I’m still learning how to be a Customs officer, says Hameed Ali

Customs Comptroller-General, Hameed Ali“I am learning to be a Customs Officer, it’s so technical that I have decided to go back to school. I am reading now more than I am in the university. I’m to digest and understand and lead,” Comptroller-General, Hameed Ali has declared. He said this when he visited the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, at the Naval Headquarters in Abuja. He also disclosed that the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) generates between N1 billion and N1.5billion on a daily basis through various import duties. Ali said the NCS as presently constituted with limited facilities to carry out its duties, lacks the capacity to generate the needed revenue for the country and will therefore require the assistance of the Nigerian Navy. The Comptroller-General noted that apart from the daily revenue generation, the nation loses billions of naira during most of its numerous public holidays. He said: “Part of our job on trade certification is dependent on the navy, the more we get the more likely our revenue rises. Any day we declare public holiday we lose money, in practical terms at the customs. Our ports generate about N1 billion to N1.5 billion a day, so any day they say public holiday that is N1.5 billion gone. And Nigerians love holidays, if Christmas falls on Saturday we will say we want to have Monday as holiday but to us it’s a pain because we are now looking at it in terms of raw cash.” Ali lamented that the Customs Marine Command “is depleted and the few ones that are trained have now been retired and we are now in a state that we really need to train these people; which we can only have that from the Navy. “If you oblige us, there are young talented people that I’m sure they will be trained for them to effectively do their job.” To this end, Ali said the Customs under his leadership was reaching out to their strategic partners in the sector, especially Nigeria Navy, to be able to generate more revenue and provide better services. The Customs boss listed the areas they would need partnership and assistance from the Navy, including running of the two newly acquired marine boats and patrolling the waterside. “We will ask for the training of our men as we go along, so that we have people that would know exactly what to do when they are in those waters and know exactly what to look for, so that if they see what they are looking for how do they go about arresting the situation. “We will subject our people for training and retaining, we will request that some of your personnel come on board with them from time to time so that they how us practically terms how this thing should be done,” he said. Ali said such learning, training and retraining was necessary for the agency, noting that he is even yet to master the technical know-how required to supervise NCS. “The Customs cannot claim expertise than you, we will request in that area if we can get support in terms of training, in terms of even inspecting our boats and certifying that it is enough for the job. “We realise that resources is a problem to all of us. We are today one of the major revenue collectors in the sense that oil is dwindling, certainly we cannot depend on oil, and for the Customs to be able to meet its target we need trade facilitations, which now means that our water ways must be accessible to ships, our waterways must be accessible to traders who want to bring in goods, it must be accessible to investors who want to bring in their technical know-how.” Speaking further CGC, proposed a “forum where the armed forces and the paramilitary will create a platform for interaction from time to time at the apex and also middle level so that anything that comes up will be quickly digested to know specifically what to do and make it easier to accomplish tasks. Responding, Ibas agreed that the nation is faced with serious challenges, key amongst which is the dwindling revenue, “and since the Customs is one of the pillars upon which the nation depends, it is therefore imperative that we do things differently to help us survive as a nation.” He, however, noted that in recent times, the challenges in the maritime environment have expanded from smuggling to pipelines vandalism, piracy, oil smuggling, crude oil theft and other vices. “We have over 3000 creeks and estuaries that need to be covered, most of our imports are being diverted either because of policies that are not favourable to importers, these I will request that you look at so as to encourage imports to be directed to Nigeria so that the necessary revenues that we are missing will be able to come back to us,” he said. As a result, the CNS harped on the need to strengthen the agencies intelligence sharing, saying that “Navy cannot be in all the creeks at all the times, and want to believe that your men who are there will be able to share the relevant information with us with regards to shipping activities that they say are detrimental to the national economy”. Ibas also called the attention of Custom’s boss to an Island off the coast of Badagry, Lagos, which he noted “is just by the Nigeria-Benin Republic border at the tongue island in Badagry.” He implored the CGC to consider that island as a strategic Island to Nigeria and therefore post Customs officers there because smuggling of small arms can thrive in the area. By Pita Ochai

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