The Nigeria Customs Service is now caught in the middle of the federal government’s controversial “looters list” with its former comptroller general included in the “list”. Some serving officers are concerned that certain special interest groups are running down the agency despite the improvement in its operational results during Dikko’s era, in an apparent battle to settle personal scores.
Standing up for their former boss, some serving officers of the Nigeria Customs Service, have questioned the inclusion of Alhaji Dikko Inde Abdullahi in the controversial “looters’ list” unfurled in two tranches by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, it has taken credibility from the list.
PIX: Alhaji Dikko Inde Abdullahi, Former comptroller general of the Customs
Although the target of the attack, Alhaji Dikko Inde Abdullahi, a former comptroller general of the Customs, seems determined to stay off the bullish jostling for power in an atmosphere characterised by the disinterest of President Muhammadu Buhari to rein in his inner circle, the officer in the Customs are concerned that their agency is being tarnished despite what they say are the fundamental reforms introduced by Dikko and the sacrifices made by officers and men to ensure their success.
PIX: Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information
In the second tranche of the Information Minister’s “looters’ List”, the retired Customs boss was listed as having misappropriated N40 billion. Riled by what they saw as a “malicious and conceited fabrication with no iota of truth”, a group of serving Customs officers have decided to spearhead the move to debunk the “dubious falsehood designed to prey on the limited acquaintance of the people with the procedures for collection of customs revenues.”
In an expansive response to the allegation by three of their leaders - Jonah Amache, an assistant comptroller and coordinator of the group; Abdullahi Ilo, a chief superintendent of Customs and its secretary and John Okafor, a superintendent of Customs and its publicity secretary - the group said the allegation “is a twisted propaganda by interest groups who at different times in the past were denied inappropriate attempts to deny the Federal Republic of Nigeria its due and those angling for political positions.”
"This is a malicious and conceited fabrication with no iota of truth, a dubious falsehood designed to prey on the limited acquaintance of the people with the procedures for collection of customs revenues.
"As a career officer that voluntarily resigned as Comptroller General after six years in office, Dikko was not only above board, but initiated a series of reforms that boosted the revenue generating capacity of the Customs, improved the working condition of officers and men of the Service and computerised its entire operations to reduce human contact between Customs officers and importers/exporters or their agents in order to reduce corruption to its barest minimum," the group stated.
Enumerating the how a new ambience has been created in the Customs through the initiative of Dikko, the group noted that "with the reforms Dikko introduced, the procedure for revenue collection is now water-tight and absolutely shielded from manipulation and unauthorised access by anybody no matter how highly placed.
"To this end, it is imperative to straighten the record thus:
* It is on record that it was during the term of Inde Dikko Abdullahi the operations of Nigerian Customs Service were fully automated. The aim is to reduce contact between Customs officers and importers or their agents. With that, corruption was reduced to a minimum.
* It is on record that with this water-tight system, revenue collections reached its highest ever in Nigerian Customs Services. When Dikko took over in 2009, the revenue generated that year was N514million, but due to his administrative and technical acumen, revenue generated into the federal government coffers took quantum reaps in the preceding years. In 2010, 2011, 2012 and 1013, the service generated N547Billion, N741Billion, N851Billion and N863Billion respectively, while a staggering amount of N977Billion was generated in 2014. These were years when transactional exchange rate of Naira was between N140–187 to a dollar and when hundreds of billions of naira were lost annually to import duty waivers, concessions and to other many government industrial incentives.
* With the procedure and system operated in revenue collection, the Comptroller-General cannot divert money for his personal use.
* All import and excise duties are paid to commercial banks and it is compulsory that money be remitted to the Federation Account at 6 o’clock (1800hrs) of every closing day of business and every morning, Customs reconciles with the commercial banks and the Central Bank. For the service of the commercial banks to the Nigerian Customs Services they are paid ₦1 per ₦1million, later negotiated to 50K per ₦1million because of the increased volume of revenue collected.
* All the money collected resides at the Central Bank of Nigeria. The Comptroller-General is never a signatory to any account.
* 7% cost of collection was the approved funding for the Nigeria Customs Service by the regime of President Obasanjo and when Inde Dikko Abdullahi became the C-G it was even hard to pay salaries because the cost of collection was so bad.
* It is on record that as the revenue increased, the 7% cost of collection also increased. This enabled Inde Dikko Abdullahi to increase the salary of officers and men of the service by 100%. This 7% cost of collection came directly from the Federal Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) with an average allocations of ₦4billion monthly, of which ₦3.1billion goes to salary.
"With the above figure the Customs was left with only ₦900 million. This could not bring about the reforms people saw during his administration. Dikko had to make a case to the National Assembly and Federal Executive Council that with the amount of funding the Customs was getting, there wouldn’t be any meaningful reforms. Customs however suggested that a fraction of fund in an account domiciled in the Central Bank, called Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme (CISS), which is one per cent (1%) of FOB be used to fund our reforms.
