, Brigadier Samuel Ango, Alhaji Hammed Aliyu Mustapha, Mr Jacob Gyang Buba, Alhaji Hamman Bello Hammed and Dr Bernard Shaw Nwadialo. The incumbent chief executive is Alhaji Abdullahi Dikko.
The Nigeria Customs Service is perhaps the only federal government para-military establishment which holds the unenviable record of being tossed from one ministry to the other. At different times, it has been under the ministry of internal affairs and lately, the ministry of finance. The public service reforms of 1986 which gave birth to Decree 14 of January of that year also created the Customs, Immigration and Prisons Service board as the supervisor agency to which Customs reported. But, by 1992, the Decree 45 came into being and gave birth to a distinct board of Customs and Excise under the ministry of finance. Since then, the Service has remained under the ministry of finance; with the minister of finance as the chairman of Customs board.
Similarly, the functions of the Service (as enshrined in the Customs and Excise Management Act, 2004 have always hovered around import duty collection, collection of excise duty, enforcement of fiscal policies of government, checkmating smuggling, valuation of imported goods etc. It is also expected to perform some pseudo- security functions such as: forestalling illegal importation of arms and ammunitions, stopping importation of unwholesome products, among others.
In recent times, there had been calls for a wholesome reform the creation Nigeria Customs Service, which is expected to culminate into making it an autonomous agency. These calls became very persistent in the wake of the recent public hearing on the Service by the National Assembly.
In the vanguard of the call is a frontline freight forwarding group; the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) which has also submitted a voluminous memorandum to the House of Representatives sub-committee on Customs.
In the widely publicised memorandum, NAGAFF had posited that an autonomous Nigeria Customs Service will engender professionalism, improve service delivery, reduce operational bureaucracy, ensure capacity building in the service, ensure that more funding is provided for the service, engender genuine trade facilitation, ensure adequate border security and harmonise promotion , staff progression and welfare issues, among other things.
While we acknowledge the arguments of those who have been championing the call for autonomy for the Nigeria Customs Service, we equally urge caution and appeal for a clear understanding of the issues that are winding around the neck of the Nigeria Customs Service at the moment.
We do not see any conviction in the argument that Customs will need to be autonomous before it can perform its statutory duties effectively. We do not think that the Service is negatively affected or burdened bureaucratically by being under the finance ministry. Rather, the Service has drawn benefits from the political advantage of being under a strategic ministry of finance.
As a paramilitary organisation, the Nigeria Customs Service can not be different from others which are presently under a supervising ministry.
Even though, we defer to the argument that the Service should be restructured, we do not however support the all for autonomy. Rather than lobby for autonomy, proponents of autonomy should ask for empowerment such that the service can be made to be more self accounting. In other words, it does not have to run cap in hand to the supervisory ministry of finance for all approvals. Rather than being given autonomy, more funding should be approved.
Government should consider an increase in the current ‘cost of collection’ percentage which is given to the Service and which it uses to fund its over heads, capital and recurrent expenditures.
The Service requires a supervisory organ that has sufficient knowledge, technocracy and we think that the finance ministry is the right ministry to be.