In this interview, held on the sidelines of a recent workshop in Gwagwalada, Ali speaks on the current issues at NCS.
Uche Usim, Abuja
When Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel, was appointed the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), many marked him for failure by considering him a square peg in a round hole.
But over the years, the Customs boss has proven his mettle as a focussed administrator and surpassed various revenue targets, even in recession when the volume of imports and exports crashed considerably.
Although, there are still lots of grounds to cover in Customs, industry watchers say Ali has, to a reasonable extent, scrubbed off the corruption stain on the Service by enthroning probity and equity in the system.
The new order has made Customs officers and men less open to bribery as they believe robust acts of patriotism will be adequately rewarded by the management.
Consequently, issues like promotion, transfers and rewards are done on merit, thus dismantling the godfatherism system.
The Service, under his watch, has also busted several smuggling syndicates and seized hundreds of billion worth of contrband.
Just last week, his men seized 407X40ft containers of tramadol at Apapa. It has also seized airplanes, large quantities of military hardware, ammunition and the rest.
In this interview held on the sidelines of a recent workshop in Gwagwalada, Ali speaks more on the current issues at NCS.
We’ve maintained a level of N100 billion monthly for revenue generation. We’ve surpassed the revenue target the government gave us for 2018. It is not possible to surpass the August revenue because that was the peak. As the year winds down, businesses are slower a bit. But we are committed to generating the best of revenue for the government.
There’s a new dimension in continuation of NCS’s fight against the menace of non-compliance to import and export procedures in the country. The Service is making concerted efforts to ensure that not only maximum revenue is collected, but also to safeguard the security and well-being of the citizenry.
We are all aware of the dangers that the deliberate non-compliance to import and export procedures pose to our nation as importers bring in all manner of items, which put the security and health of the nation at great risk. Terrorists, kidnappers and other criminal elements get hold of goods such as controlled drugs to perpetrate their heinous activities. It is in line with the determination to fight this ugly trend that the Apapa Command of the Service intercepted 40 X 40 feet containers, mostly from India, laden with tramadol and other pharmaceutical products with a Duty Paid Value (DPV) of N7.32 billion. This is the highest single seizure of drugs made by the Service this year. The Service achieved this feat through vigilance and intelligence gathering within the system, as well as information from the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), which is a strong ally of NCS.
I commend the Director General of NAFDAC, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, and her management team for their collaboration in the attainment of this feat. It is worrisome to note that there are Nigerians who are ready to make money at the expense of human lives by bringing in such quantity of drugs that have grave consequences on health and national security.
In their criminal desperation, importers of these items offered bribes to the tune of N150 million to my officers to effect the release of just one container with promises of even bigger sums to follow in the event that their first attempt succeeds.
The officers played along and eventually arrested three suspects with the money. I can assure you that the ongoing investigation will be thorough to bring all those remotely connected to justice.
We are against any importation or exportation that contravenes the provisions of the Customs and Excise Management Act. Apapa Command within this same period has also seized two aircraft; a helicopter with registration number SN-BLI, which was intended for export, in container number PONU7789246. It was falsely declared as 388 bags of cashew nuts. This action violates Section 36 of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA), Cap C45, LFN 2004. Investigations are ongoing to fish out the owner(s) of the helicopter.
The second aircraft, a Cessna 182A imported from the United States of America, loaded in container number MRKU 4457663 was intercepted by officers of the Area Command.
The aircraft was declared through SGD No. C130308 of 09/10/2018 and was seized because of the failure of the owner(s) to present the End-User-Certificate from the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), and approval from the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
This is in contravention of Section 46 of CEMA, CapC45, LFN 2004. While the seizures of dangerous drugs and aircraft demonstrate NCS’s crucial contributions to national economic and security well-being, the rejection of N150 million bribe presents a picture of a reformed NCS whose operatives are increasingly putting national interest above selves.
I commend the Customs Area Controller, officers and men of Apapa Command for their exemplary commitment to duty. We also appreciate our collaborating partners, locally and internationally, for their support and cooperation and reiterate our readiness to strengthen the bonds of partnership and collaboration to rid the society of this menace.
For better scrutiny of goods, my management has met with the Ambassador of India last week to work towards signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to enable Nigeria have timely information on all imports to Nigeria.
When the agreement is signed, it would be mandatory for Indian Customs to oblige Nigeria Customs with import information, and Nigeria would do the same.
Again, it has become mandatory for the intelligence units of the Service to engage in 100 percent examination of goods.
