Choosing The Next Customs Boss


Muhammad Al-Ghazali


In the annals of the Nigerian public service, a remarkable event occurred last week, which, in the wake of the storm created by the controversial interview granted by Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah to Channels television calling for President Buhari to concentrate more on governance, rather than the pursuit of alleged treasury looters, went largely unnoticed.

A serving chief executive officer of a highly ‘lucrative’ federal government agency actually voluntarily resigned from his position at the age of 54. That public officer is no other than Abdullahi Dikko Inde, who, until penultimate weekend, was the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). What made Dikko Inde’s resignation all the more remarkable, was that he quit his position even with six years remaining before he reached the mandatory retirement age of 60.

In a nation where some will do anything or even commit murder to be nominated for the same position, few can fault the remarkable gesture of Dikko Inde, no matter what the reservations they previously had about the man. The fact that the former CG said he quit to give room for the younger ones below him to also grow also earned my respect, especially if we recall that a certain Dr. Eugene Juwah, the former Chief Executive of the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) contrived to have the former President Goodluck Jonathan to renew his tenure well over six months before it was to expire.


 As could be expected with the exit of the former Customs Boss, the customary jostling to fill his position appears to have commenced in earnest. Only last week, John Atte, the most senior among the DCGs, who was swiftly appointed as the Acting Comptroller-General of the service, directed all his Area Controllers to increase their revenue collection efforts from their current weekly average of 12 billion Naira to 35 billion! One of the landmark achievements claimed by Dikko-Inde was an increase in the revenue collection efforts of the service by 20 percent during his tenure.

With the new revenue target set by the Acting Controller, it is obvious that he is not only trying to beat Dikko’s target, but also ultimately position himself as a credible successor to his former boss. But while no one should blame the man for his ambition, I was a bit curious as to what actually constitutes the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the service.


Is the goal of the Nigeria NCS solely about revenue collection for the government or the prevention of smuggling among other cross-border crimes that are inimical to the overall growth of the local economy? The point is important because with the virtual glut in the global oil market the government cannot afford to rely completely on the sale of the product for its export earnings. The price of crude oil in the global market has already fallen below the approved budget benchmark. That means the government is already operating a deficit budget.


With that reality, there is an urgent need for the government to explore the various ways it promised to diversify the sources of its revenue earnings during the election campaigns. It must also explore the various ways and means of plugging the leakages in the system by making them even more efficient.


Looked at from that perspective alone, the new directive from the Acting CG of the Service should be music to the ears of the current occupants of Aso Rock especially if it results in a surge in revenue earnings for the country and why not? When the fifth Act of American Congress established the United States Customs Service on July, 31, 1789, it proceeded to be the sole revenue earner for the country in the next hundred years and paid for its early growth and critical social infrastructure.


The proceeds from the American Customs revenue paid for the purchase of Louisiana, Oregon, Florida and Alaska which were all previously not part of the United States. It also paid for the construction of the Trans-continental railroad, building of the US military and Naval Academies as well as Washington DC!


With the dawn of the 20th century however, it became apparent that the American Customs Service, like its counterparts in other parts of the world, is required to do much more than effective revenue collection for the economic security of the United States. If the reality of globalization resulted in its rapid transmutation into a federal law enforcement agency, the 911 attacks resulted in its complete overhaul in terms of constitution and source of supervision.


On March 1, 2003, parts of the US Customs Service merged with the Border Patrol and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to form the US Customs and Border Protection service. To underscore the contingent realities of the times, its supervision also passed from the Treasury Department to the newly created American Homeland Security Department.


Today, with our greatly diminished earnings from oil exports; a virtually non-existent domestic industrial capacity, and an increasingly sophisticated insurgency of Boko Haram, should the primary focus of the NCS be all about maximising its revenue collection efforts?


Even as I write, our once virile domestic textile industry has literally collapsed under the overwhelming weight of cheaper Chinese imports. Until the CBN introduced its recent measures, the Naira also risked accelerated devaluation due to pressures from the demand for forex to import all manner of domestic consumables including toothpicks.


And yes, there is also the security dimension brought about by our porous borders and how easy it has been for the insurgents to smuggle arms and supplies into the country with ease.


Besides rushing to plug the yawning gaps in government’s vastly diminished revenue from the sale of crude oil, anyone the present administration eventually appoints to become the new Comptroller-General of the NCS must be a vastly educated person who must also be equipped with the critical capacity to recognize that the nation is presently confronted with a hierarchy of needs on which its very economic survival ultimately depends beyond enhanced revenue generation.  


The new CGC must be someone who can see the undeniable linkage between our closed textile industries, and the cheap imports from China, which are routinely smuggled into the country under watch of the officers and men of the service. He must also be smart enough to see the obvious connection between the general insecurity in the country with our high unemployment rate. 


Finally, he must be prepared to instil the requisite discipline and patriotic zeal in the men under him. They must recognize the contingent requirements of a modern customs service in our contemporary age. He must be prepared to let his officers realize that the nation is in direct competition with its peers in a hopelessly globalized world in which it cannot be our destiny to be a net importer of all our requirements for eternity.

The new Custom boss must situate his efforts within the context of our diminished domestic production capacity and the compelling desire for rapid economic growth in which the service will be require to contribute its quota with enhanced vigilance. He must strive banish the image of empty-headed and pot-bellied custom officers we have become accustomed to.


If the new Custom boss is able to achieve all these and still increase it revenue collection efforts he will be an unqualified success. But I insist that revenue collection should not be the sole motivation or priority of the service.