In an emotion-laden speech in Abuja last week when handing over to his successor, the former Customs Comptroller General, Hamman Bello Ahmed described his seven months tenure as the Customs boss as successful and one that has redirected the service within such a short time.
Saying that the Customs personnel which he shepherded between May 2008 and last week Thursday has been transformed from a service where officers lack deep knowledge of their responsibilities, especially with regards to interpretation of statutes to a body of personnel that is gradually embracing professionalism and discipline.
Alhaji Ahmed was replaced last week by Dr Bernard Shaw Nwadialo who joined the Customs in 1988 as a deputy controller, but became a Comptroller in 2000 and was posted to head the Delta state command as area controller.
In 2004, the new Comptroller General was elevated to the rank of an Assistant Comptroller-General and was first in-charge of Economic Relations, Research and Planning (ERR&P) and later, Finance, Administration and Technical Services (FATS), the position he held until his appointment as a Deputy Comptroller-General of Customs (DCG). Dr Nwadialo, until last Thursday was in charge of Strategic Research and Policy. But, looking back at his 30- year career in the Customs, the former Customs boss blamed the decline in professionalism on several years of engagement of pre shipment inspection agents has eroded the professionalism that the Nigeria Customs Service of the 1970s is known for.
“However, the decades of the operations of Pre-shipment Inspection regime has badly eroded our professionalism. It is a matter of regret that majority of our officers have lost considerable grounds in their knowledge of the interpretation of the Harmonized System Nomenclature , Valuation of Goods, Rules of Origin, Excise Procedure, Basic Enforcement, and other vital parts of our operation”, he lamented.
He nevertheless gave himself a pat on the back for redirecting the Nigeria Customs Service to become more professional. According to him, when he was appointed, his focus was on how to refocus the service towards professionalism. That effort has started yielding results, he stated.
“Officers are now more grounded in their knowledge of Interpretative Rules on the harmonized system. The Common External Tariff (CET) book has become an inseparable companion of many officers, and a valuable reference for their operations. Officers have also undergone training in its Classification, Rules of Origin and Customs Valuation with Resource Persons drawn from Her Majesty’s Customs, the World Customs Organisation, e.t.c. to sharpen their skills and improve their efficiency”, he explained.
According to him, the massive training programme which the management of customs under his leadership embarked upon was also extended to licensed customs agents, leading to the training and certification of about 500 in Lagos and Port Harcourt alone.
The ex-CG, Customs recalled his efforts in the areas of automation of the Customs Clearance process adding that Electronic Declaration of Goods leading to the launching of the Direct Traders Input (DTI) Cafes. “We successfully launched a pilot for the take-off of e-payment system, in Apapa Port, and it is now been extended to other ports”, he recalled.
Alhaji Ahmed also disclosed that his management had concluded arrangements to employ 5,000 fresh hands into the service to beef up a depleted Customs which had not recruited in the last 15 years.
In the are of funding, the former customs boss stressed that the seven per cent allocation to the service is grossly inadequate for a revenue collecting outfit which in 2009 is expected to collect a whopping =N=650Billion.
“We have made representations to Government to consider 3 per cent of FOB value of Imports as an alternative. We have equally made a strong request for a special Presidential intervention fund to purchase new sea-worthy patrol boats, and revive the Marine Unit, where we are recruiting about 300 hundred young Marine Officers, to re-establish our presence in our creeks, waterways and high seas.