By Stephen Ubana
Officials of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, and the United States based Information Communication Company, Oracle Corporation have begun talks over the use of its Information Communication technology, ICT, to entrench its fully e- Customs operation.
Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, NCS, broke the cheery news to officers and men of the Service at the just concluded World Customs Organisation, WCO Day, Celebration held at the Customs Training College Gwagwalada, Abuja.
Ali disclosed that the technology if put into use by the Service” will go a long way to ”bring about safe trade” as it has the ”track and trace tool for cargo tracking”. As a prelude to the introduction of the new technology , he confirmed that Customs personnel were being trained under-going and reorientation .
Moreso, he said a Regional security strategy, composed of Nigeria, Chad, Cameroun and Republic of Benin had been put in place called Securite Par Collaboration , SPC++ had been introduced for proper border management.
The planned introduction of the cargo trace and track tool technology of Oracle Corporation by the NCS may not be a cheery news to agents and their Customs collaborators who fly Containers at the seaports. or fake auction documents allegedly signed by the Comptroller General to take delivery of Containers at the seaport. One of such Containers was said to have fallen into the waiting hand of the Federal Operations Unit, Zone A, Roving team headed b Jack Okpabi, a Chief Superintendent of Customs.
The introduction of the Customs police as part of the on-going reform of the Service by Ali is a bad news for officers. The Customs police, the Comptroller General said would serve as an internal mechanism to check and ensure discipline among its personnel. Given an insider information , he said the Customs personnel were trained at Nigeria Military School, Zaria, Kaduna state, , noting that securing the borders is one of the challenges facing the Service.
Described as a ”no nonsense man” by other global Customs Administrators as at the WCO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium, Ali was said to have told the officers at the WCO Day that it had adopted the WCO ICT tools and instruments which ”offers opportunities to create a secured business environment and transparent processes that will boost economic development’, the theme for this year’s Celebration.
This is evident with the easing of the clearing process at the seaports, airports and land border stations through the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report, PAAR, fast facility for reputable traders, Post Audit Clearance aimed at reducing clearance time and Cost of clearing.
Coming on the heels of the WCO Day celebration was the giving of awards to individuals , officers both serving and retired and Organisations. indeed, it was the moment which the officers and men of the Service who were well seated at the auditorium had waited for. The roll call of the individuals honored by tAli led Customs were Kemi Adeosun , minister of Finance, George Unafuwanka, Aliko Dangote, President, Dangote Group of Company, Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller and the Service Image maker . Attah was said to have got the award as a crisis manager.
Others were Wale Adeniyi, Comptroller and Deputy Commandant, Customs Training College, Gwagwalada, Deputy Comptroller General Aliu Dangaladima and Deputy Comptroller General Alao rtd. among others.
The Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, British America Tobacco Company Nigeria plc, BAT, Bolore African logistics ltd, and A.A. Logistics were equally honored on the WCO day .Also on the Customs award list were theNigeria Army, for their role in the security of the nation, fighting Boko Haram in the north east and the Navy for their support to the service in its anti-smuggling war in the country’s waters.
Perhaps, the two awards that drew the highest applause of the day were that of Yusuf Barsha, former Comptroller, Tin-can Island Command, now deployed to the Customs Headquarters and Jack Okpabi,a Chief Superintendent of Customs described as ”a rugged and dogged” anti-smuggling officer from FOU, Zone A, Ikeja. Barsha, going by the citation on him got the award over his Customised seizures at Tin-can Island port.Given his expertise on the WCO technology and cargo tool tracking instruments, Barsha was said to have tracked arms cargo import into the country through Tin-can Island port.
The Magazine was informed that he had followed the ship carrying the first Container loaded with the offensive cargo from the mid-sea until it was it was finally discharged at the port in the month of May, 2017. To ensure that the officers do the right thing, insiders said he monitored the ”20” Container where the arms were Concealed from his office until it was examined in the presence of other security agencies personnel at the port including Department of State Security personnel, DSS.
The discovery of the arms in the ”20” Container load of cargo imported from Turkey and the information available to him that two other ”20” Containers loaded with arms from the same country were still on the high sea heading to Nigeria through his port may have forced him to be on the red alert.
A source at the port confirmed that he was on the internet daily within the period, monitoring the movement of the vessels carrying the two other ”20” Containers loaded with arms. It paid off as the ”20” Containers Concealed with arms were discovered in subsequent months.
