Meeting him in company of stakeholders and maritime journalists recently, the Acting Comptroller General of Customs Dr Bernard – Shaw Nwadialo cut the picture of an obedient, unambitious public servant who never thought that fate would catapult him to the highest height in Customs ladder. But, there he is- as the acting helmsman, not willing to upset his employees, not willing to upturn his predecessor’s policies, yet wanting to make a mark, albeit within just seven months. At a media parley which was attended by Shipping Position Weekly, Dr Nwadialo disclosed that he won’t move into the office of the Comptroller General until he is so directed.
On DCG rank instead of CG rank
Somebody talked about ranks; whether acting or not acting; if we go into the laws about acting appointments, I don’t think we will leave here today. It depends on how you look at it, when somebody is given an acting appointment, he is supposed to wear the rank and occupy the office because that is the authority, but it has to be official. So, that explains why you still see me in my old rank. The Acting Comptroller General of Customs has been handed over to me in the hand over notes, but the official things have not been perfected; that is why I am still wearing the old rank. And if you know me, I prefer to remain in my ranks until these things are perfected; before I go in there. I have also talked to a lot of people, including the Police and others everywhere and they all said that I am supposed to wear the rank, but I don’t want to go into all that. I am Dr. Bernard Shaw Nwadialo; I am the acting Comptroller General of Customs as of now, it may change tomorrow if the government wishes to do that, but as of now that I am addressing you, I am the acting Comptroller General of Customs. Moreover, if you remember some other people who were not Customs officers became Comptrollers General of Customs and they didn’t wear any customs rank. So, I don’t know what is in a rank anyway, the name is the important thing.
Insinuation that the task force on port congestion may take over the duty of the area commands
We said drastic situations require drastic solutions. This is not the first time that the ports are getting congested. As for the journalist who asked me the question as to whether the task force will take over the job of the area commands, I don’t know for how long you have been in journalism, or how long you have been in this country; there have been problems in the ports with congestion right from the cement Amanda days. Usually, drastic solutions have to be improvised; the jobs of the area commands will not die. Just as we said in the communiqué – the people who have done their importations and have passed their Single Goods Declaration forms, the area commands will continue to attend to them. The task force will only concentrate on consignments that have spent so much time in the ports; so I don’t know how they have taken over the jobs of the area commands.
On the number of containers that have so far been transferred
I will tell you that NPA is actually handling that; in fact the minister of transport has even constituted a committee that should be responsible for the movement of containers from one point to the other, the customs is a member of that committee.
On whether or not he will continue with the policies of his predecessor; Hamman Bello Ahmed
Simple etiquette demands that when you are part of a management, you took decisions in that management, that means you are part of all those decisions. But, that does not mean that we are dummies, that we have to swallow everything hook line and sinker. If there are things that I don’t believe in or which members of the management do not believe in, then we will have a rethink. The world is not static, it is dynamic, somebody can make a statement today and tomorrow he could change it.
Barrack Obama the present president of United States of America made a statement during his campaign and the following day he retracted it. I am not saying that I am retracting my statement, but what I am trying to say is that I was in that management and many of the decisions taken by my predecessors were very good decisions and therefore those good ones that I feel are very important we will go on with them and further develop on them, the ones that we are not comfortable with, we will look at them again and see what we can do about them, that is life. You can never have a permanent position on ideas, when ideas come and you discover that somebody has a better idea than your own, you have to succumb, if you do not succumb, then it means that you are very autocratic. Now I am talking about laws. Yes, these are laws that have to be obeyed, we sent out circulars; we quoted the laws and many of you now refused to come forward because you are constantly breaking the laws.
The journalists that are here and who are asking these questions, please help us also to tell these importers to give us correct declarations, because we are customs and these laws are made and we must implement them. If a police man catches a thief, you will not go and query him to ask why is he going to remand him in custody, are you going to do that? You will not! But as Customs, when we try to follow our laws and try to let the public know what our laws are, then people are wondering, it’s not right. You (journalists) have to help us, let these people obey the laws, even when they catch you with a stolen property you did not steal, but you bought from somebody, the police will also hold you until you account for it, these are the laws. In essence, what am trying to say is that, these laws have been there, we have been very careful because of the problems that may arise from these laws, but this is a test case, we tried to enforce the laws and almost every Nigerian importer refused to come forward which is very bad for this country, that means that almost every importer in this country has false declarations; its not right. Is that how to facilitate trade? They asked us to facilitate trade, not to facilitate fraud or smuggling, so I believe that you journalist should also help us to spread these things, the problems we are having in the ports you say is because of the law, but it’s because of the people who disobey the law. But look at us now – the government has bent over backwards and said that okay since this law is there, we are going to put it in abeyance; come forward, declare your consignments, take your goods and go, but please in future give us correct declarations. So, for the press that were asking me whether I will continue with the laws of my predecessor or not, I am not in the judiciary, I didn’t make those laws. If the laws have to be revised or amended, the people know how to go about it, but for now, the law is there and therefore, the law has to be enforced. But, for this assignment, like I told you, the laws have been set aside so that we can now move forward.
