Assistant Comptroller General of Customs Aminu Dahiru is the Zonal Coordinator in charge of Zone ‘A’ Lagos, the zone that generates the largest chunk of revenue and also controls the busiest ports in the country. In this interview, the Sokoto state born officer bear his mind on the operations and strategies adopted in the zone to address several problems confronting the service.
The Controller General of Customs 3 point agenda as it affects Zone A, what are your views so far?
My views concerning 3 point agenda of the Controller General is that we have already started seeing result in many areas and in many facets of the administration like revenue collection, enforcement, incentives and welfare.
To restructure means to work for complete improvement and to reform is to bring about changes so that you will have improvement in what you are doing. So in essence we have started realizing that the 3 point agenda of the Controller General have brought so many positives to the Nigeria Customs Service.
The agenda brought about some changes which made our remarkable collection of N1tr possible which has never been achieved before in previous administrations.
We are now practicing what is known as an organised manning level , which wasn’t there before. I believe the leap was brought from Police and Army, where in police you know certain class of officers are normally being posted from headquarters to specific seat where before in Customs once you are an area, the Area Controller does everything,
Now posting to specific seats come to the Areas from Headquarters. For example, DC Admin of the Command used to be posted now as well as DC Revenue and DC Enforcement, these are the 3 principal officers that normally assist in every Command and that I think has given a kind of sense of responsibilities to each and every one of these officers.
It is like application of checks and balances. Their loyalty is to the Area Controller, but I think it is more with the headquarters knowing well that you are assigned to cover a beat and you cannot afford not to do what is expected of you.
Then going to incentives and welfare, we have seen that a lot have been made, for example our promotion so far has never been like this. There is reward for remarkable achievements where officers were promoted for outstanding performances and merits.
A lot is being done again in the areas of accommodation .apart from that we enjoyed something that has never happened in Customs for a very long time, last time when mass transfer was made everybody was paid for first 28 days which I believe like I said sometimes back, that if you found someone who spent some 20 years in the Service its not surprising that he tells you that he had never collected that 28 days allowance.
While in some organization it used to be, if you request for transfer to a particular place for a good reason, the only condition that they will give you is that okay you must forfeit your 28 days allowance.
Infact in Customs we don’t even know this, but now it has being brought back and the amount is quite awesome and people are very happy about that.
Then the Enforcement, remarkable seizures were made at different points in the sea ports, at the Airport and border posts. In addition to all these, we have this great elevation where smugglers are not having it as business as usual because even if you take delivery of your consignment, it does not mean that you are free. You must have heard that warehouses, showrooms were invaded, where we seized vehicles, exotics ones for that matter, where millions of Naira were supposed to be paid as duty but were smuggled.
Now I believed with that trend a lot of smugglers are now having second thought. So generally we can say that the 3 point agenda is seriously working because there is no aspect of Customs job that has not been affected positively.
The other issue is the alarming importation of some military hardware. the last one was at the airport where the Controller impounded some of this huge hardware which was displayed, and with what is happening right now, how prepared is Zone ‘A’ making sure that these things don’t come into the country.
We are well prepared, we are on ground. The truth of the matter is, we have 4 point where smuggled items used to coming, we have the Seaports, Airports, Border posts as well as Waterways.
At the seaports, so far , I can assure you that we have gone extra mile to get information right from the countries of origin as I am talking to you now, we have not less than 7 containers, though not of military hardware, but of some restricted items. They were intercepted at arrival and they are already seized.
So what I’m trying to say is that we are seriously using intellIgence and it may interest you to know that, we go as far as having our information from foreign nations.
We have a strike force in place now. The strike force is equally an outfit that is not limited to only striking, they source information particularly these border areas .
You are a witness where some kinds of seizures were made at Seme. Nobody could believe someone will take his time to arrange smuggled items in almost every nook and cranny of a vehicle to bring it into this country. that could only be achieved with sound information.