Collaboration with Uganda
The Nigeria Customs has reached some understanding in the area of electronic cargo tracking, which is a flagship project of the Uganda Customs Organisation. It is effective in monitoring goods in transit and in the transfer of containers from one port to the other without the fear of illegal diversion.
Our Research and Development Department has been charged to look at all proposals and to figure out what we really need to get electronic cargo tracking in place. We hope to reach all stakeholders to get their buy-in.
It is our hope that if all things work out fine, by next year, if the finances are given and we reach an agreement with our technologists and service providers, we should be able to start something even if it is on a small scale and expand as we go on. The electronic tracking system is not only a matter of the technology but we also must put in place the enforcement for it to be effective.
We also have frank discussions with Uganda on anti-corruption strategies based on zero tolerance. We are ready to deploy appropriate strategies, which focus on addressing the basic human needs of officers and fight and bring to the barest minimum the issue of systemic corruption. That is why I always urge officers of the NCS to work for the interest of the Customs and extricate every form of illegal acquisition of riches and stand for what is right even if it is not a popular decision.
Monetary inducement is not motivation. No amount of money is ever enough. Inner motivation (pride) is what gets you doing your job not the external motivation (money) you receive.
The issue of better reward and motivation have been taken seriously since my assumption of duties. So also is the punishment for doing wrong. These have been upheld. Last year, the officers who effected the arrest of the pump action rifles were promoted and those that were indicted in the investigation were dismissed and handed over to appropriate authorities for prosecution. That will continue and and like I promised during the press conference that management of the Service will take a look at what has happened and upon appropriate recommendations made by their supervising officers, management will take appropriate decision to ensure that what is due to everyone is given.
For the 40 containers in Apapa, three suspects have already been arrested. For the other 10 containers of tramadol in Tin Can, two suspects were arrested. So, these 50 containers, Apapa and Tin Can, we have five suspects.
Fake online auction
We’ve continued to enlighten the public on the menace of online fraudsters and as we have always said, NCS does not auction overdue cargoes through Facebook or through some funny internet creations. The only authentic auction is the one that has a link and the link is app1.trade.gov.ng/e-auction and to be able to use it, you need to have a TIN, that is Tax Identification Number. So, you go on the platform, fill in the number and all the information you gave to Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) when you got the TIN. You will go further to access the bank of your choice, pay the administrative fee of N1,000 and continue to bid and when you succeed, you go to the same chosen bank and pay the auction fee and others. You notice that this is not the same as the fake ones you see around on Facebook, WhatsApp, where you are asked to go and pay money into some private bank account, where you are asked to fill in your chieftaincy title, your state of origin and all that. That is not correct and those ones have nothing to do with TIN number and all that. So, we want to tell the public to be wary of these so-called offers that are going on on the social media. There are situations where you are even asked to pay some money for transportation that they will deliver it to your door post. For God’s sake, which security agency will do that? There are so many things that an average intelligent person should know that this is not genuine but it beats our imagination why you see people fall into these cheap traps. My advice to the public is to be wary of those online publications.
Even when the fraudsters open the facebook account using a Customs officer’s picture, I think it should not be difficult for anybody to know that the fact that you see anybody on uniform does not really mean you are dealing with a genuine person.
What does it take for criminals to go online, pluck the picture of anybody on uniform and give him a name and open a fake Facebook account and with that name and picture, people are made to believe they’re dealing with the right person, which is not true. That person does not even know that his picture is being used somewhere. So, I think the important thing is to get to know what is genuine and what is fake and the only way to know this is to go to the nearest Customs office to make an enquiry or go online.
Our online auction platform is completely different from those ones that you will even see a Customs officer wearing Customs uniform on the Facebook and advertising it. Our online auction opens every Monday to Wednesday by noon of every week.
Again, I am discussing with the Deputy Comptroller General in charge of enforcement and the Area Comptroller of F.O.U. Zone ‘A’; we will fast track the process and get seized cars auctioned.
I have received a report about the warehouses but I came purposely with my officers to see for ourselves. I am also discussing with the controller that we need to set up task forces to clear all the seized items. All seized items should be evacuated as quickly as possible and those condemned would be auctioned immediately.
Seized goods for IDPs
States hosting Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) should evacuate food items allocated to them. The Federal Government has mandated NCS to give all seized perishable items to IDPs, but is not ideal that even when allocations are made to states hosting IDPs, they are slow to evacuate them.
All what the states hosting IDPs are responsible for is to pay for the transportation of these items to their states and sometimes when you give people 50,000 bags of rice, it is a lot of money. Not that the states do not have the money for transportation but may be it is no longer their priority. We will go back and discuss with Mr. President and I am sure there are other people that need these bags of rice.