The demand for bonded terminals
Yes, if you have been here for a while, the Nigerian Customs Service has tried very much to make sure that we ease congestion in the ports and that was why in the last few years, many bonded terminals were approved and licensed. The idea was that any overflow can now move from here to those bonded terminals, but you need to have the facilities in these bonded terminals before you can operate. Is it proper for you to say that you have a bonded terminal and there is not even a crane there or forklifts to lift containers from the trucks; somebody has to have the equipment to do the work before you can licensed him to operate a bonded terminal. The equipment must not be only one, because, if it breaks down, nothing goes on and that has led to fraud; a truck comes in with containers the containers are not even dropped and the truck goes back out because the terminal does not have the equipment to do the work, but for all I know, the idea of the bonded terminals and the ICDs are very important and very good, they are all designed to help decongest the ports and if any body is qualified and applies for bonded terminal, I believe Customs will license him as a bonded terminal operator.
Police taking over the duty of Customs on the highway
Is it only the police? So many of you when you are travelling on the high way and a Police man stops you and asks you for the Customs papers with which you cleared your car and you give him as if he knows how a car is cleared. As a young man, I know that ones I have my drivers license, my insurance and maybe the road worthiness certificate of the vehicle, (the ones that the Police will start asking for), but when they start asking for things that you know are not within their jurisdiction, you are supposed to ignore them and move on, but you have let them take over the job of everybody and as I have said, it is not only them, there is nothing that the Customs can do to stop the Police from what they are doing. At inter-governmental meetings, we have all discussed this, there is something we call low tariff barriers to trade. In the world trade organization, the only instrument that any customs organization can use is tariff, if I don’t want this item to come into Nigeria I can fashion a high tariff for it so that it will discourage people from bringing them in, they can only try to smuggle them. That is the only thing allowed by the World Trade Organization. So, the low tariff barriers and all these multiple barriers and road check points all over the place are not allowed in the ECOWAS sub-region. They only allow us to have a check point after the border, that is 70 kilometre from the border, that is the allowable check point. But, you see that as you move around Nigeria you will see many people doing these things. But, you see other agencies that are doing the same work we are trying to do. So, as I said, these are things that have to be addressed; not just by Customs, but by a higher body maybe the LEAG; that is, the Law Enforcement Agency Group.
Why do we not have a journalist in the port decongestion committee?
Last Saturday when I came that question was raised and we told them that well, it is through that they are not there, it is a good idea to have them there, but maybe in the future when such things are being done maybe it will be recommended that a journalist at least is put in as a member of the committee.
Lack of sufficient cargo handling equipment at the terminals
Yes, it will be great if they have enough, just as I talked about the bonded terminals and ICDs earlier – that they have equipment to work with. It will greatly accelerate the rate of clearance of goods. So, that is what we hope they should be able to acquire. At the APM Terminal on Saturday, I was told about their plans to acquire many new fork lifts that can even take two containers at a time. I hope other terminal operators will do that.
About the “82 wise men” sent to the ports by the former CG
I don’t agree with the person who is saying that it is the reason why we are having problems in the ports, it may just be a contributing factor, but I don’t think it is the reason why we are having problems in the ports. What are they doing that they are causing problems? Anyway, for now the “82 wise men”, by the time I am properly seated, we are going to look at it and review it and know whether they are really relevant in those positions, if they are not relevant then we will now redeploy them. But for now as somebody rightly said, I am trying to get settled and the very first assignment they gave to me is port congestion and please bear with me, I have not even entered the CG’s office, I am still in my own office, I have not gone in there yet, about 36 hours after the thing was handed over to me, I was summoned to the ministry and I was asked to come and do this and that is what I have been doing since then. So, please bear with me, there are so many things that need to be looked at and I am going to do that with my management team. As I said, Ahmed (immediate past CG) had very good intentions, he has very good programmes, we will look at what he was doing, the very good ones, we will continue doing, the ones we think we are not comfortable with, we will jettison them
But as I have told you, I was part of many of those decisions and I know that ninety something percent of the actions he took were all very correct.