Stakeholders Appraise Dikko’s Six Years At NSC, Demand Sustenance Of Reforms
Urge Probe Of FOB Disbursement, Kick Against Hameed Ali’s Appointment
ALHAJI Abdullahi Inde Dikko is a lucky man from all indications. From 2009, when he mounted the saddle as the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), to the point of his voluntary retirement, he had a smooth sail, although the beginning was bumpy.
During his early days, he was confronted with a court action that tended to doubt his integrity so as to raise the dust over his appointment as the nation’s number one custom officer. He survived the ‘coup’ attempt. Again at the point of his retirement recently, petitions were everywhere accusing him of offences waiting to be substantiated.
His six-year tenure saw the service through unexpected level of advancement in many areas of customs operations, because of his six-point Agenda, which he executed to the admiration of global organisations and the general public.
Dikko came into office with an agenda to reposition the service through dogged implementation of capacity building, maximisation of e-customs, moral rebirth for integrity, enhanced welfare for officers and men and collaboration with stakeholders for mutual understanding.
Before his appointment, the NCS’s reputation was marred by scandals relating to corruption and fraud. This made it to attract low rating from Transparency International, which survey in 2010 indicated that more than half of the people who responded to its survey activities attested to have paid bribes to NCS officers at the ports.
The complexities in customs regulations and bureaucracy regarding import and export were perceived to be deliberate, to provide natural environment for bribery and corruption to thrive. Companies and individuals took advantage to undervalue and under declare their goods. Yet, many others operating in the informal sector resorted to smuggling to avoid legal trade. Bribe taking was the order of the day and genuine importers incurred huge cost through demurrage payment and sometimes, outright loss of their wares, all of which did incalculable damages to the nation’s image and economy.
Although public perception of the NCS has not changed, Dikko managed to clean up the image of the service. He was appointed at the time former President Jonathan started his Transformation Agenda and he was given a tall order to ensure all officers and men of the service are carried along.
He brought the national transformation agenda into the NCS, with a reform programme aimed at making it more efficient and modern customs like those in developed countries in areas of service delivery, efficiency and revenue generation.
His reforms improved the positive reputation of the Customs. To achieve his transformation agenda for the service, he thought it expedient to get the maximum cooperation of all officers and men by improving their welfare package and building their capacity through training and retraining of officers.
His crowning welfare achievement is the construction and commissioning of customs barrack in Abuja. He ensured enhanced welfare package for the workers through increased emolument, due promotion, adequate housing and availability of operational equipment. He also embarked on training and retraining of officers and men for them to be steadfast and committed in the fight against corruption, no matter how challenging it may appear to be.
The operations of the Customs service have become automated, and this has, improved the efficiency of service delivery. The automation of operations, which Dikko introduced, in line with international best practice, is a testimony of an improved customs service.
Operating in accordance with good governance, the NCS has made great progress in revenue collection, economic competitiveness, supply-chain security, enforcement, capacity building and research.
Following years of global economic down turn, the Nigeria Customs Service under the Dikko, keyed into the global Customs body ‘Revenue Package’ (RP), which was developed to meet members’ needs and provide technical assistance.
The RP, which was launched in 2009, was a response to declining revenue collection and trade over coming obstacles that accompanied the down turn.
RP is a comprehensive collection of instruments and tools, which provided administrative and strategic guidance in respect of effective, fair and efficient revenue collection. It also helped to raise importer awareness and compliance with Customs regulations.
The Nigerian Customs of today is not only innovative, but pro-active, transformative and futuristic, in tandem with the transformation agenda of the government and that of the global body the World Customs Organisation (WCO).
The futuristic approach of the Service under the retired Comptroller General became apparent when it took over the destination inspection from private service providers, the Cotecna inspection Ltd, Global Scan Services and few others, and replaced with the Risk Assessment Component of inspection with Pre-Arrival, Assessment Report (RAAR).
Although, the service admitted at the onset that it had challenges in the bid to take over the inspection from contracted Scanning Services Providers (SSPS) as directed by government, the Service coped with the challenges over time.
The new regime of destination inspection by the NCS promised better management of revenue generation, enhanced trade facilitation and better collaboration with other agencies of government to enhance national security.
One area many may not easily forget the achievement of is regarding that of revenue earning for the country, especially at the time of dwindling income from the oil and gas sector. Dikko raised the bar in revenue collection from mere N30 billion to over N1.2 trillion yearly, as at the 2014 revenue collection figures.
