The Nigeria Customs Service in the month of August recorded unprecedented revenue feat to the tune of N140b, which is a record breaking performance in the history of the Service.
In this interview with the National Public Relations Officer of Nigeria Customs Service, Deputy Comptroller Joseph Attah, who spoke to Journalists in Lagos over the unprecedented increase in revenue collection and seizures of large quantity of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS).
Attah said the service is making accelerated progress in it’s core mandate due to a combination of technology, strategic manpower deployments and increased commitment to work by Customs officers. Read
Q: Nigeria Customs Service introduced NICIS II as a tool for trade. Tell us about it?
A: NICIS II, well for those who may not know, is Nigeria Customs Service Information System. Before now we were operating on NICIS I and it had to be upgraded to NICIS II and what that upgrade brought to the table is the fact that its able to block some leakages associated with NICIS I and its smoother, quicker and more transparent.
The result is that stakeholders now are having their goods cleared quicker than before . At least from Customs zone, you know Customs is just one in the chain of clearance, so stakeholders are having clearance of their goods quicker and smoother devoid of any kind of situation that may lead to corruption in the system. That is one of the things that brought the result of revenue increase.
August this year, just last month we recorded the highest ever monthly revenue collected in the history of the Nigeria Customs Service with well over N140b .
Q: Can we say it is as the result of the program that the Customs generated that amount?
A: Yes the upgrade is one of those reasons, because it is one thing to introduce the best electronic platform ,it’s a different thing to have the manpower to make it work.
The human element must come to play I think it is a combination of some of the steps that the Comptroller General of Customs Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd) has done which includes strategic deployment of manpower, the upgrade in the system, strict implementation of the extant guidelines and many more.
It takes a whole lot to have arrived at this historic feat of over N140b for the month of August 2018.
Apart from the upgrade in the system the Comptroller General of Customs has taken some strategic steps in his ongoing reform and the harvest is what we are having.
Strict implementation of extant guidelines by the department of tariff and trade and more importantly the increasing disposition of officers and men of the service to change for the better.
One thing with reform is that you don’t just get the result instantly. Three years down the line now we are beginning to have rich harvests of the reforms which the Comptroller General of Customs started about three years ago on his assumption.
You know he came with a 3 pronged presidential mandate of Restructure, Reform and Raise Revenue. The Service has undergone restructuring, continue to undergo reforms and talking about raise of revenue, this is what we are having.
Q: The issue now is that we are aware in some few months back the Customs also celebrated N100b which I am aware of and now is N140b in the month of August is it going to be like that?
A: We hope that we will continue to increase, I mean you can never have enough the nation need all the revenue the Nigeria Customs Service can bring to the table especially at this time of challenging oil revenue accrued to the purse of the federal government.
None oil revenue sector is the way to go and that is why the Nigeria Customs Service beyond collection of revenue we think that our role is to continue to actively support fiscal policies of government like in the area of agriculture where you see us continue to seize tons and tons of smuggled rice.
This is to support our local rice farmers so that the sector can begin to be a very crucial contributor to national development.
These days you see that the local rice producers are smiling to the banks and we want them to reach a level where they can even laugh to the bank and indeed other patriotic Nigerians will support Nigeria Customs Service to rid out these people, who are enemies of the state, I mean smugglers.
Q: Somebody may just want to ask this N140b generated which of the areas of the commodity or the items that this money comes from?
A: It is difficult to sit down here and say this particular area or that, but duty collection comes at the end of the day we calculate contributions of all the Commands, that’s the Area Commands and duty is generated from virtually every dutiable items that comes in, of course there are higher duty items.
For instance let’s take vehicle that is fairly old attracts just 35% duty while brand new will attract additional 35% levy making it 70%.
If there are fewer brand new vehicles it means that it will rake in low revenue to the federal government.
The N140b is the cumulative of all the duties collected from all the Commands and realised from all dutiable products within that one month.
Q: Has the service made appreciable progress in the area of arresting and prosecuting smugglers?
A: Yes, certainly so. Let me also say that this month the first week of September appears to be a history setting week because the first week of September we were able to calculate what we collected in the month of August and we arrived at over N140b which is historic.
Just when we are celebrating this feat we have also recorded a historic seizure of petroleum product by officers and men of the Federal Operation Unit the quantity as never been experienced in a very long time at least since I joined the Service 3 decades ago.
So I mean you are talking of seizures that could well amount to about 90 tankers of fuel siphoned into jerrycans is like a history setting time for the Nigeria Customs Service.
Recently there were seizures of military wears in Onne and there were also seizures of ammunition in Minna and in Owerri.
This kind of seizures says one thing about the Nigeria Customs Service. The fact that the ongoing reforms being carried out by the Comptroller General is steadily turning Customs into a very crucial contributor to national economy and security wellbeing.
Q: So the issue of the World Bank, the World Bank came out with a report that out of 167 Nigeria was placed 110 regard to clearance of goods both at the border within and outside the country, are you satisfied with that report?
