interviewBy Ifeyinwa Obi
WHILE taking stock of revenue generation during the year ended December, 2012, the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Alhaji Dikko Abdullahi Inde told Customs Watch in this interview that goods coming into the country through the borders were now under serious scrutiny. He said he was in partnership with the Comptroller or Director-General of Customs of Benin Republic and the Director-General of Niger Republic Customs. On the recent hacking of Customs site to offer employment to people for a fee , he said that hackers will no longer have a field day as he has placed Canada trained forensic experts to look into activities of official hackers. Excerpts:
It appears that last year's revenue was not met. Why?
No, I disagree with you. We met our target. What really happened was that we had several holidays and towards the end of the year, we had so many shifts, but actually, they fall within this year. If you look at January we collected huge amount of money that we have never collected before, so it is the balance of December that came in January. So in anyway, we are not losing any revenue.
How much is the revenue for this year, and what are the plans you have put on ground to attain it?
Well, this year is a trillion naira and some fractions. We are ready and have started looking towards goods coming through the borders. I have discussed and held a meeting with the Comptroller or Director-General of Customs of Benin Republic and the Director-General of Niger Republic.
We have informed them of what is not allowed into our country and they should respect our fiscal policy, whereby goods that are rarely high duty under import provision list be allowed to pass through their countries. We also told them to follow the normal international transit procedure, whereby any cargo coming into Nigeria, the Benin Republic Customs should escort it and hand it over to the Nigerian Customs for the purpose of duty collection.
So anything short of that is a violation of the international transit procedure and which we said as the Chairman of Western-Central Africa, the Chairman of Africa Customs and the Chairman of West African Directors-General of Customs. I told them that Nigeria will not fold its arms, while things are happening and it is being caused by our neighbours, so we are actually going to take action.
What are your plans for the welfare and capacity building of officers?
Well, as a father and head of this organization, it's a formula I used and it worked for me. The welfare really motivated my officers and the major part of the success is due to that. So I will still go out and beg for more welfare to motivate my officers, because I believe that from 2010 to date, we have seen that most of the redundancies we are witnessing which bring about rumour, and corruption are being resolved.
I believe that officers are contented with the new salaries we introduced, with three free pairs of uniforms and now procuring buses to take them to and fro their places of living. Actually, I will rather improve. If I have my way to increase their salaries by 100 per cent again, I will do that, because I know that when officers are motivated, they will keep away from bribery and corruption, the more they will keep away from asking for things that do not belong to them.
Now, what we are looking at is that we will go into the core function of the Nigerian Customs Service. I will like a situation that when you meet a Nigerian Customs officer on the road and you ask him/her why are you wearing this uniform;fact when he starts talking, you will know that this person is indeed knowledgeable. Now we have the real training of officers. You know at any given time, we are looking at attaining the way other developed countries are really improving and doing their day-to-day business activities.
That's why we travel and request to see a country that is versed in clearing and IT system. So when we travel out, we do not go there to fold our arms and think that we are coming back home to rest. We go out with a view that we will on return,put our house in order. You can't believe that now the Nigerian Customs Service has forensic experts, whom were sent recently to Canada to train for almost six months.
From Canada, a complaint was made that some people were using my picture on facebook to give employment to people for a certain amount of money. So each structure uses its experience as a case study. And all the people involved have been arrested and will be paraded here so that all Nigerians will see them.
This is the work of the officers currently undergoing training in Canada. We call them hackers. They are official hackers. So, if anyone is doing something contrary to the laws of the land, through the cyber or internet crime, we now have people who can apprehend them. Don't forget, I personally went for this course for one week just to acquaint myself with what will be the success of the officers when they finish the training. And the first result we got is that we have traced the account they are operating, even the person hosting them on his own web, has been apprehended. They are here in the cell.
So, actually this is another aspect which nobody knows. And we have attained that and I'm assuring that in terms of capacity building, this is a new place entirely. We have finished the elementary training and re-training; now we are really going into serious propulsion of the Nigerian Customs, as seen all over the world.
There is a big eyebrow on Jibia border on smuggling as widely reported in the media. I want to know if the Comptroller-General is aware of this?
