Service delivery: Nigeria Customs takes the lead, by Tonnie Iredia


One thing the flamboyant electioneering campaigns leading to the 2023 presidential elections did not expatiate upon was how the first budget of the new administration would be funded to meet the lofty campaign promises. The expectations became heightened when it became obvious that the inauguration of a new Nigerian President on May 29, 2023 did not come along with a magic wand to arrest the country’s deteriorating economy.

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Instead, the strategies designed by the new President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu only emphasized some future relief to be preceded by immediate severe pain on citizens. The first signs that the supposed future relief was achievable emerged a few days ago following the news of a huge increase in revenue generation by the Nigeria Customs Service NCS. According to media reports, the Service pulled off a spectacular performance to collect the sum of N1,347,675,608,972.75 in the first quarter of 2024.

The impressive outing by the NCS must have gladdened many hearts but to those who are familiar with the antecedents of the current leadership of the Service, it didn’t come as a surprise. Some analysts are even looking forward to greater achievements during the tenure of Bashir Adewale Adeniyi who was recently picked as Comptroller General of Customs by President Bola Tinubu. Industry watchers are generally agreed that in every respect, Adeniyi is a square peg in a square hole. For the no less than 3 decades that he has been in service, he has become known for achieving great things. Some 4 years ago for instance, he was singled out for an award in appreciation of his pivotal supervision of the seizure of $8,065,612 million cash at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos in January 2020.

By his posture, CG Adeniyi effortlessly makes a case for our agencies to be headed by intelligent and professional career officers who had over the years been prepared for the Chief Executive position. In which case, they would have acquired many years of cognate experience by passing through several critical segments of the relevant entity. Such officers best know the strengths and weaknesses of their organizations; they know what button to push, who to deploy to where and when and how to make progress by not just increasing activities but also by blocking loopholes through which all gains normally vanish within seconds. Organizations such as the Customs Service should therefore never be where to post loyalists or where to reward friends and relations who know nothing about the peculiar nuances of the institution concerned.

But no matter the institution, modern trends suggest that the best way to successfully run an organization is to realize the inevitability of technology which now serves as the redeeming feature of humanity. In this age of technology, it is no longer reasonable to rely on analogue platforms to achieve sustainable progress. CG Adeniyi being a strategic researcher and communicator must have among other things quickly discarded the physical pursuit of smugglers in favour of aerial surveillance just as he must have followed global realities by installing ICT and other digital facilities for operations especially smart scanning machines in airports. What is certain is that because technology changes daily making it possible for yesterday’s kits to show signs of obsolescence even before they are unparked, identifying the latest facilities that can place operations above criminals is now an imperative.

Remarkably, the new Customs administration did not wait for the media to begin to speculate on its activities when it decided on its own that every societal institution owes accountability to the public for whose sake it was established. It is hoped that all government agencies would emulate the NCS by institutionalizing the practice of occasional media briefings in furtherance of public enlightenment. Those who operate differently have so much to lose because by the time the media speculates on their activities warranting rejoinders from them, the first casualty is institutional reputation especially at a point of collective frustration caused by overbearing inflation. If the NCS has made 122.35 percent progress in its revenue generation compared with same time last year, what have others done?

They need to let us know because the world is now in the age of open government. The narratives of a deceitful colonial era in which operatives were only to be seen but not heard are no longer fashionable. Nigeria must progress into becoming one of the world’s greatest communicating nations. The reverse bears anarchy like the recent situation in Kaduna state where some party stalwarts were unhappy with Governor Uba Sani for revealing the huge debts and heavy contractual liabilities inherited by his administration. More annoying is the alleged suspension of the woman leader of the state chapter of the APC, Maryam Suleiman for berating Governor Sani who supposedly rubbished the former Governor. Penalizing a citizen for expressing an opinion should only happen in a dictatorship and not a democracy.

Government officials at all levels ought to perform well and at the same time inspire public confidence by taking the people along. At the federal level, the repeated assurances by President Tinubu that the buck stops at his desk cannot be used by agency heads to undermine accountability to the public. In fact, Tinubu’s acceptance of vicarious liability presupposes that he is ready to fire all those not performing. This is because a time for economic depression is the best time for activities here and there – not speeches but actions that have quick wins. At the beginning of this administration, there was a lot of public expectations from the Immigration Service due to the proactive posture of Tunji Ojo, the Interior Minister. So, when can Nigerians apply and seamlessly pick up their international passports? Last week, the story was that efforts were being made to print our passports locally. Is that an objective that falls within the realm of rocket science?

We must however not forget to pay tribute to two private sector leaders, namely Allen Onyema and Aliko Dangote that are bringing messages of hope to the homes of citizens. But for Dangote, life would have been much harder at the rate the price of Automative Gas Oil (diesel) was rising and rising. Happily, Dangote Petroleum Refinery has now forced down the pump price of the product to around N1,225 from about N1, 700 per litre. Similarly, Allen Onyema has used his airline, Air Peace to halt the conspiracy of the west to kill the naira. With his entry into the Lagos-London route, all carriers hitherto exploiting Nigerians are now in disarray. It is hoped that other business owners and executives would emulate Dangote and Onyema so that Nigeria can rise again. It is therefore not too much for government to formally commend the two patriots to strengthen them to keep hope alive.

A time like this when people are striving to survive is certainly not the time for any Nigerian business to maximize profit. It is therefore unfortunate that our power distribution companies have convinced themselves that this is the best time to raise tariffs. It is worse that they are able to persuade their regulator to accept a rise by as much as 300 percent. If precedent is anything to go by, the arrangement of categorising consumers into bands will as usual, lead to profiteering. It will be recalled that during the Buhari administration, metres paid for by government to be freely distributed to consumers were surreptitiously sold by the DISCOS. With some consumers already claiming to have been short-changed, on band categorization, there is no better time than now for the regulator to operate with a human face.

It would be against the run of play if public sector agencies are waiting to be prompted to up their performances so as to give room for the rest of us to breathe. May be the Nigeria Custom Service should take the lead again; this time not just in revenue generation but in curbing insider abuses. It is unfair that agencies extort huge sums of money from citizens in addition to approved payments before offering the service for which they were employed. CG Adeniyi would leave his name in gold if he can use technology to sanitize all the processes and procedures for obtaining services from customs operatives. Many citizens would be relieved if other Nigerian service provider executives can similarly act.

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