It is on record that Barsha , made a total of 2,671 arms seizure at the port between May and August 2017. It is also on record that he created a record in terms of revenue collection and Containers seizure in the Command. This had been acknowledged by some senior officers from the Command who had retired from the Service, including a past Comptroller .
many believe that without the likes of Barsha being at Tincan Island at the time the arms were imported through, it may have developed wings. They cited the case of the Container loaded with steel doors with arms Concealed in it released from Apapa port but intercepted by the FOU, Zone A, Roving team headed by Adamu Mohammed, then an Assistant Comptroller and now a Deputy Comptroller. It is not surprising why Ali, the Comptroller General said the new NCS, ” now were more responsive and capable of meeting the challenges posed by these criminals”’.
Barsha, who could not hide his feelings told the Magazine ”I left the Tincan Island port better than I met it”. He confirmed that business transactions at the port has improved significantly going by the monthly revenue collection of the Command which run into billions of naira.
An elated Barsha disclosed that he tackled the mess at the port with the support of the officers who queued into his action plan for the Command to turn things around at the port. The good work of the former Comptroller at the port may have forced most of the senior officers at the port who enjoyed working under him as a disciplinary officer to leave their duty post to Abuja to Cheer their former Comptroller for his Customs award over his Customised seizure.
Indeed, when Okpabi, ”popular” Jack, Head of the FOU, Zone A, Roving team mounted the rostrum to collect his award , Ali looked at the officer who had being making the spectacular interceptions of Containers at the seaports and assorted vehicles smuggled into the country through unapproved routes at the land border Communities without a gun shot .
He was said to have put fears on the rich who drive expensive vehicles worth millions of naira smuggled into the country without payment of duty or taken delivery at the port without payment of the appropriate duty. One of the”’ big boys” had offered to give him $20,000 to influence him from taking away his prized car from his house. The man was said to have invited his DSS friends to be witness to him as he give out the money to Jack and his money. He got it wrong. Jack was said to have ordered that he should be hand-cuffed and dragged to the Command for the insult.
The Magazine learnt that it took the intervention of the DSS to get the handcuff removed from his hand. The support from Mohammed Uba Garba, the Comptroller of the Command, described in Customs circles as a strtegists may have forced him and members of the team to turn their back on kick-backs but to double their effort in the Service anti-smuggling war. Analysts believe that it had paid- off for him and his team with the Customs award.
Insiders told the Magazine that Jack and his men may have experienced problems of transporting Containerised cargoes from points of interception to the Customs warehouse , technical and terrain difficult,, crowd control and crisis management, On and Offloading of Containers including vehicles but were never weakened.
Perhaps, what may have pushed his record up the ladder against other enforcement officers listed for the award in his category may be the interception of 51 assorted vehicles hidden by a car dealer at a close at Omole Estate, Ikeja.
The Customs drivers used for the evacuation of the vehicles from the uncompleted building by Jack followed his instructions to the later.
The Comptroller General who was invited by Garba, the Comptroller of the Command to see the detained assorted vehicles intercepted by his boys which were parked at the Customs Training School, Ikeja. Ali, the Comptroller General, had confirmed the impression of people about him that though he has retired from the Army years ago, he still looked strong with the away he jumped the Training School gutter without asking for Vehicle to take him out. At the last WCO Day, It was to the fact that if ”one wants to know how strong the Comptroller General, he need to take a walk with him”.
Jack had dedicated his award to Garba, the Comptroller ,for giving him the opportunity to head the Roving team of the Command for the best in him in anti-smuggling war . ”It is the team’s award”, he said.
Officers and men of the Service may have celebrated this year’s WCO with happiness, going by the promise of President Muhammadu Buhari to improve their welfare package this year.. Adeosun , the minister of Finance and an an awardee, who was represented by the Director of Finance made disclosure. The Director said the minister is working round the clock to see to the approval of the new salary package and other enhanced allowances for Customs personnel.
The President may have been encouraged to give Customs personnel an improved welfare package because of pressures from Ali, the omptroller General that the Officers and men of the Service needed to be placed at par with other revenue generating agencies like the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC and federal Inland Revenue Services, FIRS.
Adeosun, the Minister of Finance may have bought the idea with the payment of N1.037 tn into the Federation account by the NCS last year. The minister confirmed that revenue that was generated by the Service had been shared by the three tiers of government – Federal, states and Local government.
The mention of the planned improved welfare package for the officers and men of the Service, may emboldened Charles Edike, Commandant , Customs Training College, Gwagwalada, to plead with the Director of Finance , who represented the minister at the WCO Day to facilitate the approval of the Customs Enhanced Welfare Package and money quickly appropriated for it.. He danced and made rib cracking jokes to the admiration of the officers that Customs personnel would soon be earning big salaries.