So in essence, as far as Military hardware is concerned, we are seriously on top of the situation, and don’t forget that Controller General last year when a sizeable number of containers were seized with pump action rifles, he had to travel as far as Turkey.
I believed that visit must have yielded some results and apart from that in our own way we are equally into profiling transactions. We go back to record and look at what you been importing, from where have you been importing this items, are you a compliant trader and things like that.
Recently, a container was removed from Tincan, it was taken to a Terminal, but because our information was genuine we are able to get it, as I am talking to you now it has been seized, so this applications are not limited to only Military hardware.
I know definitely that Nigerians will be more disturbed when Military hardware are being seen smuggled into the country, but I tell you, we are not leaving any stone unturned, even if it is sand that you are smuggling into this country, we will fight to finish.
Zone ‘A’ has the busiest Ports, busiest Airport and the most economically viable Land borders, and it also gives rise to high incidence of smuggling. How prepared are you to check smuggling activities across the zone?
Sincerely speaking, you know smuggling many times when it is mentioned we limit it to arresting an item at the point of entry. No, it has gone beyond that I’m telling you that even at this Zonal level we are doing wonderful things and then you can look at what we have on ground.
Apart from the resident officers of each and every Command, we have the Federal Operation Unit, we the Customs Intelligence Unit (CIU) in addition to this, we now have the Customs Police and all these offices are coming together to fight this menace.
You will agree with me that each and every point we have a kind of case or seizures to show for all to testify that yes we are not relenting in our effort. Waterways is one area that has been giving us problem because of poor logistics supply, but we are not resting on our oars.
In recent times I visited the flag officer of Western Naval Command in the view of inviting them to cooperate with us so that we can achieve our objectives in that area and a lot of seizures were made, particularly of petroleum products because it seems as if two major items that are being smuggled in our waterways are petroleum products and second hand clothing.
We are doing well, increasing in collaborations to achieve our goal. Not only the Naval people are behind us, the Army as well and other sister agencies. We are working hand in hand, the last time the highest seizure ever in the history of Federal Operation, illicit drugs was made, we invited NDLEA and handed over that stuff to them.
So we are leaving no stone unturned to see to it that we fight these people to finish. Then like I said, the Zonal office is not sitting here idle.We are coordinating the activities of the Commands
Declaration documents by importers are checked properly here.This paper is of great importance to us. We have a case of a declaration of imported items and those concerned applied to Customs headquarters for conversion for home use, then in the course of checking record we discovered that the conversion was approved, but no payment was made.
You could not believe that when we pursued the matter, we invited the declarant, the agent he came here and we requested from him payment for those items that were converted for home use, the figure I have here as our collection in that transaction is N1,121,426,946.
You see, this is one aspect of Customs job that requires regular checks, but if they are not checked properly someone will not even care, we will not know that this money was syphoned or kept by someone, while in the real sense it is the revenue of the federal government.
We are fighting smuggling in all ramification and I believed what we are trying to achieve will be achieved in Zone ‘A’ by the grace of God.
In the first quarter of 2018 what has been the level of collection so far?
I think I have the figure, the collection so far has being quite encouraging, infact I’m pleased with our performance because so far in the first quarter input in percentage we collected almost 90% of what was expected of us in our quarterly target because we collected N220,884bn
like I said, the collection is quite encouraging and we are hoping for more because NICIS2 is being applied in Tincan and they are right now working at Apapa so we have other secret that I will not reveal here.
Is there any officer who will not hope to collect more than what he collected last year? The issue is our hope is very high, high in the sense that with the application of NICIS2, we have done so much particularly at PTML the records has shown that the highest collection ever in PTML was N10.6bn while their monthly target is N10.2b, but the good news is that in April we collected N10.8b.
We made sure that NICIS2 is working there must being an increase in the level of compliance, there is transparency in transactions . Definitely by the time Apapa is hooked and MMA, I believe from all indication we will surpass what we have done last year, because we almost collected what was expected of us last year in the first quarter, because where you collect 90% I think that by the time we balance even that 10% will be met.
