Ordinarily, it should not cause any unease if the government decides to reorganise any of its agencies; Nigeria customs Service inclusive. That is why we have nothing against the recent decision of the Federal Government to set up a task force to reorganise the Customs.
As a matter of fact, it is the prerogative of the government; hence the creation of the three-man task force is not questionable, but it can be analysed for what it is: a veiled move to castrate the leadership of the service.
The present Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service Dr Bernard Shaw Nwadialo took over the mantle albeit in acting capacity came into being after the expiration of the tenure of the immediate past Comptroller General, Alhaji Hamman Bello Ahmed.
It took almost three months before he was confirmed and he has a few months lest before he would retire having served for the required 35 years.
There is no doubt that the Nigeria Customs Service (like many other agencies) is in dire need of reform and restructuring, but the mandate that was given to the task force is tantamount to creating a parallel if not a superior organ to superintend activities of the Service.
The Presidential Task Force (as it is called) is headed by a former Customs boss who is also the chairman of the board of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) Dr Bello Mohammed and also has the eight chief executive officer of the Service, Alhaji Ahmed Aliyu Mustapha as a member.
The minister of finance, Dr Mansur Mukhtar who inaugurated the task force equally mandated it 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.
It is instructive that the current reform is the second within the last six years. The first was the Nenadi Usman committee which claimed to have reformed the Nigerias Customs Service in 2003, but whose efforts derailed the service from a truly paramilitary organisation where seniority is a right and not a privilege and where it is difficult for an officer to rise above his mates at will and where it is almost an impossibility for a junior to jump three scales and become a boss to even his superiors. But alas that happened in the Nigeria Customs Service between 2003 and 2004; courtesy of the Nenadi Usman committee.
Without mincing words, the service has not recovered from the ripple effect of the uncoordinated promotions and other administrative decisions which the committee took in its quest to reform the Customs.
With due respect to the personalities involved in the current efforts and with due recognition of the deep knowledge and integrity of both Dr Mohammed and Alhaji Mustapha, we think that the intention of those who convinced the President or is it the minister of finance may not be to reform the Customs, but to create another empire for some people.
Already, many maritime sector stakeholders have started to insinuate that the motive behind the creation of the task force and of giving the responsibility to two former Comptrollers General is to frustrate the incumbent who now has to contend with two phobias: one the phobia of leaving office in about four months and the phobia of having two Comptrollers General one of whom was probably in charge when he was a junior officer.
The task force is seen by many as being too opportunistic and a pawn in the hands of the ‘chess players’ in the corridors of power who has an agenda that will usher-in a pre determined successor for the incumbent Comptroller General. And when that happens, they would have succeeded in further balkanise the service along the lines that will do the service no good.
If the ‘veiled reform’ which former sole administrator, Brigadier General Samuel Ango purportedly carried out his own reform between 1994 and 1999 to pave way for Alhaji Ahmed Aliyu Mustapha could not do it, if the Esther Nenadi Usman’s committee could not fashion out a better Customs, there is absolutely no guarantee that the current efforts will yield a purposeful result such that the Nigeria Customs Service will be better.
It is more suspicious when it is noted that this three wise men will hold forth for two years, a situation which makes it possible for them to determine who Dr Nwadialo’s successor will be. The whole thing would have been simply explained away as another ‘job for the boys’ were it not for the calibre and the integrity of the gentlemen who have accepted to do the job.
However, it is our strong opinion that the assignment is not likely to take the Nigeria Customs Service to the next level.