The Nigeria Customs Service may lose its membership of the World Customs Organisation(WCO) over its headship by the new Comptroller-General, Hammed Ibrahim Ali, a retired colonel of Nigerian Army.
Last week Thursday, President Mohammed Buhari shocked the maritime community when he announced the stern-looking and disciplinarian retired colonel as the new Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service.
While the stakeholders were unanimous in condemning the appointment which they claimed may reverse the gains made by the service in the last few years, the secretariat of the World Customs Organisation in Brussels, Belgium, is said to be highly upset by the development.
A highly placed source in the industry told Hallmark that the august global body may sanction Nigeria by suspending the membership of its customs administration from the 180 –member body.
According to the source, the Brussels headquarters of the organization was not comfortable with the appointment of a non-professional as the head of highly professional and specialized body as the Customs.
The world body argued that the appointment may hinder the current modernization programme currently going on in the Nigeria Customs, a development that may jeopardize the leading role the Nigeria Customs is playing in the West and Central African countries.
It would be recalled that the reformation and modernization programmes of the Nigeria Customs under the recently retired AlhajiAbdullahiDikko received international acclaims and thrust the Nigeria Customs into the consciousness of WCO.
Under the former CGC, the modersationprogramme of the agency was used as a model for other countries in the West and Central Africa sub-region while the training College of the Customs at Gwagwalada, Abuja, was adopted by the WCO as training institutions for all customs officers in the sub-region.
Also, the WCO was so happy with the agency that its influential Secretary –General, MrKunioMikuriya, paid a scheduled visit to Nigeria where he lauded the modernationa and reformation programme in the Nigeria Customs.
As a result of this international recognition and encomium, the officers of the agency received training from highly impressed Customs administrations from the developed member-countries of WCO, with the support of the global body.
The WCO, in its framework of principle and practices on Customs professionalism, places premium on human capital which it considers the most valuable assets to keep pace with an ever-changing environment.
”Customs is a coherent professional body with unique operating models, and the WCO has endeavoured to ensure that its workforce’s characteristics are progressively identified as sharing specific and graduated knowledge, competencies and skills, and fully connected to today’s economic and social challenges. The importance of setting Customs as a recognized Profession and as a career has led the WCO and its partners to contemplate encouraging national adoption of integrated education, training and development schemes by Customs and Education authorities as well as initiating new approaches to Customs whole-of-career development strategies”, declared the WCO.
The WCO noted that a non- professional as the head of the Customs administration may not have an understanding of these principles.
”Sadly, all these gains, privileges and support from the WCO will be eroded by this latest appointment”, a highly placed Customs source lamented.
”Unless the appointment is reversed and a professional Customs officer is appointed as the CG, WCO will sanction the agency by suspending its membership which presupposes that the support and assistance we get from the world body will cease.
”To make the sanction more effective, the global body may also instruct its member- countries to stop all their bilateral relationships and commitments with our Customs administration. If this happens, the Nigeria Customs will become a pariah among the comity of nations and all the gains recorded about six years when the reform programmes started would have been lost”, the Customs source claimed.
Meanwhile, there is a palpable fear and anxiety among the top echelon of the Customs over the appointment of the retired army colonel.
Their trepidation may not be unconnected with the mandate given to the new CG by President Buhari to clear” the Augean stable”
It was gathered that the President was not unmindful of the rot in the service which he allegedly described as a cesspool of corruption and was determined to rid the agency of the rot in line with his crusade against corruption.
”The President considers Nigeria Customs as very strategic in terms of revenue generation in view of the unhindered free fall of oil prices in the international market”, a maritime commentator who craved for anonymity, claimed.
”As a result, he drafted Col.(rtd) Ali, whom he has a long time relationship and who he knows to be highly disciplined and incorruptible to stem the high rise of corruption and revenue leakages in the service”, another knowledgeable source in the industry declared.
To this end, another source claimed that Col. Ali was on a rescue mission for six months in Customs during which he was expected to carry out the ”cleaning exercise” and then hand over to a substantive CGC that would be appointed from the thoroughly purged service.
Due to this mandate, most of the officers are apprehensive that they may not survive the looming purge, giving their complicity in most of the sleazes that characterize Customs operations.
However, some maritime stakeholders have faulted the appointment of Ali, even as a ‘sanitiser”.
Ada Akpononu, a chieftain of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Custom Agents (ANLCA),stated that there are still honest officers with high integrity in the service which the president can use to carry out his rescue mission.
She believed that the appointment will turn the nation into a laughing stock among the comity of nations.
“This latest appointment is a reminder of the dark days of late SaniAbacha’s regime when Maj.-Gen. SOG Ango was drafted to head the Customs Service.
“The Ango era was characterized by low officer morale, zero trade facilitation, unhindered smuggling activities and abysmally low revenue collection, as both retired and serving military officers turned the service into a cash cow, thereby distracting the customs from its core functions of trade facilitation and revenue generation,” another respondent claimed.