By Okey Ibeke
The parlous state of Nigeria’s economy and means of addressing the multifaceted challenges, among other pressing issues, constituted the elaborate manifesto on which President Bola Ahmed Tinubu relied on to pitch for the votes of Nigerians during the last presidential electioneering campaign.
Since his winning the election and assuming office as the President and Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria Armed Forces, he has left no one in doubt as to his resolve to tenaciously explore means of alleviating the economic hardship that majority of Nigerians are battling with.
The evidence of this resolve is manifest in his policy initiatives and pronouncements, most political and statutory appointments, bilateral and multilateral and other international engagements. He has, in less than four months, climbed many global stages in selling Nigeria to the world.
In the media briefing that followed the first Federal Executive Council meeting after constituting his cabinet, the President, through the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of Economy, Chief Adebayo Olawale Edun, launched 8-Point Agenda around which he’ll navigate to secure economic relief for Nigerians.
Edun listed the agenda as including food security; ending poverty; economic growth and job creation; access to capital; improving security; improving the playing field on which people and particularly companies operate; rule of law; and fighting corruption. Edun also said that the President told them to be bold, creative and innovative.
Among the strategic ministries, departments and agencies that President Tinubu will leverage on to deliver his economic promises, the Nigeria Customs Service ranks among the most critical, as international trade, border management, security and protection of the environment are key to realizing his agenda.
In international trade, Customs plays a critical role not only in providing expedited cargo clearing processes, import and export procedures, but also in implementing effective controls that secure revenue, ensure compliance with fiscal policies, national laws, copyright laws, security and protection of wildlife, endangered plants and animal species, environment and society. The efficiency and effectiveness of Customs procedures have a significant influence on the economic growth and competitiveness of nations. These are achieved by applying modern techniques and technologies, while improving the quality of controls in an internationally harmonized manner.
Some of the techniques and tools as initiated by World Customs Organizations, which member countries deploy for efficient operations include: WCO Framework of Standards and its 3 pillars, Harmonized Systems, Nomenclature and Classification of Goods, Valuation, Rules of Origin, Risk Management, Integrated Border Management, International Customs Transit System, Enforcement and Compliance, Integrity, Border Community and Stakeholders Engagement, among others.
It seemed that President Tinubu has good knowledge of all these that he desired a truly professional Customs Service, and appointed a thoroughbred, highly cerebral and appropriate customs officer to head the Nigeria Customs Service. No wonder the officers and men of the Service and critical stakeholders were full of commendation for the President, for appointing the then Deputy Comptroller-General, Adewale Bashiru Adeniyi MFR, the Acting Comptroller-General on June 19, 2023. These commendations were not misplaced because the antecedents of Wale Adeniyi fit perfectly with the requirements for headship of a modern Customs Service.
Adeniyi has over 30 years’ experience in Customs Administration in the area of strategic and operational responsibilities. He possesses a deep understanding of the complex and constantly evolving international trade landscape. He has strong command of Customs regulations, laws, and procedures as well as the ability to navigate and adapt to changing policies and regulations.
The Acting Comptroller-General had, over time, built strong relationships with stakeholders and collaborated effectively to ensure efficient and effective movement of goods across borders. He has a keen eye for details and ability to identify potential risks and areas of non-compliance. This is evident in effective risk management strategies, guidance and support he developed and implemented in his past assignments, to ensure that all customs procedures are followed accurately and efficiently.
He had before the appointment, coordinated engagements with International Organizations including: World Customs Organization (WCO), World Trade Organization (WTO), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), World Bank (WB), International Monetary Fund (IMF). He also saw to the coordination of Customs bilateral and multilateral trade relations and others.
He was conferred with a National Honour of the Member of the Order of Federal Republic (MFR) by former President Muhammadu Buhari in October 2022 in recognition of his sterling performance as a customs officer.
Adeniyi bagged the Comptroller-General of Customs Award for seizure of $8,065,612 million cash at Murtala Mohammed International Airport in January 2020 and a Large College Crest Award for Excellence in Service as Deputy Commandant, NCCSC Gwagwalada in December 2019. He is also a recipient of the World Customs Organization Award of Excellence as Project Team Leader, Securité Par Collaboration (SPC++), a Customs Regional Security Project, January 2018.
Considering the transformative activities of the Nigeria Customs Service since assumption of its leadership about 100 days ago, there’s every reason to assert that President Tinubu has not made a mistake in elevating Adeniyi to the zenith of the Customs management.
On assumption of office, Adeniyi in consultation with his management team embarked on a comprehensive overhaul of the Nigeria Customs Service, guided by the new administration’s policy thrust of “Collaboration, Consolidation and Innovative Solutions”. This is in recognition that to effect real change, there’s need to incrementally challenge the status quo and instigate a transformation that was both dynamic and results oriented.