What is your preparation for revenue generation and plans to match seizures with suspects like you said earlier when you took over that you want suspects connected with seizures to be matched along with them, what’s your preparation?
My preparations still remain good and my expectations in that regard is still very high. I can tell you that in this first quarter alone, seizures made by federal operation we have not less than 74 suspects and they are all in records and our legal advisers office is working seriously to see to it that those people are prosecuted.
I believe that if we do not prosecute cases, we may not do much in making Nigerians realize that smuggling is very dangerous to the economy, health and security of this nation. Then coming back to our readiness to collect revenue, revenue collection is number one duty of a Customs officer and I tell you that we have put so many measures in place assisted by headquarters.
We are leaving nothing to see to it that we collect revenue more than what we have done last year and by the grace of God we will try as much as possible to publish any conviction that we have from court in respect of seizures and the suspects arrested along with seizures.
I believe, even the atmosphere is telling you that Nigeria Customs Service of today is working, we are not leaving any part or any aspect of our job to be done by any person.
In short I can assure you that we are ready, more especially when someone look from headquarters, you have the support of the leadership, the sincerity of their actions. When they say something they will go ahead and do it, it may take some time, but definitely it will be done. So I think we are covered, and that cover gives us that kind of encouragement to do what is right and not only doing it right but doing it at the right time.
How prepared is your Zone, the issue of the scanning machine for instance, what is the position right now?
Scanning machine is one issue that is bothering us , not only Customs, all stakeholders from the importer to agent everybody concerned are affected. We have been saying it that if items were to be scanned not necessarily subjected to physical examination it will facilitate trade and quick clearance of goods.
Unfortunately almost all our scanners are grounded and what I can tell you concerning that is we are only waiting for information from headquarters, because as at now I don’t have anything to say about it.
Accommodation has been one welfare issues that has raised up several issues in the course of discussing Customs matters. What are you doing about checking the incidence of non-availability of accommodation for some officers where people have to even sleep in Mosques and all other unofficial places?
Sincerely speaking that is one area that has been bothering me personally and I took it to headquarters on many occasions and I believe as a result of mentioning that repeatedly, a circular was released with intent of streamlining how Customs quarters should be allocated.
I believe if that is to be complied with we may not have solved all accommodation problem, but at least is a kind of step forward . We used to have where officers will be transferred instead of them to pack out of official quarters within a specified period they will keep holding on to the accommodation you know.
As a result of that, that officially assigned occupant of the house will be left without accommodation because the former occupant refused to pack out .
We are seriously working on that and I tell you that soon I will visit Okokomiako, we have a building that is ready for taking over. I will go there to certify its completion with the contractor.
We no more allocate houses to Zone A officers not serving in Lagos metropolis. It has already being stated if you are to be a resident officer at Seme you should have your allocation at Seme .likewise if you are serving at Abeokuta or Idiroko we have quarters there, the Area Comptroller will supervise allocation as well as vacations of such quarters, the same thing with Oyo and any other place.
If you look at it, the wisdom is that our quarters within Lagos metropolis will be meant for Lagos officers, we are expecting many projects this year, so you see one aspect that borders a lot, and a lot is being done to all solve that.
We are aware that recently there was an ejection which took place in Lagos, can you explain to us what really happened, where the retired officers affected in this exercise?
Let me seize this opportunity and tell our own side of the story, because all along our social media platforms have been awash with all sort of stories, but the truth of the matter is Egbeda as it is called Gowon Estate we have not less than 200 unit of houses given to us by Federal housing Authority .
These houses were allocated to Customs officers some time back as a result of this monetization policy which brought about occupant of government quarters having their houses all to themselves. I think along the line Federal Housing Authority according to the information I have, came and collected the sum of N10,000 from the occupants of Gowon Estate, among them we have retired officers, so that N10,000 is not refundable
At the expiration of any occupant stay maybe due to posting or retirement, we are supposed to allocate the accomodation to another serving officer. But those retirees who claim to have paid N10,000 to FHA
When a serving officer come to occupy the space, someone will come and tell him that no he his waiting for the house to be sold to him. So the issue has been left unchecked and it keep on becoming more compounded. I believe for the past 2 years no allocation of quarters was made as far as Egbeda is concerned.