PIX: Yakubu Dogara, Incumbent Speaker, House of Representatives
Distinguished Senator Makarfi was Chairman of Senate Committee on Finance, Hon. John Eno was Chairman, House Committee on Finance (now a Senator), while RH Yakubu Dogara (incumbent Speaker, House of Representatives) was Chairman, House Committee on Customs. They sat and agreed to approve a portion of 1% account to help finance our capital projects, and the Customs promised the National Assembly and the Federal Executive Council that they are going to take over destination inspection of imports from the service providers and the promise was achieved in 2014 with the take off of Pre – Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) which is saving the Federal government upto $25million dollars monthly. This is the money that was paid to SGS Limited, Cotecna and Global Scan System – the companies that were contracted by the government for just issuing Risk Assessment Report (RAR).
"The money allocated to Customs was not without control. All projects strictly followed due process. The Comptroller-General had his expenditure and approval limits, and reported to the Board of Customs & Excise, and also the Federal Executive Council. Even though the approved funds was for the support of the reforms, it was properly appropriated and oversight carried out by appropriate National Assembly members, specifically the Committee on Public Accounts at both the Senate and House of Representatives. At the Senate it was headed by Senator Ahmed Lawan, who is the current Senate Leader and Mr. Solomon Adeola who is now a senator headed the house committee on public account. In appearing before them, the C-G never sent delegates; he appeared himself at all times and there was no report of any money misappropriated or stolen.
PIX: Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Former Minister of Finance
PIX: Dr. Mansur-Muhtar
"The Minister of Finance and Chairperson of Customs Board (in various times, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Dr. Muktar Mansur and Dr. Olusegun Aganga), also had members of proven integrity like President of Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN) then Chief Kola Daisi; representatives of Federal Ministry of Commerce; Federal Ministry of Transport; Federal Ministry of Industries; National University Commission; Chairman Federal Inland Revenue Commission etc, in the Nigeria Customs Board. How could a Comptroller-General divert ₦40 billion in an organization that requires approval of the Board, National Assembly and Federal Executive Council for its budgets and expenditures," they queried?
PIX: kola jamodu, Former President MAN
According to them, the Auditor-General of the Federation has audited all accounts of the parastatals, from 2010-15. There was no money of that magnitude said to be diverted from the coffers of Nigeria Customs Service in his report.
"Dikko initiated and completed a lot of transforming, welfare oriented and professionalism improving proagrammes among which are – National Single Window, Nigeria Trade Hub, Human Resources Management Information System (HRMIS), Computer Literacy Programme, Establishment of Forensic Auditing Laboratory and training of Forensic Auditors in basic and advanced Digital Investigation Course at Canadian Institute of Learning Brampton, Toronto, Canada, Archiving of Files. Training of over 15,000 officers locally and internationally on various aspects of the core and ancillary functions of the service (Price Verification, Classification, Valuation, Customs Procedures, Scanner Operations and Image Analysis, ASYCUDA++, Post Clearance Audit, Value Quest, Web Service, System Audit, Enforcement, Intelligence and Border Security, Endangered Species Protection, Copyright Protection, Antiquities, Artifacts and Culture Protection).
The capacity building effort forr the service also included the recruitment of over 3,000 university graduates, 2,000 polytechnic graduates, 4,000 West African school certificate holders, doctors, nurses, pharmacists among many other professionals.
PIX: Customs Airwing
Among the capital projects executed under the former comptroller general's watch are an ultra modern Customs Reference Hospital in Karu, commissioned by Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-rufai; a world class Customs Command and Staff College, Gwagwalada, Abuja; a Customs Air Wing Hanger project at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja; acquisition of two KND marine/patrol boats; an 18-unit five-bedroom duplex Senior Management Quarters at Jabi, Abuja and construction of two transit camps of 42 units each and conference centre consisting of a restaurant, Conference Hall, Gymnasium and Presidential Suites at the Command and Staff College, Gwagwalada, Abuja.
PIX: Nigeria Customs Service Hospital
Also attributed to the Dikko era are completion of five units a 30-man rank and file ensuite residence at Karu, Abuja; a 30-man rank and file ensuite residence at Okokomaiko, Lagos; acquisition of state-of-art two purpose built sea patrol vessels; completion of Auditorium/Lecture Theatre and installation of 900 seats at Customs Training College, Ikeja; construction of 92 units of one-bedroom flats barrack for junior officers in Port Harcourt and completion of a 30-man rank and file Lot (E) in Kano.
The completion of Comptroller’s residence in Kano; Instructors Hostels at Training College also in Kano; construction of the Corporate Headquarters building in Maitama, Abuja; renovation of a block of 8 units of five-bedroom Tower Building for Assistant Comptroller Generals at Wuse, Abuja as well as construction and renovation of projects at Customs formations nationwide are attributed to Dikko.
