By Debo Adeniran
In recent times, there have been controversies over the operations the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS); the conduct of its officials, custom duties, policies etc. These controversies have pitched Nigerians in different camps as far as discerning the whole scenario is concerned.
From exorbitant custom duties to the traumas of clearing and forwarding, from chronic corruption to the wicked exploitation of innocent Nigerians, from incompetence to floppy operations, and a lot more represents what is manifesting from the current heat that is on the NCS. The Service, and its boss, the Comptroller General (CG), Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali retd., whose arrogance has pitched him with the National Assembly over adorning his uniform or not, are very much in the eye of the storm presently.
Some of flashpoints that have drawn out the NCS into National discourse include the January arrest of seizure of illegal items in Lagos. It was reported that the NCS along Mile2-Apapa road, intercepted a Mack truck carrying 661 illegal pump-action rifles concealed in iron doors.
In February, the Federal Operation Unit (FOU) of the NCS went on a midnight raid at the Sango-Ota Rice market where the broke into stalls and carted away 1,870 bags of rice and 43 jerry cans of vegetable oil which the service alleged to have been smuggled into the country.
Not too long after that, some officers of the Oyo-Osun Area Command of the Service invaded a warehouse in Ibadan and apprehended 9,000 bags of rice worth about N88.7m which was claimed by the CG to have been smuggled into the country; this operation was also carried out from evening throughout the night!
In the three scenarios, it was proven that the goods/contrabands were impounded after ‘passing’ through the borders which shows that there are internal problems in the NCS bordering on its competence in monitoring of the country’s borders. The first priority of the NCS is to protect the border but unfortunately, the reverse has been the case, as our borders have continually remained porous which impacted negatively on the country socio-economically.
Customs duties on vehicles with the rigors and oftentimes extortion that accompany its application have been one of the major issues that continue to keep majority of Nigerians disgruntled about NCS operations. The operations had been and continue to be bedeviled with corruption, nepotism, lack of transparency and accountability.
Thus, while we unequivocally condemn the unwarranted arrogance and unpatriotic attitude of the CG of NCS for his irrational decision not to appear in uniform before the Senate, our Centre, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, CACOL calls on Nigerians not to lose focus of the background of the melodrama that is being played out presently. We must understand that the issues are more profound beyond the pettiness of Ali and the ‘almighty’ Senate, the arguments will fritter away and the fundamental challenges will remain.
In CACOL, we align with those who insist that Ali should wear his uniform or quit, those are the choices before him, his joke has been taken too far. The Senate is a Constitutional Institution and has to be treated as such regardless of the occupants. All the arguments in support of his recalcitrance pale up to disrespecting the country and only attempts to justify misdemeanor. We are displeased and totally condemn the actions of the CG of the NCS, who has made himself appear as one who is above the law and the country. We expect the CG to do what is right by putting the interest and the reputation of the country first.
The profound lesson from this experience is that when we do not build virile institutions that can auto-clean itself of corruption and maladministration through internal mechanisms, issues like this will always arise. We could ask why is it the practice for long to always look outside certain institutions to choose/appoint who leads them like the NCS case that is led by a retired Colonel as CG? Are officials not supposed to ride through the ranks to reach leadership via merit? Are there no men of honour and integrity within the Service that could have risen through the ranks to become CG? Do we have to put round pegs in round holes?
The problems are deeper than the pettiness we are witnessing, it is the system that has been, and still subsist that requires overhauling, a task which is apparently beyond the present government. This too, Shall pass! And the NCS operations will remain same if we are not circumspect enough by focusing on the details of the scenario to bring out the fundamental issues that must be addressed in moving forward from the present state!
Adeniran is the Executive Director of CACOL