Aminu Dahiru, is an Assistant Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service. He is the Zonal Coordinator of Zone A, NCS. In this interview with PAUL OGBUOKIRI, he reiterates the resolve of the NCS to surpass its recent feats in anti-smuggling efforts trade facilitation and revenue collection using latest home-grown technology, the Nigeria Customs Integrated System (NICIS 2). Excepts:
The CGC’s three-point agenda as it affects Zone A, what is your view so far?
My view concerning the three-point agenda of the Controller General is that we have already started seeing results in many areas and in many facets of the Service like revenue collection, enforcement, incentives and welfare.
To restructure means to work for complete improvement and to reform is to bring about changes so that you will have improvement in what you are doing. So, we have started realizing that the three-point agenda of the Controller General has brought so many positives to the Nigeria Customs Service.
The agenda brought about some changes which made our remarkable collection of N1trillion possible which has never been achieved before by previous administrations.
We are now practicing what is known as an “organised manning level,” which wasn’t there before. I believe the leap was brought from Police and Army, where in police you know certain classes of officers are normally being posted from headquarters to specific seats where before in Customs once you are an Area, the Area Controller does everything. Now posting to specific seats come to the Areas from the Headquarters, like the DC Admin, DC Revenue and DC Enforcement, these are the three principal officers that normally assist in every Command and that I think has given a kind of sense of responsibility to each and every one of these officers.
It is like application of checks and balances. Their loyalty is to the Area Controller, but I think it is more with the headquarters knowing well that you are assigned to cover a beat and you cannot afford not to do what is expected of you.
Then going to incentives and welfare, we have seen that a lot have happened, for example our promotion so far has never been like this. There is reward for remarkable achievements where officers were promoted for outstanding performances and merits.
A lot is being done again in the areas of accommodation, apart from that we enjoyed something that has never happened in Customs for a very long time, last time when mass transfer was made everybody was paid for first 28 days which I believe like I said sometime back, that if you found someone who spent some 20 years in the Service don’t be surprised if he tells you that he had never collected that 28 days allowance before.
While in some organisations it used to be that if you request for transfer to a particular place for a good reason, the only condition that they will give you is that okay you must forfeit your 28 days allowance.
Infact in Customs we don’t even know this, but now it has being brought back and the amount is quite awesome and people are very happy about that.
Then on Enforcement: Remarkable seizures were made at different points in the seaports, at the airports and border posts. In addition to all these, we have this great elevation where smugglers are not having it as business as usual because even if you take delivery of your consignment, it does not mean that you are free. You must have heard that warehouses, showrooms were invaded, where we seized vehicles, exotics ones for that matter, where millions of naira was supposed to be paid as duty but were smuggled.
Now I believe with that trend a lot of smugglers are now having second thought. So generally we can say that the three-point agenda is seriously working because there is no aspect of Customs job that has not been affected positively.
The other issue is importation of some military hardware; the last one was at the airport where the Controller impounded this hardware. With what is happening right now. How prepared is Zone ‘A’ making sure that these things don’t come into the country?
We are well prepared, we are on ground. The truth of the matter is, we have four points from where smuggled items are coming into the country; we have the seaports, airports, border posts as well as waterways.
At the seaports, so far, I can assure you that we have gone the extra mile to get information right from the countries of origin as I am talking to you now, we have not less than seven containers, though not of military hardware, but of some restricted items. They were intercepted at arrival and they are already seized.
So what I’m trying to say is that we are seriously using intelligence and it may interest you to know that we go as far as getting our information from foreign nations.
We have a strike force in place now. The strike force is equally an outfit that is not limited to only striking, they source information particularly from these border areas.
So in essence, as far as military hardware is concerned, we are seriously on top of the situation, and don’t forget that the Controller General had to travel as far as Turkey last year when a sizeable number of containers were seized with pump action rifles.
I believed that visit must have yielded some results and apart from that in our own way we are equally into profiling transactions. We go back to record and look at what you been importing, from where have been importing these items, are you a compliant trader and things like that.
Recently, a container was removed from Tincan, it was taken to a Terminal, but because our information was genuine we were able to get it, as I am talking to you now it has been seized, so this application is not limited to only military hardware.
Zone ‘A’ has the busiest ports, airport and the most economically viable borders posts, and it also gives rise to high incidence of smuggling. How prepared are you to check smuggling in this zone?
Sincerely speaking, you know smuggling many times when it is mentioned we limit it to intercepting an item at the point of entry. No, it has gone beyond that I’m telling you that even at this zonal level we are doing wonderful things and then you can look at what we have on ground.
