MY OBSERVATION: CUSTOMS CONFERENCE 2023: ANOTHER WAKE- UP CALL FOR DATA DRIVEN ECONOMY

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In Nigeria, everything , even the practices of primordial beings which make life easy, accommodate themselves and make provisions for their up coming generations before we were born seems to elude us , simply because our leaders over the years have abandoned real leadership and venture into selfish and self serving, ventures.

In this their venom practice called democracy, nothing matters except their own and self alone.

For these reasons, Nigeria is always waking up in the twenty – first century as if it was in a long years trance to simpler tools of administration and leadership, which other countries of the world have leverage on to become world powers and making life worth living for their citizens . If not so, why won’t Nigeria become capital of the world in poverty, corruption, nepotism among others, where there is no data to rely on for planning.

Because Nigeria has often been described as a “Sleeping Giant”, on Thursday December 14th, 2023 in Lagos State, South West Nigeria, the country was again reminded , this time by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in its , ” Wakening ” CGC Annual Conference, which was dead for over a decade. The NCS in the conference attended by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who was represented by his Vice, Sen. Kassim Shettima, Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-0lu among other top government and private sector personalities was on “LEVERAGING DATA”. The theme of the conference was ” Leveraging Data Analytics for Secure and Efficient Trade Facilitation in Customs Service.”

In his keynote address at the conference, the President highlighted the importance of data. In his words, “Every part of the world is a dependency on data and every day, we are reminded of the expanding volume of data upon which our decisions must be rooted. Data is the light”.He further assured that the Country is on the right track to establish a robust public service system that upholds data integrity.

On hearing this , one is confused , is like haaa, ewooo, so up till now Nigeria has been sleeping on a bicycle without knowing the usefulness and importance of data. The president’s assertion really qualified the reason why after over 60 years of independent, Nigeria is still struggling to provide basic amenities like power, water, functional reads among others because we lack the statistical data for planning and there is no robust data base system. Hmmm, that is the traits of the giant of Africa.

According to the Oxford Learners Dictionary , data is defined as “Facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis.” It further explained it as the quantities, characters, or symbols on which operations are performed by a computer, which may be stored and transmitted in the form of electrical signals and recorded on magnetic, optical, or mechanical recording media”. From these definition and explaination , you can see why Nigeria and its government officials are not likely to store or keep data.

For a country whose leaders loves corruption and misappropriation of funds , why will they keep data,? So it won’t be used to exposed them in future? . For a country and its people who hate truth and facts, of what use will they keep data?. Even, if they do , it will either be false or corrupted data. For a country who on regular basis her important government edifices and it’s agencies are gutted by miracle fire outbreaks, where will you find the data.? In a country where the population of its citizens is not known, for obvious reasons , what does data mean to them?. Let’s not be deceived here, the government either Military or Civilians truly knows the importance of data. But for obvious reasons, they have decided to ignore the importance of data in planning. Nigerian government at all levels can boost of prominent Economists, Statisticians, Accountants , even data analysts in their fold .

As we speak every government Ministries, Departments and Agencies are keeping their records, but of what use is their records? . This is another big corruption on it own. If you dare open these records , then most of them will rot in jail and that is the more reason the records are hidden or never put into use. Again in a country where government MDAs instead of working together are working in selfish, corrupt and cross purposes, fighting dirty in public galore among themselves and wanting to get individual credits, how can such a system work together for proper data usage?

Suffice to say that , one of the agency of government that is consistent and very holistic in data keeping and usage is the NCS. It will interest you to know that the Customs have a Post Clearance Audit (PCA) Unit , this department keeps records of all examined cargoes that passes through Nigerian ports. Even if you have cleared the goods 100 years ago ,you can be called to question, if the need arises. This is one of such departments in Customs.

For the NCS I have no doubt that its their stock in trade to leverage on data as enshrined in the various World Customs Organisation (WCO) and World Trade Organization ( WTO) among other international trade conventions. The NCS in its data driven activities in Nigeria stated with ASYCUDA, 1.0 to ASYCUDA++, migrated to NICIS 1 and NICIS II and now working on Customs Modernisation project, all in a bid to drive a technological simless driven operations in the ports . The Nigeria Customs have long integrated the Single Window clearance system into its platform including the Pre – Arival Assessment Report ( PAAR) and the Nigerian Trade Portal. These platforms have incorporated other agencies in the ports like SON, NPA, NIMASA, NAFDAC, NDLEA, NESREA among others into it.

NOW THAT PRESIDENT TINUBU HAS PROMISED RUNNING THE ECONOMY WITH DATA, WHAT WILL CHANGE?
Am always skeptical when in professional gatherings, politicians will come to make promises. Reason being that , their speeches are being written by experts, but delivered by politicians who only say what they want the audience to hear , got all the clapings and walk away. Sooner or later , nothing changes.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is an Accountant of repute , so he surely knows the essence of data for planning. In fact Statistics is one of the core courses in Accounting practice. Vice President Kassim Shettima is an accomplished banker, he too knows the usefulness of data , so if both are in sinc with data, what will deter them in making data a working tool for government planning purposes?.

THE CHALLENGES OF DATA HARMONIZATION IN NIGERIA
As we speak, Nigeria has over 10 government agencies concern with data at various levels, we have Nigeria Customs Service, that keeps international trade data, Nigerian Immigration Service ( NIS) keeping data of , Nigerians and foreigners , both living and outside the country, Federal Road Safety Commission ( FRSC) keeping records and names of vehicle owners, National Population Commission ( NPC), National Identity Management , Federal Bureau of Statistics ( FBS), NPA, NIMASA, NUC, Hospitals etc all these agencies are keeping datas at various levels. But are these datas being harmonized and put to proper usage?

Though, the NCS has once again stimulated the system to refocused it’s efforts on data usage, but is also important to note that , the NCS also maybe facing challenges in its efforts to leverage on data . One of such challenges is the manipulation of Shipping / trade documents by Shipping companies, Importers , Agents and Terminal operators who are experts in either supplying distorted, misleading, incomplete or false information, under the pretence of international terms ” Said To Contain ” (STC). For instance, there are peculiar cases going on in two of the terminals at Tin Island Port. The terminals will supply different information in its E- manifest, and different information in its Hard Copy Manifest on the same consignment, especially on containerized group items with vehicles. While, the E-Copy Manifest will have incomplete or half information about the consignment, when the Hard Copy Manifest arrives, it will contain full information of the consignment, all in a bid to either defraud or negotiate the payment on such consignment, which of course leads to delays in the clearance of such goods from the ports.

Another herculean task the NCS will encounter in leveraging on data is the lack of co-operation among the operating agencies in the ports, who often work in isolation to get their credit. The struggle to be the led agency in the port in terms of data provision and analysis is also another problem.

Finally, as the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu promised to leverage on data to run the economy, as far as the Ports are concerned, NCS is the led agency and should so be given that task to provide needed data for the government usage. If not, we will be running around the same circle of conflicting data , which has kept the Country where we still are in the twenty – first century today.

Citizen Innocent Orok is a Journalist based in Lagos.
For your comments, whatapp 08034489892
Email roamrepporters@gmail.com.

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