Few weeks ago, Nigeria joined the world in celebrating the International Customs Day for the year 2023. International Customs Day is dedicated to addressing the challenges and improving the working conditions of customs officers and it is celebrated annually on January 26th.
The World Customs Organization (WCO) set the 2023 theme as “Nurturing the next generation: promoting a culture of knowledge-sharing and professional pride in Customs” and News Diet sought to domesticate the relevance of this theme to Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
Despite the commendable developments in information sharing among security agencies in Nigeria, there are still gaps and also some hurdles to knowledge-sharing within the Service, even as there’s equally an erroneous perception of what constitutes Customs pride among some officers.
In a bid to get some perspectives on these issues, our correspondent spoke with some top Customs officials and veteran freight agents.
Speaking with News Diet, the Area Controller, Seme Border Command, NCS, Comptroller Dera Nnadi mni, opined that there is a need to prioritize nurturing the next crop of Customs officials to lead the NCS.
His words: “Among the senior Customs officers you would find that we operate at a strategic level. At this level, Customs officers and their contemporaries in other security agencies understand the need for collaboration and information sharing. This was evident at the training I went for at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) Kuru. We trained among Commissioners of Police, Controllers of Immigration, Commanders of National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), as well as people from the private sector and politicians.”
“During those trainings, we understood ourselves very much and could interact and share information. However, we also discovered that at the operational level sometimes we have challenges. One of the things that I advocated for while at NIPSS and also in my research work, is that there should be trainings at operational level among security agencies. I also mentioned that such trainings should be anchored under Customs, but the National Security Adviser and the Ministry of Interior should be part of such trainings.”
“It is an operational level that there is a need for all security agencies to work together. I don’t think there is any Controller of Customs that would want to quarrel with a Commissioner of Police. No Deputy Controller, Assistant Controller or even a Superintendent of Customs would want to engage in such needless disagreement or dispute with other security agencies. Nevertheless, the junior officers usually clash at operational level as we see frivolous disagreements and conflicts. So, we are advocating that there should be trainings at that level.”
He noted that following his recent deployment to Seme Border as Controller, one of the retired Assistant Comptroller-Generals of Customs called him to congratulate him and give him counsel, adding that after the call he pondered on developing a memo to create a platform where retired Customs officers and serving mid-level officers could meet, interact and share knowledge about past experiences and modern circumstances.
Also speaking, a veteran Customs licensed agent and chieftain at the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Sir John Ofobike expressed concern that some of the well-respected eggheads in Customs have retired while a large amount are also on the verge of retiring.
“In Customs, it’s obvious that some of the best hands have retired and one of such is the retired DCG Isa Talatu. There are several officers who have taken over and my believe is that those leaving understood the need to train their successors and equipped them for the job.”
“As we celebrate International Customs Day, my advice to the Customs officials would be that as they go about the intensified drive to enhance revenue collection they should adhere to due process. This issue of multiple alerts shows that officers know their jobs and can see where there are discrepancies based on what someone declared. However, where you have an instance where someone has put the Cost Insurance and Freight (CIF) for a 40ft container for a duty that should be 20% but the person paid 10%. While the additional payment should be made, there should be a way to prevent some additional charges such as terminal charges and no need for other corrupt practices in the bid to vacate that alert,” Ofobike said.
He, however, argued that some of the infractions in handling alerts could be simplified by Customs officers, even as he opined that several Customs officials are more concerned about monies to enrich themselves.
“There are two kinds of Customs officers awe have in Nigeria. Some entered the Service inspired by the professional career and this group chose Customs as their first choice. Others got into the Service only because they wanted a job and it is this category that lacks Customs pride and more concerned about enriching themselves,” Ofobike remarked.
As part of activities to mark the 2023 International Customs Day, the Apapa Customs Command of the Service held a one-day professional training programme for officers where the Deputy Controller in-charge of Administration, DC Elisha Luka delivered a paper emphasizing the importance of integrity, diligence and knowledge sharing, among other amiable qualities of a refined Customs officer.
His words: “The aim of this celebration globally about the Customs culture and core values in the Service. Customs headquarters is playing a unique role and at the Command level, we are also following suit. It behooves on us to nurture the younger officers to grow to become top professionals in the Service.”
“Integrity shouldn’t be lacking in Customs because we have the onus of securing the society and generating revenue. We have to stick to the standards and that’s why we have harmonized tariffs. The emphasis on knowledge sharing stresses that therr shouldn’t be information silos. In nurturing the next generation we have to ensure we don’t hoard knowledge but share it with the other officers as well as sister agencies.”
DC Luka noted that most organizations lose tacit knowledge when veteran officials retire, opining that this is underscores the need for training and retraining of officers, while he also encouraged younger officers to respectfully consult their colleagues.
“Senior officers can also learn from the younger ones. Professional pride isn’t about feeling good about being privileged to adorn the Customs uniform. Arrogance is common among security agents when they put on the uniform; but the pride here is one that comes from being very knowledgeable about the profession.”
“Professional pride is a positive emotion that includes self reflection or evaluation and attitude towards one’s occupational group. It inspires individuals and teams to achieve more, communicate better and build on each other’s strength,” he posited.
Highlighting some unprofessional conducts by Customs officials, DC Luka admonished the Command officers not to take samples to their houses after examinations.
“You only take samples to analyse and return it. No one will respect you when you collect samples without returning it. You can’t claim to be a professional when you act that way,” Luka said.
According to him, some of the benefits of knowledge sharing include; improved collaboration, enhanced productivity and faster decision making, minimizes organizational memory loss, getting more value from existing knowledge, create better customer experience and connects remote employees to knowledge.
At the conference, the Public Relations Officer, Apapa Command, CSC Abdullahi Usman encouraged officers to be knowledge-driven, asserting that Customs pride and exemplary conduct will be enhanced when one prioritizes knowledge.