PIX: Brand new Cessna CJ4 aircraft
There is also the acquisition of 120 units of three bedroom duplexes furnished with house hold equipment; acquisition of a brand new Cessna CJ4 aircraft equipped with the best security information technology gadgets for aerial patrol and surveillance and purchase of 200 units of Toyota Hilux equipped with modern communication tools for anti-smuggling patrol.
PIX: 120 units of three bedroom duplexes
"Similarly, to properly articulate and implement the policies of the service, the top and middle level management were exposed to international leadership initiative courses and other management development courses locally and abroad," according to the group who also saw Dikko's policy initiatives as having placed the Service at the center stage of activities of World Customs Organisation (WCO) and boosted the country’s image through the entrenchment of the service into the global Customs community.
"Being mindful of immense technical, managerial, diplomatic, material and financial benefit that abound in participating actively in WCO’s activities, Dikko in compliance with recommendations of the diagnostic experts, strategically positioned the service to participate in all meetings of WCO both in various committee and general assembly levels.
PIX: Dr. Aganga Olusegun Olutoyin, Former Industry and Commerce Minister
"This and notable reforms which Dikko initiated and implemented assiduously convinced the global Customs body into electing the Comptroller-General, Vice-Chairman, West and Central Africa Region of World Customs Organization. The organization also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Service to establish a Regional Training Center in Abuja and appointed Nigeria’s Customs Officers into its various committees. This achievement of the service that boosted the country’s image and diplomatic standing resulted in the nomination of Nigeria Customs by WCO to host the global organisation’s Policy Commission Summit in Abuja in December 2014. This highly commendable feat was achieved amidst over-bloated negative stories of state of insecurity and activities of Boko Haram in international media then. Policy Commission is the topmost committee of WCO.
The Commission of which Nigeria is an active member initiates policies, practices and procedures that assist the general council to achieve its broad objectives. The meeting attracted members from more than 90 countries, among which are United States of America, South Korea, Japan, Turkey, Argentina, Brazil etc that signed MOU on training and co-operation with Nigeria Customs Service, which the Service is still benefiting from as at today.
PIX: Nigerian Customs Officers with Alhaji Dikko Abdullahi
"The projects on ground and the position that the Nigerian Customs Service attained during the tenure of Inde Dikko Abdullahi is unprecedented; from officers' accommodation to their equipment and salaries. The beneficiaries, serving Customs officers are living witnesses who are keeping mute ostensibly because of public service restrictions that public servants may be seen, not heard!
"Dikko had an unblemished career as Comptroller General of Customs and lived true to his professional calling to be loyal to the Federal Government of Nigeria. The Office of Accountant General of the Federation regularly audited the accounts of the Customs under his watch and at no time was any discrepancy found in the management and remittance of funds to the Federation Account.
"Having left office voluntarily in August 2015 to general acclaim and commendation from President Mohammadu Buhari for meritorious service, Dikko have been the victim of a vicious and coordinated attacks by some interest groups who had tried repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, to recruit him into partisan politics for objectives that are not altruistic. They have been orchestrating false reports and petitions against him."
Attributing Dikko’s travails to the handiwork of special interest political groups with personal grouse, they distanced the former comptroller general from any political affiliation. “He is not a politician, he is not into politics and does not wish to venture into it. Rather, the desperate, mindless and unconscionable attempts to settle personal scores have been taken to the level of leveraging on the instruments of state power. This is condemnable,” according to the officers' documentation which affirmed that Dikko even in retirement “remains unflinching in his loyalty to Nigeria and the institutions of government.” They saw the N40 billion the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, attributed to Dikko as proof the "looters' list" was an exercise driven by personal agenda to tarnish the image of the Customs and its previous leadership. "There is no way any individual can access, manipulate or divert the revenue the Customs collects and requires importers to pay directly to deposit money banks that in turn remit same promptly to dedicated accounts at the CBN. He knows nothing of the N40 billion the Honourable Minister of Information and Culture attributed to him and no such money has been traced to him remotely or directly.
"Dikko left a well-motivated crop of officers and men in the Customs. The records are there and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) personnel are there to testify. Operatives of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other offences Commission (ICPC) were seconded and operated Custom’s systems. If as the Comptroller General he had anything to hide, he could have ensured that nobody had unrestrained access to Customs operations.
All the present crop of top officers of the Service today, are products of Dikko’s huge investments in training. The current administration of the Service led by Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), is also reaping the benefits of that training both in leadership, managerial and technical matters.
They said that as a non-partisan professional even in retirement, "Dikko remains unflinching in his loyalty to Nigeria and the institutions of government. He has never betrayed his family, the Customs as an institution and the government and people of Nigeria for the privilege given him to contribute his own quota towards the development of a critical agency as the Nigeria Customs Service."