ON THE FRONTIER

Nigeria 2015 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Abdullahi Dikko Inde, CFR, Comptroller-General of Customs at the Nigeria Customs Service, on the six-point reform agenda and challenges in improving Nigerian customs services.

Abdullahi Dikko Inde
BIOGRAPHY
Born in Musawa in 1960, Abdullahi Dikko Inde attended the University of Dimitrov Apostle Tshenov, Suishtov, Bulgaria where he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics. He also took a Master’s Degree in Finance, specializing in Investment Finance from the same institution. After a stint at the Kaduna State Audit he sat and passed the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria examination, becoming a fully-fledged accountant and member of the Certified National Accountants and National Institute of Management. Dikko enlisted in the Customs in 1988, where he was appointed Comptroller-General of Customs in August 2009.

Since you took over as Comptroller-General, you have worked to reform the agency. What reforms have you carried out and how would you assess their success?

The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has been around for 100 years and has suffered from a negative public perception. It was perceived as corrupt, unwilling to prevent smuggling, and uncommitted to national interest. That is why we needed to reform the agency, and as someone who has risen up the ranks, I felt I needed to take a lead in putting an end to that negative perception. We formulated a six-point agenda and the results have been good so far. First of all, you can't change anybody unless they have an understanding of their role. You have to go back to basics and ask why they are wearing the uniform of a customs officer. You have to understand yourself, who you are, the service you are giving to your nation, and people first and foremost, to be a good customs officer. We have 20,000 customs officers to train, and have already trained 18,690 of them. Once these officers are trained, we expect a force with better morale and better skills in terms of dealing with their respective jobs. And they will have a better idea about how items are valued, and how cargo should be identified and examined. Those are the basics that our officers have to learn. Of course, customs is not just an academic exercise; the key consideration for a customs officer is compliance. Compliance makes our job easier, and when everything runs more smoothly, there is less wasted time and labor and everyone gets on with their jobs more efficiently. Item three was pretty straightforward: to increase our officers' salaries by 100%. You cannot expect officers to change and improve the way they do their jobs, without motivating them to do so financially. But raises are based on performance, and a good performance merits a 100% pay rise. A better salary will undoubtedly reduce corruption in our ranks. Since I took over, our monthly collection figure has increased from NGN30 billion to NGN100 billion. Besides increasing salaries, we have also improved basic services, such as daily transportation for our officers to and from work. We also provide low interest credit for those willing to buy homes, and full accommodation for our officers. Improving perks like that is part of the motivation. We want to improve the standard of living of our officers, so they can pay for their children's future education and live a comfortable life. The fourth aspect of the reforms is ICT. In order to build a solid and sustainable organization you need information technology. Without ICT, you cannot do away with corruption. The only way to do that is by managing the contact between the operators and the custom officers. Everything is now handled electronically, directly, and without interference. That means documents can't be doctored or altered. So all bill of lading documents are now correct, to virtually 100%. We have also granted licenses to private organizations to open Direct Traders Input (DTI) cafes. You lodge your lodgment declaration, which reaches customs online. Hence, all our information is now internet-based. The NCS is a pioneer among custom services in the area of ICT modernization. We have set a record for a trade hub portal, which is unequaled in the world. Some countries have come to us for training in this regard. Item number five on our reform agenda is collaboration with other government agencies. To build a solid planning system, you need the cooperation of other agencies to facilitate trade. The different state institutions and organizations need to be informed of each other's actions. For example, if something has gone through the Food and Drug agency, then we should be informed of that, and vice versa. This will facilitate the import and export of goods and eradicate irregularities, or double billing. The sixth and final item is public relations. You have to keep the public and stakeholders informed of what the reforms being instituted. We have outreach programs, and hold town hall meetings, as well as staging so-called enlightenment programs, and we also engage in the political arena—we take a holistic approach. We have also done presentations overseas in the UK and the Netherlands.

What are your priorities going forward?

We no longer focus our priorities on curtailing smuggling and increasing customs revenues, but on trade facilitation; that is our priority. We have fast tracked 179 long term and reliable traders. They get fast declaration and documentation procedures without coming to the Customs Processing Centre (CPC). They can have their cargo taken directly to their warehouse for whatever customs formalities that may be required. This helps to cut costs for both them and us, and also for the consumer, because after all, logistics and customs costs are all eventually reflected in the price of the goods being sold to the public.