Hamid Ali And The Nigeria Customs Service: One Step Forward Three Steps Backwards

The ultimate measure of a man is the difference between his words and actions. Trust is a burden. Hence, when a promise is made and kept, especially by a leader of any realm, it reinforces the confidence to continue to trust or be loyal to his leadership. But where the gap between words and actions is world apart, integrity is severely eroded.

The foregoing explains the dilemma of the Controller General of the Nigerian Customs, retired Col Hamid Ali, who was appointed as the Customs helmsman in 2015, with earth-quaking expectations. Five years down the line, capacity, capability and the competence of the former infantry officer is terribly weighing below pass mark.

Col Ali, no doubt, was a fine officer, who served Nigeria faithfully in the Army and also as a military administrator of Kaduna State. However, it is a whole lot of difference between intentions and actual performance.

When Col Ali was appointed, Nigerians and, indeed, President Muhammadu Buhari who appointed him had high expectations in him because of the need to up the nation’s earnings from Customs sources. It was more so because of the desire to depart from the hitherto mentality of the Nigerian Customs as a ‘fat cow’ to be milked by few corrupt elements in government.

This explains why the issue of wearing uniform canvassed by the Senate during Ali’s screening was resisted by Nigerians. All Nigerians and President Buhari wanted was performance and not uniform debate.

For a re-energized Nigerian Customs, Col Ali set out a ‘3R’ agenda.
Reforms;Revenue and Restructuring.

On Reforms the was the creation of multiple units like, Customs Police, Strike Force and Customs Intelligence unit, all reporting to the CG.

First, this move was condemned by experts because it amounts to duplication of already existing departments like Provost Marshall, and Federal Operations. Multiple units doing the same work has created confusion. By this single step alone, Col Ali was already driving the Nigerian Customs on revise gear, instead of accelerating forward. Soon, the personnel of the outfit started losing focus and morale because of clumsy work schedules.

Another area Col Ali promised to focus on is Restructuring. The extant laws establishing the Nigerian Customs Service that is currently being reviewed by the National Assembly have stalled. The Comptroller General has not shown interest in following up the reform process, despite the fact that the proposals have lingered at the National Assembly since 2015.

Many have argued that Col Ali is showing no concern for the review process because the review contains a succession proposal that henceforth Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs must come from within the organisation.

Five years in the saddle, it is important to reflect and dissect the performances of CG Ali’s so called reforms of the Nigerian Customs. The impact of his reforms is so far in the negative. For instance, before his so called reforms started when he assumed office, the 2014 revenue generated by the service under his predecessor, Dikko Inde, was N970 billion at N150 to dollar. It declined under Ali’s watch in 2018 to N1.2 trillion at N305 to dollar, which represents over 100% shortfall in revenues despite increase in shipping over the years by tonnage.

In the 21 century social and economic dynamics, propelled by rapid technological development, greater scope of operations and law application, the need for training and retraining has never been so expedient than now.

Before the appointment of Col Ali, Customs Administration saw continuous learning as key factor for improvement of the effectiveness of the customs service to achieve the set goals. With continuous and well thought out education, the customs officers can develop their skills and knowledge, which will contribute to increasing their personal competencies that will enhance the quality of their performance, regardless of the level of career development they are in.

This way, their motivation for further development and improvement will grow, ensuring achievement of results at work on daily basis as well as personal satisfaction in general.

Despite the indispensability of training to Customs service delivery, there has been very little training, capacity building in the Nigerian Customs since 2015 save for a shooting programme for Customs officers at the Nigerian Army that costs Customs over N3billion.

With Col Ali’s lack of interest in developing the competence of Customs personnel, how does the country hope to achieve quick response in providing services to the business community or achieving the basic services of the flow of goods for both import or for export? If you don’t train your personnel on regular basis, how do you hope to get them to perform optimally? It is said that to whom more is given, much is expected. This is a poser for Ali.

In an increasing multilateral world, no nation can afford to be isolated. It is in this spirit that international organisations like World Customs Organisation (WCO), which has created platforms for learning for its member nations cannot be ignored.

It is eminently true that the WCO runs e-learning for current and future trade leaders. The Organisation has also collaborated in the areas of Reform, Modernization, Monitoring Activities and Projects, Single Window Interactive Map.

Despite the sprawling benefits of commitment to WCO, the Nigerian Customs under Col Ali has been lacking in presence and engagement with relevant international organisations like WCO. Unfortunately, under his watch, Nigeria Customs International rating has dropped to 2 figures.

From 9 to 13 July 2018, a team of experts from the WCO and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) conducted a national support mission to Nigeria in the framework of the Customs for Relief of Epidemic Diseases (C-RED) Project funded by the government of the Netherlands.

The mission was aimed at building the Nigerian stakeholders’ capacity to implement the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for receiving international emergency relief consignments and equipment imported for humanitarian purposes that were developed with the support of the C-RED Project and at testing the implementation of the draft SOPs through a simulation exercise.

Ordinarily, Nigeria is supposed to liverage on such cooperation to build the capacity of Customs personnel but the lackluster leadership of the Service under Ali has complicated the modernisation of the Nigerian Customs.

To worsen the mess spewing at Customs, the management is presently engulfed in age falsification scandal involving DCG’s ACG’s and senior officers. Investigation has been launched by a board committee.Most of the alleged culprits are the inner caucus of Col Ali’s management, that he handpicked to be his team.

Except a new direction is provided to reposition the Nigerian Customs Service in post-Hamid Ali, Nigeria may further lose huge revenue as a result of crass incompetence, lack of focus and a service that has lost direction because of a vision less leader.

By Ibrahim Hamidu Danbauchi, who wrote in from Maitama, Abuja.

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