Although revenue collection is not the primary function of the Service created by many countries to facilitate trade, Dikko said last year that ‘‘2014 is a year we have to prove to the Federal Government that we have come of age and that we have built technological competitors that will stand the best of time.”
Stakeholders, who spoke with The Guardian on the six-year tenure of Dikko said he did well, especially in areas of welfare for officers and men and revenue generation for the country.
The National Secretary of the Association of National Licensed Customs Agents (ANALCA), Mr. Kayode Collins said Dikko tried his best in terms of performance, adding that he surpassed the record of all his predecessors.
‘‘On behalf of ANALCA, I give Dikko between 65 and 75 per cent mark in terms of performance. He was able to raise revenue generation from the mere N30 billion monthly to N100 billion. He digitalised the service with Automated System of Customs Data (ASYCUDA) to save for Nigeria N100 billion monthly. When we were in pre-shipment era, we were paying N100 billion annually on one per cent Free On Board to foreigners, but now that money is being plough back to government coffers. The profiling of agent to make for integrity of the system is another area, which Dikko bought into our hearts. Before now, the level of compliance was poor, now it is up to 90 per cent. What of moral boosting among officers and men of the service? He increased their salaries by 100 per cent, provided them housing with the proceed of seven per cent of revenue he retained with the permission of the government.”
The founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Boniface Aniebunam said Dikko did extremely well.
‘‘His customs reform programme was wonderful. He left a very big shoe behind. He made a very big mark in terms of revenue collection for the government, embarked on anti-smuggling campaign, which was successful, he embarked successfully also on capacity building within the service through training and retraining of officers and men, his welfare programme for officers and men was wonderful. This can be seen from all the things he did for his people, including the building of staff quarters and a hospital that is like a teaching hospital.”
Continuing, he said, ‘‘Dikko introduced Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) to save money for the government as several billions of naira formally paid to agents involved in destination inspection is now saved for the government.”
But the National President of the Council for the Managing Director of Customs licensed Agents, Mr. Lucky Amiwero, was silent on the achievements of the retired comptroller General, but urged government to investigate the disbursement of the one per cent FOB which many claimed was saved for the government by the Customs Service.
According to him, the Nigeria Customs Service continued to pay its consultants, when Destination Inspection had since collapsed at the gateways.
He said all scanners inherited by the Service had developed mechanical fault, forcing goods to be examined physically, hence the need not to pay destination agents anymore.
Dikko said he retired voluntarily to pave the way for his junior colleagues.
‘‘The only way the Nigeria Customs Service can move forward, I feel personally, is my making a sacrifice. This sacrifice is to give chance to others so that they can come up, and continue with the legacies and the reform I have put in place.”
But that sacrifice did not achieve what it was meant for, as the Federal Government has since appointed retired Colonel Hameed Ali to head NCS, instead of appointing one of Dikko’s subordinates. Ali resumed last week for a few minutes and he is yet to turn up in office again.
His appointment was criticized by stakeholders, including Customs agents, and a legal luminary, who have unambiguously voiced their opposition to the appointment, as they said he may not have the big leg to fill the shoes left by Alhaji Dikko Inde Abdullahi.
Licensed Customs Agents under the aegis of International Freight Forwarders Association of Nigeria (IFFAN), who flagged off opposition condemned Ali’s appointment, stressing that Customs Service tasks, though paramilitary in nature, was still of a technical and professional nature that even a crack military officer may not be able to perfectly perform.
The Director of Publicity, Mr. Ossy Ezeweiyinya lamented that the appointment genuinely portends great danger, not only for the revenue collection drive of the customs service,but for the consummation of the laudable on going reforms and growth of the Service.
”It is a technical position. So we need a professional to understand the position, we are not saying that another person cannot run customs, but the former CG has brought about so much automation and electronic platforms, and this new appointment will distort a lot of things.
As opposition mounts against the appointment, an Enugu based lawyer, Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo has reportedly filed a suit at the Federal High Court Umuahia, Abia State, challenging the constitutionality of the appointment of Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd) as the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service by President Muhammadu Buhari.
But the presidency has defended the appointment, saying it was based on the need to make the Service (NCS) optimise its potentials as the nation’s cash cow.
Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the President on Media and Publicity Mallam Garba Shehu said the government believes that the Nigeria Customs Service could still triple its revenue target.