5 January 2013

Nigeria Customs and Destination Inspection Challenge

At the end of this year, the seven-year contract between the Federal Government and three companies contracted to undertake destination inspection of imports into Nigeria's land, sea and air entry points will expire. The companies which had been deployed at the different entry points are Cotecna, Societe Generale de Surveillance (SGS) and an indigenous one, Globalscan Systems. A fourth company, Webb Fontaine has been handling the ICT services involved in these international transactions for the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). The implication of this expiration is that the Destination Inspection tasks currently being handled by these companies would be taken over by the Nigeria Customs Service itself, as the contract would neither be renewed nor extended.

As should be expected, the NCS which has undergone a phenomenal transformation both in its services, personnel and equipment had accepted the gauntlet as it readied itself for the take-over of this very crucial aspect of its operations. In line with the avowed agenda of the current and ongoing reformative efforts at the Service, which have capacity building and personnel upgrade as a top item on its list, the training of its officers and men who would take over from the DI service providers has been an ongoing programme. The preparation had started since 2006 when NCS embarked on the secondment of its officers to these companies and consultants in order to understudy them, preparatory to the take over. However, because of the rapid development in ICT, it would have been worthless to train a higher number of its officers earlier because at the time they would be taking over the DI operations, their training and equipment would have become largely obsolete.

So, a year to the takeover, the Customs under the current administration of Alhaji Abdullahi Dikko Inde, launched a pointed training programme for its personnel as well as the procurement and upgrade of modern facilities that would drive the systems. One of the service providers, SGS, enthusiastically undertook the initial training and preparation of the 80 Customs officers who would serve as the core reservoir of the know-how and who would disseminate the knowledge in house. By the second quarter of this year, when a top officer of the Customs went from the headquarters to supervise the training on behalf of the Comptroller General, he was met by highly motivated trainees who displayed very high knowledge and keen grasp of both the theoretical and hands-on aspects of their training. The managing director of SGS Scanning Nigeria Limited gave very high marks to the trainees and their course content.

Between then and now, a lot of clean water has passed under the bridge in the area of further training for other officers in the different aspects of the tasks that are involved in the destination inspection and other modern operations of import facilitation and the issuance of Risk Assessment Reports (RAR). Other personnel of the NCS have been exposed to other areas of training that are also related to the greater tasks that the hugely transformed NCS has set for itself. In other words, and with the acquisition of the necessary scanning equipment and upgrade of existing facilities which sources at the Customs acknowledge have been enthusiastically supported and approved by the President Goodluck Jonathan. In fact, NCS is ready and fully armed to embark on this very important task as from the first day of next year.

However, it is not everybody who is enthused by this joyful development as some of interests which feel that their personal interests should be placed above the patriotic and security interests of the nation, which are at issue in the takeover, are said to have embarked on many underhand and overt attempts to frustrate these salutary efforts. From alleged hectic lobbies, threats and blackmail against the takeover of the destination inspection by the Customs, these interests are said to have been working for the extension of the contract. In recent times, according to observers, these covert attempts have gone public. At a one-day seminar by the Maritime Reporters Association of Nigeria (MARAN), in Lagos, last weekend, the desperation of the managing director of Globalscan Systems Limited was obvious, if malicious and patently false when he claimed that the NCS was ill-prepared to take over the task of destination inspection by January next year.

Knowledgeable observers point out to the desperation of the Globalscan executive which was evident through the yawning gaps in his postulations, one of which, according to the observers, is that his firm is said to be using staffers who are academically and intellectually inferior to the ones which the NCS has trained to take over from them. The wonder is how a private company could glibly raise such issues of incompetence against a Nigeria paramilitary organization which places a lot of premium on human capacity. However, SGS which is a better known and better internationally acclaimed counterpart had earlier given a sterling recommendation on the NCS officers who would be taking over by next January.

It is obvious that Nigeria, by this decision to let its own result-oriented Customs Service to handle this very important aspect of its socio-economic life, with its huge implication for national security, has scored a major bull's eye. And by so doing, the government and people of Nigeria have placed on the shoulder of the Customs another major challenging responsibility. There is no doubt, that as it has done with other equally challenging tasks, it is hoped that NCS will deliver adequately.

Dr. Adejumo, Maritime Affairs consultant, wrote from Lagos

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