Colonel Ali’s Appointment as Customs Boss Stuns Stakeholders
Nigeria’s maritime industry is shocked by the appointment of Colonel Hammed Ali as the new Comptroller General (CG) of Nigeria Customs Service.
The announcement came after much speculation, power play, lobby, and anticipation that the old tradition of choosing a CG from within the system will be upheld because of the professional and strategic nature of Customs operations in terms of generating revenue for government and then enforcing laws guiding international trade.
One thought held sway- Nigeria could no longer afford to toy with its maritime sector considering that its capacity to grow and sustain the nation’s economy is far beyond the offers of its oil and gas sector.
To this end, stakeholders had implored that the Government led by President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) should pay closer attention to the sector and appoint experts/professionals as Heads of government agencies within the industry.
As clearly seen, the appointment at Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) did not go that way as Colonel Hammed Ali, a retired soldier emerged Comptroller General.
Most operators are still dazed as they wonder why no professional was handpicked from within the system. Many say it is an appointment in error primarily because Customs administration all over the world is more of a professional than a political set up. They argue that any greenhorn has much learning to do and would really drag the sector behind during the period of study.
Although the President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, Chief Eugene Nweke has called on stakeholders to support the President’s decision and the new CG, Ali’s appointment according to him brings to mind an era in Customs administration in Nigeria when nothing worked.
1994-1999, Brigadier General Ango who was still serving in the Army was appointed Head, Nigeria Customs Service by the then Head of State, Late General Sanni Abacha. The Service was said to have been at its lowest ebb.
Nweke hopes that Nigeria does not witness a replay that dreaded unproductive era.
His words; “…Throughout Major General Ango’s administration, the Nigeria Customs Service never recorded any outstanding performance or improvement. Anti-smuggling was nonoperational, Revenue performance was abysmally low, Trade Facilitation was never in focus, Discipline was only recorded in the area of respect to seniority in line with military pattern. Welfare of Officers without reference, operational facilities and training infrastructure were stagnated, etc.”
He emphasized that Nigeria Customs Service plays a strategic role as a catalyst not only for the growth and development of the national economy, but also for Security of the nation.
A few other industry players have theorized that Colonel Ali is PMB’s hatchet man on a mission to sanitize the system. This argument has been shoved aside by quite a handful of people who insist that Mr. President had other impeccable options from within Customs Service, who knowing exactly where to focus would have delivered fast if it were solely a clean up exercise.
Col. Hammed Ali, the new Comptroller General Nigeria Customs Service
As the industry still grapples with many other theories of Ali’s emergence, the question on the lips of many is how well and how quick can Colonel Ali grasp the intricacies of Customs operations?
No doubt, has much work to do. He needs to first comprehend Customs operations before he can come up with an agenda to grow the system. He needs to understand Customs Legal Notice, Interpretation and Classification of Customs Tariff, Customs & Excise Management Act, Revenue Generation, Enforcement of Laws, International Conventions and many more!
And Why? Basically because Nigeria is cargo destination! Statistics have shown that 95% of imports into Africa come through the waters, 75% of these goods head to Nigeria.
One major challenge the Customs Service has battled is that of false and under declaration of goods. Customs task is to ensure that government is not shortchanged of its revenue. Lots of such incidents have been recorded. In a bid to contain the menace, 100% physical examination of cargo was introduced but the resultant effect was not entirely palatable as congestion mounted at the ports.
Freight forwarders argue that in subjecting imports to 100% physical examination, Customs neglect the Risk Assessment Management System (RAMS), a mechanism programmed to alert Customs of high risk imports.
Nevertheless, the administration of Alhaji Inde Abdullahi Dikko did the industry well with the introduction of Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR). Driven by Information Technology, PAAR multiplied revenue by 20% and eased the process a whole lot. Honest freight forwarders and importers have their goods handed to them in less than a week. And stakeholders applauded the initiative which was homegrown, relentlessly calling for it to be sustained. Their fears very obvious- Policy somersault!
Policy somersault is a known trend in Nigeria’s politics. Often sectors are caught up in the circles of political maneuvers where the gains of projects initiated by previous governments are often rubbished and treated with suspicion. Most times, such initiatives are either discontinued or abandoned.
The implication is that the sector drags on…always beginning again and never actually growing to its maximum capacity. But who bears the brunt? The trader. The sector. The buyer. The nation. Everyone!
Nigeria also has to address operational deficiencies and delays in the process of clearing cargoes.The longer goods stay at the ports, the more expensive they become in the market because of demurrage and other port charges. There is need to find out why Nigeria bound cargoes are almost regularly diverted to neighbouring ports in countries like Benin Republic. Our cargo clearing system should seriously to take cognizance of the need for quicker turnaround time which is key in facilitating international trade.
Then also, there is smuggling to contain. Nigeria’s borders are hyper-porous, insecure, and requiring urgent attention. The immediate past Comptroller General tried to revamp and equip anti-smuggling units like the Western Marine Command which had been inactive for donkey years. The units woke up to their responsibilities and recorded great seizures but more needs to be done especially with regards to providing work tools, survival and combatant training, and motivating staff.
Northern borders remain a huge concern. Stakeholders have time and time again spoken out on the need to watch Northern borders where contrabands/ contrabandists are rarely impounded. It’s been alleged that a cartel of ‘untouchable’ smugglers who double as close allies of power brokers in the country have a firm grip on trade activities in the northern borders.
At the ports, the issue of forgery of documents in order to circumvent the payment of tax is well known but more dumbfounding is the ridiculous punitive penalties our laws mete out to these criminals. Someone who fakes documents is fined N10, 000 or so at the courts and released. The logistics of arresting the criminal and arraigning him in court is now more expensive than the fine he is served. As regards seizures, the issue of what should be done to items confisticated needs to be revisited as soon as possible to ensure that there are no waste. The laws are very stale needing urgent review.
Our Valuation procedure is also ambiguous. The World Customs Organization has outlawed the static pricing system (the database) and urged member states to domesticate the new system. Considering the dynamic role negotiations play in determining the cost of imports, Nigeria should be on the way to adopting this new system.
There’s much work for the new Comptroller General, Colonel Ali (Rtd) to do. He has to understand the system and come up with an agenda that will enable efficiency in a jiffy!
But he is lucky. He is lucky that Customs today has an assemblage of intelligent professionals, many of whom can be held accountable. He needs to identify and use them in building a more efficient system.
With African Union (AU) launch of 2015-2025 as Africa’s Decade of Oceans and Seas, member states have been charged to adopt 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy and face sea trade squarely because of its enormous potential to grow economies.
Nigeria Customs Service contributes a lot through its strategic positioning we sincerely hope that Colonel Ali’s appointment would be progressive and more efficient.
We welcome him on board MV Nigeria Customs Service!
Posted on : August 29, 2015