While inaugurating the Presidential task force on Customs Reforms recently, the minister of finance, Mr Mansur Mukhtar had declared that the federal government was desirable of reforming the Nigeria Customs Service as a critical component of the seven point agenda of President Umar Yar ‘Adua and in line with realisation of vision 20:2020.
Also, at the inauguration, the minister had charged the three-member task force to reorganise and transform the Service into a modern institution that is capable of enhancing revenue generation, facilitating trade and curbing smuggling and also check importation of illegal arms.
The Task Force which is an all Customs affair is headed by Dr Bello Mohammed who was the sixth chief executive of the same Nigeria Customs Service; serving between 1988 and 1994. Another member of the group is Alhaji Ahmed Aliyu Mustapha who also served as the eight Customs boss between 1999 and 2004. The third member is Otunba Daniel Banjo who is also a retired Comptroller.
They have two years within which they are to put the Service back on the track in the quest to mordernise, reform, reorganise and refocus.
Argument abound as to when the Nigeria Customs Service became this notorious; bearing the unenviable toga of being one of the most (if not the most corrupt) agency of the federal government. But, a lot of people have argued that, prior to 1994, the service was not as corruption-ridden as it is today, while some have also argued that corruption has always been in the system and that it is only a matter of degree and that the Nigeria Customs Service has always been very “attractive” to all; especially those who are either looking for a job or are desirous of changing their present job or transferring their service to the agency.
The emergence of Brigadier General Samuel Ango (retd) in 1994 to succeed Dr Bello Mohammed as the Sole Administrator of Nigeria Customs Service was on account of perceived decay on the part of the –then military government and the subsequent need to reorganise the Service.
Apart from the allegations of corruption, the service is also bedevilled by a host of other cankerworms which over time have become self destructive.
Of particular importance to us is the apparent disregard for seniority in the choice of successive Comptrollers General for the service. Most times, deputy comptrollers general are retired to pave way for an assistant comptroller general to mount the saddle. This has been a recurring issue since the exit of Alhaji Ahmed Mustapha. His successor Elder Jacob Gyang Buba was appointed from the rank of assistant comptroller general, so also was Buba’s successor, Alhaji Hamman Bello Ahmed. These two were made instant substantive Comptroller General. Closely related to this is rampant lack of consideration for seniority among officers and men of the service in promotion matters.
The above are apart from the mirage of administrative issues which have also affected the organisation and which we may not have the space to deal with here and now. Suffice it to state however that the above issues relating to promotion are also contributory to the prevailing administrative lapses.
It is quite an enormous task that the federal government has entrusted in the hands of these ‘three wise men’ and history may not be lenient with them if they fail; especially since they had been part of and movers of the system in the past.
We think that for them to succeed, the trio must free themselves from affiliations, be ready to learn modern and prevailing system of Customs operations, avoid mindsets and also learn from operators of the system; especially licensed customs agents and others whose activities impact on customs operations.
We urge that the gentlemen free themselves from the influence of their ‘boys’ who are still in service. Even though the duo of Bello Mohammed and Aliyu Mustapha left the service some years ago and at different times as the helmsmen, the fact still remains that some of their loyalists are still in service. This is however more apt in the case of Mustapha whose tenure is still very fresh in the minds of many.
We equally advise that they take the pains to understand the circumstances and peculiarities of the present system of customs operations with special understanding of the pros and cons of destination inspection, the role of service providers and the gale of e-business that is sweeping through the global economy.
There is no overemphasising the fact that the Nigeria Customs Service needs proper diagnosis and subsequent prescription and possible surgery and who is best to diagnose the ailment and recommend treatment than these gentlemen.
We also commend the government which (at least for this once) choose not to create another job for the boys in its desire to clean up the Nigerian system of Customs administration.
We sincerely belief that these men can do it and we can only urge them to remain committed as they were while in service. Two years is fairly too long a time not to get it right.
As for the incumbent, Dr Bernard -Shaw Nwadialo who was recently confirmed as the substantive Comptroller General, but who is expected to retire in a less than three months, it may no longer be a tea party. Having to work under the prying eyes of a task force whose members were his seniors at different times and whose tenure is longer than that of the Comptroller General can not be a comfortable arrangement.
But, the best that the Customs management can do for itself and the Service is to cooperate fully with the task force.