As President Tinubu desperately needs extra revenue to tackle the myriad of economic challenges currently facing the country, Adeniyi in his patriotic zeal, introduced a series of reforms aimed at plugging revenue leakages, streamlining the customs clearance process and addressing the gaps that had existed in customs operations. Some of the noteworthy measures he initiated and implemented include:
*The immediate setting up of a Revenue Review Performance Recovery Team
*Dissolution of existing Strike Force Teams that constituted the multiple layers of enforcement into the recognised structure of Federal Operations Unit (FOU). This was done to reduce the multiple checkpoints from about 5 Units of checks at every stretch to just 2 that should comprise either the command or the FOU.
*The introduction of the Advanced Ruling system which represents a notable stride targeted at aligning Customs operations with global best practices, in line with the recommendations of the WTO TFA (World Trade Organization Trade Facilitation Agreement).
*The inauguration of a Steering Committee on the Implementation of the Authorised Economic Operators for Compliant Traders, with a clear focus on transitioning from the existing Fastrack 2.0 to the AEO concept.
*Interactions with the international community – WCO, JICA, Japan Customs among others on the implementation of the Customs Laboratory, adoption of geospatial, conduct of a Time Release Study to mention a few.
*Completion of 2 Working engagements with the Customs Administration of the Republic of Benin, each paid by both administrations, to address the existing gaps that sustains the activities of smugglers and revenue leakage.
*The establishment of a committee tasked with revitalizing the zonal structures of the service, granting them the authority to rejuvenate the Service and easier resolution of transaction disputes.
*The constitution of a new management team, appointed strictly based on merit, upholding the principle of equitable geopolitical representation.
*The commencement of the integration process for Customs Basic and intermediary institutions into the administrative framework of the Nigeria Customs Service.
*A strategic reassignment of Customs Area Controllers, also rooted in merit and in adherence to the principle of equitable geopolitical representation.
*The initiation of the development of a Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy for the Nigeria Customs Service, harmonized with the goal of contributing to the government’s development agenda.
*The creation of an ideas bank comprising feedback and comments gathered during the operational visits to Customs commands.
*Re-energisation of the activities of the National Trade Facilitation Committee through engagements and the hosting of a retreat to chat the way forward on Trade Facilitation in Nigeria.
*Finalised arrangements with the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) to integrate operational systems and minimise the registration of smuggled vehicles.
*Engagement with several stakeholders including government agencies, non-governmental agencies and the private sector.
*The introduction of the Work-Life Balance (WLB) initiative, aimed at enhancing officers’ well-being and welfare, which signifies the new customs unwavering commitment to ensuring that dedicated personnel lead balanced and fulfilling lives while maintaining peak performance in their roles.
These initiatives and many others, so far have in no small measure resulted in the huge increase in monthly revenue generation, surge in the value of illegal goods and drugs seized, strengthening of interagency and stakeholders collaboration, deployment of cutting edge technology to improve enforcement capabilities, reduction in average clearance time, increased operational efficiency and many other beneficial results.
While applauding the sterling performance of Adeniyi’s led Administration in the past 100 days, it is essential for President Ahmed Bola Tinubu to know that the Service encountered certain challenges during the initial phase of implementing the policy thrust.
These challenges include resistance to change, bureaucratic bottlenecks, dissonance in fiscal and monetary policies, the need to reorient the mind set of some officers, trading public, clearing agents and other critical stakeholders. There are also the age-long persistent issue of smuggling; illegal activities of international border communities; undervaluation, under declaration and wrong classifications of imports; abuse of government industrial incentives, import duty waivers and concessions.
Furthermore, the activities of other government agencies and their level of interference in the cargo clearance processes in the seaports, airports and border stations, have to be looked into by Mr President. These agencies includeNAFDAC, NDLEA, SON, Nigerian Police, Directorate of State Security, Plant and Animal Quarantine. The uncontrolled, most often unnecessary interventions constitute big hindrances to trade facilitation.
Operations of shipping companies, terminal operators, Nigerian Ports Authority, bonded terminals, inland dry ports and other relevant service providers have to be strengthened as their inefficiencies, most often impede free flow of goods. The lingering problems of ports access roads both in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Onne, has to be vigorously addressed.
For Mr President to fully realize his desire for productive, efficient ports system and expected improvement in revenue, Nigerian Customs Service should not be left to battle these challenges alone. There’s need for strong presidential intervention.
The most important and urgent action President Tinubu needs to also take in order to sustain the giant strides already recorded by Customs in the last 100 days, is confirmation of Adeniyi as substantive Comptroller-General. As the Service needs to leverage on collaboration, technical support, training aids from international bilateral, multilateral organizations, foreign Customs organizations, World Trade Organization and World Customs Organizations, the state or uncertainty of Adeniyi’s acting capacity, will not engender enough confidence for them to be fully committed to impactful interactions and relationship with the Service.
Moreover, the critical local industry operators, foreign investors need stable and predictable environment to answer Mr President calls for investment. Confirming the Acting CG’s appointment, therefore, will not only enhance stability in business environment, but will also embolden Adeniyi to continue to deploy aggressive measures and control, that will improve free flow of legitimate trade and attendance increase in much needed revenue.
Mr President should remember that he instructed his ministers to be bold and innovative. The head of the Nigeria Customs service deserves to be no less.
Okey IBEKE is the Principal Consultant, International Trade Advisory Services Ltd