Well, I don't know if the media houses have internet cameras to see what is actually going on there. But I know that when I took over, the revenue in Jibia border was N1billion, but today, Jibia generates N5 billion. I'm not there to say it, but I actually appointed a comptroller who is in charge of that place. But times without number when I hear this kind of story, I call him and he gives me what is really happening there.
Recently, when we got information of movement of small arms through that place, I sent almost two hundred detachments of professionals who are trained. We train them on that aspect. So Jibia border is now cordoned and sealed. I know if there is any smuggling it won't happen now. Don't forget recently, we have arrested, with the assistance of Mogaji, the Police Commissioner, Kaduna who I really hold of high esteem. He helped us in apprehending a notorious smuggler of Tramour (hard drugs).
You can see how inter-agency collaboration works. So I really commend and really appreciate the efforts of the Commissioner of Police for arresting this man. So you can see, we are working hand-in-hand with the Police, the DSS is giving us information, the Military is giving us back-up in case of any eventuality or attack. So I can assure you to the best of my knowledge these agencies are assisting us, so what I can tell you is that we might not really eradicate it, but can bring it to the barest minimum.
There was a recent arrest of hoodlums at the Tincan. What informed that movement from the Nigerian Customs Service?
You see, the Tincan Island Ports has become a nightmare to the Nigerian Customs Service. We have people who perpetually are criminals; people who are faking our documents outside in order to carry goods that do not belong to them. We have people who believe that they can't be controlled and can't conduct themselves the ways other people are doing. So, even that aspect, I wrote to the Inspector-General (IG) of Police, and he came to our rescue, directing the Assistant Inspector General (AIG) to assist us in raiding and prosecuting them.
So the Tincan Island was raided and those who could not show their identities were spotted by the Police and the Nigerian Customs; those people who have nothing to show of what they are doing. The Police is prosecuting them for laundering, unlawful assembly and obstruction of Port duties. So those are the charges. If you don't have anything to do, what are you doing in the Ports?
So is it because people feel they are wild, even I learnt that some people are carrying guns that if you don't do what they like, they will pull out a pistol, intending to shoot you. So why should you allow a state of anarchy whereas we have law and order and we have people who will collaborate with us to support us like the Nigerian Police Force, they did and I really owe the IG gratitude for always coming to our rescue whenever we call on them.
Let us look at the scanning section. How convincing is the readiness of the Service to take over the Scanning process ?
First of all, let me just correct the impression of this issue of scanning or scan. The people who installed these scanners don't know how to operate them. They learnt it. Now some of the scanners were installed four years ago. So does it mean that the Nigerian Customs Service is so dull and daft that they can't learn elements of what the scanner entails. We didn't stop at what these people are giving us.
In France, we and the current CG in 2010 attended the World Customs Organizations conference in June. And these people approached me and told me what exactly I should do in terms of taking over the scanning operation from the service providers. They told me that they will not teach us. So actually I have depended solely on these people, I had spent huge amount of money to train my officers, not even informing the service providers.
So our people are there. We will say, we are currently training some people in the same field for service detection. The manufacturers of the scanners are people who are training the Customs. We came back from Japan; it is the Customs that were operating it. I think we should do away with the local politics and allow Customs to practice their professionalism. That is what is obtainable all over the world.
Let us look at Trade Facilitation. Stakeholders hammer on trade facilitation. Do you think trade facilitation is really fairing well ?
Well if you are going to equity, you must go with clean hands. First of all, have they done the right thing, if no, tell me what are they facilitating (laughs). Anybody who is doubting what we are doing is pretending. Let the person come and claim that we are not facilitating. The question on our side is integrity, while on the side of the stakeholders is compliance. If everybody complies, they have nothing to regret or suffer.
Why are you talking of trade facilitation when you have not complied? You see that is why people form associations in order to get their way in this country. Trade facilitation, we agree but only when they comply. How can people talk about trade facilitation when they bring in 1,000 units and declare 100 and you want me to release it for you? You can imagine somebody bringing in Rols Royce and said it's Volkswagen beetle, is that trade facilitation?