So when I came here I discovered that we cannot just leave that matter without doing something, so I set a committee that will work for verification of occupants and their status
That verification committee came back with the fact that we have more than 50 retired officers that are occupying part of the quarters. Some other serving officers are illegally occupying the quarters. We have some 11,12 houses being occupied by the children of some of our Late officers, some died in service some died after retirement.
The bulk of the houses were occupied by officers who are not serving in the Zone or they are not in Lagos, they have been transferred to other Commands like Cross River, Akwa Ibom Command. Because of that N10,000 some officers among them insisted that they will not leave that quarters.
In fact, the most annoying part of this story is that some heartless ones went as far as renting these houses out when they were leaving Lagos. Our investigation reveals that some retired officers about 15 of them took Customs to court.
According to some inner information that we have, it was these serving officers that are sponsoring the case to industrial court by retired officers so whenever anybody attempted to process accommodation at Egbeda they will just intimidate you that case is in court.
I said okay, since the case is in court, I believe no serving officer will take Customs to court because that will amount insubordination, in fact that is wrong of 7 such officer. We can charge you in the public service rule and it can earn them dismissal.
After taking stock ,we requested all those that are serving somewhere other than Lagos to vacate our quarters, we gave them grace when that was exhausted we now sent another information telling them that by 5th of June that we are coming with force. All these actions we are taking are with the consent of the Customs headquarters.
So far we have quite a number of houses that are vacant along the line during the eviction exercise we discovered some children and we saw that they are not at fault, it is their parents that are at fault that are going to school and the time is almost in the middle so we gave them paper to give us undertaking that by the end of school term they will vacate those houses.
That is where we are now, we will go to revalidation of allocation ,we will revalidate all those that are occupying quarters legitimately, then we will go ahead to allocate those houses. that are vacant houses for serving officers to occupy.
We have given grace periods to the students and we will respect that grace period on compassionate grounds.To my shock we have more than 100 houses now by the grace of God, by the end of the term we will have all those houses vacated then we will allocate them. I believe it will go a very long way in solving our problems of accommodation.
This is the truth of the matter, when we sent out information telling people to leave, we received not less than 3 court injunctions what they don’t know is that you cannot sue me as Aminu Dahiru or as ACG.
I am only doing what I’m directed to do, and I believe Customs will never detail me to carryout unlawful actions so what I am doing is lawful if they have any grievance let them take Nigeria Customs Service and Controller General to court not Zonal Coordinator, not Aminu Dahiru and not Zonal Office so this is the situation at hand.
Finally, what will you be telling apparently the importers who are operating in this your Zone concerning documentation and also the issue of NICIS2 which apparently is on right now?
This morning I signed a kind of reminder to all clearing agent associations, ANLCA, Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF and what have you, because I discovered in recent times that the addresses in our system concerning agencies are no more correct. Some of them left their former offices to new ones to bigger ones
So many times when we have reasons to invite an agent ,when you dispatch a letter to him, you will discover that when you get there the address is wrong so I requested them to give us the correct and current addresses of their members by so doing we will have correct information concerning each and every declarant. because once you get declarant, in most cases its as good you get consignee, because he is acting on his behalf.
You hardly see issues, some minor issues that you will want to see the importer, the agent is always there because he is the one who know the technicality, the know how concerning clearance procedure.
Then NICIS2 like I said earlier has started showing its wonders at PTML, by the time all these major ports are hooked to this NICIS2 I believe whether people like it or not the compliance must improve and we will love it that if they themselves will improve on their own because it will ease our job.
It will take us to a kind of promise land, we have been singing 48hrs clearance and I tell you that this is achievable except that somebody somewhere wants to cut corners