Apart from the resident officers of each and every command, we have the Federal Operation Unit, we the Customs Intelligence Unit (CIU); in addition to this, we now have the Customs Police and all these offices are coming together to fight this menace.
You will agree with me that each and every point we have a kind of case or seizures to show for all to testify that yes we are not relenting in our effort. The waterways is one area that has been giving us problem because of poor logistics, but we are not resting on our oars.
In recent times I visited the Flag Officer of the Western Naval Command with the view of inviting them to cooperate with us so that we can achieve our objectives in that area and a lot of seizures were made, particularly of petroleum products because it seems as if two major items that are being smuggled in our waterways are petroleum products and second hand clothing.
We are doing well, increasing in collaborations to achieve our goal. Not only is the Navy behind us, the Army as well and other sister agencies. We are working hand in hand, the last time the highest seizure ever in the history of Federal Operation, illicit drugs was made, we invited NDLEA and handed over that it to them.
We are fighting smuggling in all ramification and I believed what we are trying to achieve will be achieved in Zone ‘A’ by the grace of God.
What was the revenue collected by the zone in the first quarter of 2018?
I think I have the figure, the collection so far has being quite encouraging, infact I’m pleased with our performance because so far in the first quarter input in percentage we collected almost 90 per cent of what was expected of us in our quarterly target because we collected N220,884 billion.
Like I said, the collection is quite encouraging and we are hoping for more because NICIS2 is being applied in Tincan and they are right now working at Apapa so we have other secrets that I will not reveal here.
Is there any officer who will not hope to collect more than what he collected last year?
The issue is our hope is very high, high in the sense that with the application of NICIS2, we have done so much particularly at PTML the records have shown that the highest collection ever in PTML was N10.6 billion while their monthly target is N10.2 billion, but the good news is that in April we collected N10.8 billion.
We made sure that NICIS2 is working there must be an increase in the level of compliance, there is transparency in transactions. Definitely by the time Apapa is hooked and MMA, I believe from all indications we will surpass what we have done last year, because we almost collected what was expected of us last year in the first quarter, because where you collected 90 per cent I think with time, that balance will be 10 per cent will be met.
What is your preparation for revenue generation and plans to match seizures with suspects like you said earlier when you took over that you wanted suspects connected with seizures to be matched along with them, what’s your preparation?
My preparations still remain good and my expectations in that regard is still very high. I can tell you that in this first quarter alone, seizures made by Federal Operations we have not less than 74 suspects and they are all in records and our legal advisers office is working seriously to see to it that those people are prosecuted.
I believe that if we do not prosecute cases, we may not do much in making Nigerians realize that smuggling is very dangerous to the economy, health and security of this nation. Then coming back to our readiness to collect revenue, revenue collection is number one duty of a Customs officer and I tell you that we have put so many measures in place assisted by headquarters.
We are leaving nothing to see to it that we collect revenue more than what we have done last year and by the grace of God we will try as much as possible to publish any conviction that we have from court in respect of seizures and the suspects arrested along with seizures.
What is the position right now with the scanning machine?
Scanning machine is one issue that is bothering us, not only Customs, all stakeholders from the importer to agent everybody concerned are affected. We have been saying it that if items were to be scanned not necessarily subjected to physical examination it will facilitate trade and quick clearance of goods.
Unfortunately almost all our scanners are grounded and what I can tell you concerning that is we are only waiting for information from headquarters, because as at now I don’t have anything to say about it.
Finally, what will you be telling the importers who are operating in this your zone concerning documentation and also the issue of NICIS2 which apparently is on right now?
This morning I signed a kind of reminder to all clearing agents associations, ANLCA, Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF and what have you, because I discovered in recent times that the addresses in our system concerning agencies are no more correct. Some of them left their former offices to new ones to bigger ones.
Many times when we have reasons to invite an agent ,when you dispatch a letter to him, you will discover that when you get there the address is wrong so I requested them to give us the correct and current addresses of their members by so doing we will have correct information concerning each and every declarant because once you get a declarant, in most cases its as good you get a consignee, because he is acting on his behalf. You hardly see issues, some minor issues that you will want to see the importer, the agent is always there because he is the one who knows the technicality, the know-how concerning clearance procedure.
Then NICIS2 like I said earlier has started showing its wonders at PTML, by the time all these major ports are hooked to this NICIS2, I believe whether people like it or not the compliance must improve and we will love it that if they themselves will improve on their own because it will ease our job.
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