A: certainly not I have been asked this question a number of times and my comment have always been that, may be in the nearest future when the researchers of this body wants to embark on another research they should be careful on the respondents, because in this country people say different thing for different reasons.
For Customs to be scored low in the area of efficiency at a time when the clearance process is highly automated , the electronic platform has just been upgraded at a time when goods are being cleared from the Customs zone quicker and more efficient than ever , at a time when vices associated with the process of the past are being blocked.
It makes one begin to wonder whether those who supply the kind of information that gave birth to this report are not those who may have been affected by the blockage of the leakages which some indeed may have been beneficiaries.
So my advice will be that in conducting research we should be careful about who becomes our respondents otherwise the answers you get which will now guide or lead you to a conclusion might be sometimes face saving answers
When they also talk about how frequent or how quick goods move from the port and arrives at the warehouse or the house of the consignee, one begins to wonder whether it is the duty of the Nigeria Customs Service to ensure that the access roads to the ports and the borders are smooth.
So many things that are not necessarily Customs related appears to have been lumped up to Customs and of cause in Nigeria if anything goes wrong in the port, people are quick to say “It is the Nigeria Customs Service”
Probably,one day somebody’s wife will find it difficult to be pregnant and the Nigeria Customs Service will be blamed about that because the husband of that woman works in the port.
Q: The other question has to do with all the operations of Customs formations in the Western zone. Is the management of Nigeria Customs Service satisfied with the operations?
A: Well generally speaking ,beyond the management I think Nigerians are appreciating more and more the activities of officers and men of the Nigeria Customs Service and the harvest of seizures and revenue coming in from the western zone that you have just mentioned is something worthy of note.
The management is appreciative of the sacrifices that officers and men are making and continue to explore ways of rewarding either through commendations letters or through promotion and then generally the Comptroller General of Customs is very concerned about the welfare of the officers and men . He has continued to keep his effort on until he achieves a better remuneration for the Service
Q: Let’s take a look at the seizure of the petroleum product which your men has made said to be the largest according to the Nigeria Customs Service for a very long time, what happen to those officers, will they be promoted?
A: The issue of rewarding hard work has been what the present management is pursuing. You will recall that some officers were promoted when they seized the arms that escaped from Apapa to outside the port and also the ones that were seized in Tincan.
So seizures such as this continues to attract positive disposition of the management and I want to assure you that the management will take a very critical look at what has happened and will act appropriately.
Q: What about the issue of promotions?
A: The issue of promotion, we heard that some people had gone to town crying that the last promotion was lopsided. Unless they are giving the word lopsidedness a different definition, what has changed is that unlike before when quota system was used and sometimes merit was sacrificed on the altar of quota system.
Now in Customs it is hundred percent merit.This is now the only yardstick for determining who gets promoted. How do we arrive at this merit ? It is the cumulative scores from your written examination, oral interview and annual performance evaluation scores. When all these scores are added and then the availability of vacancy. What do I mean by this?
For instance if you have 350 and the available vacancies to move from the present rank to the next rank is just 120 when the whole marks are gathered together what the management does is to start counting from the first down to 120 and then draw the line.
So nobody wants to know whether you come from state A or state B . As long as you score the cumulative mark high enough to be among the first 120 out of that 350 using that example I’ve given you, you make it.
If you don’t make it and you say the thing is lopsided it will appear lopsided to you if for instance three people from one state are able to score enough to belong to the 120 whose fault is that?
Merit under this dispensation cannot be sacrifice on the altar of quota system and by the way quota system is recognized at the entry point. How you grow through the ranks is your performance and then quota system again is recognized at the management level but in between your carrier growth is determine purely on merit.
Q: Lastly the issue of the target?
A: On the issue of target people continue to ask if we will be able to make the type of collection that we did last year 2017.
It is our hope that we should not only meet it, but even exceed it. Last year we had N1.37tr . This year if we can get up N1.5tr or N2tr so be it and the way we are going we are confident that we will surpass that of last year by the grace of God.
All we need from Nigerians are compliance, cooperation, support. Please people should continue to give the Nigeria Customs Service credible information. Those who live along the borderlines should corporate with the Nigeria Customs Service to stop providing information to the smugglers.
They should stop being used to form a mob against anti-smuggling operatives. The recent things that we are observing is that smugglers buy small handsets and give to some people along the borderlines to provide information about the movement of our field operatives, if they are going left they tell them ( Smugglers ) to go right.
Nigerians should now ,especially the border community dwellers that Customs officers are not their enemies, their enemies are the smugglers who are engaging in activities that will deprive them of the much needed economic and security developments.
If Smugglers bring in fake drugs you never know whether your brother or sister will be sick and go to hospital and will be administered that drug.
Those who want to bring in arms and ammunition you never know whether you will be a victim of an armed robber or assassin, who got his supply of arms and ammunition through the smuggler.
Nigerians should look at smuggling as a crime and smugglers as enemies.