Reinvigorating NCS through robust trade facilitation

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On Thursday, September 28, 2023, the Acting Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Mr. B. A. Adeniyi, addressed a World Press Conference to roll out the modest accomplishments recorded in his first 100 days in office and his vision for NCS, one of the critical organs of the Federal Government.

From his rollout of achievements, Adeniyi has, no doubt, hit the ground running with a 100-metre dash in a marathon race. Doing so gives him a good head start but he will require so much kinetic energy to go the entire distance. As a product of the system, it is obvious that he is cut out for the herculean task ahead.

Although it may be too early in the day to thumb up for Adeniyi, one can take solace in the time-honoured cliche among the Yoruba that says: “The glimpse of a glorious Friday is caught on a Thursday.” And he chose a Thursday to provide the glimpse of a greater and well-positioned Customs Service.

He took off from the starting block on Thursday with the famous quotation of Mahatma Gandhi that says “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

In Adeniyi’s words, “Today, we do more than just envision change; we celebrate the tangible strides we have taken in shaping the destiny of the Nigeria Customs Service.”

From the outset, Adeniyi was clear about the mission of NCS which has been rooted in a clear and inspiring vision, one that revolves around the principles of consolidation, collaboration, and innovative solutions. These principles have guided the actions and decisions of NCS and propelled it towards a future marked by excellence, efficiency and effectiveness.

Emphasising the pivotal roles the Service plays in facilitating international trade and economic growth and as a bridge connecting Nigeria to the global marketplace, Adeniyi was quick to underscore, with delight, the dedication and resilience of the men and women of the NCS over the past 100 days.

First impression, it is said, is last impression. The Customs’ helmsman was quick to share a personal insight from his journey so far. In the early days of his tenure, he had the opportunity to visit one of the border posts. As he watched his officers and men work tirelessly to ensure the smooth flow of goods and safeguard our borders, he was reminded of the profound impact that the Nigeria Customs Service has had on the nation’s prosperity and security.

Encapsulating Adeniyi’s accomplishments in 100 days into a one-page space cannot be a stroll in the park but a daunting task. He is a workaholic and an achiever par excellence.

At the heart of the NCS vision are core values such as being community-focused, collaboration, integrity, excellent service and innovative solutions that propel the Service forward. These values guide every action of the Service, ensuring that it does not only meet the needs of Nigeria today but also anticipates and prepares for the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow.

The NCS is quick to put in place a policy thrust of “Consolidation, Collaboration, and Innovative Solutions (CCIS)”, representing the very essence of its mission. It also signifies its unwavering commitment to building upon the foundation of excellence laid by its predecessors, forging stronger partnerships with key stakeholders, and continuously seeking innovative solutions to the challenges facing the system.

However, the comprehensive policy thrust was not arrived at by chance. According to the acting CGC, the policy thrust was deliberately aligned with the Policy Advisory Council Document (PACD) of the President Tinubu-led Administration and the eight priority areas of the government. These priorities include food security, ending poverty, economic growth and job creation, access to capital, improving security, improving the ease of doing business, upholding the rule of law, and fighting corruption. In embracing CCIS, the system is not only advancing the interests of the Nigeria Customs Service but also contributing significantly to the broader national agenda.

Also within the period under review, the NCS embarked on a comprehensive overhaul of the Service, guided by its policy thrust. It recognised that to effect real change, it needed to incrementally challenge the status quo and instigate a transformation that was both dynamic and result-oriented.

In line with one of its primary objectives which was to optimize revenue collection, the Service introduced a series of reforms aimed at plugging revenue leakages, streamlining the customs clearance process and addressing the existing gaps at the time. Some of the noteworthy measures implemented during this period included:

The immediate setup 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) 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 (ARS) which represents a notable stride in aligning NCS operations with global best practices, in line with the recommendations of the World Trade Organisation Trade Facilitation Agreement (WTO TFA); 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 for by both administrations, to address the existing gaps that sustain the activities of smugglers and revenue leakage.

Others were: The establishment of a committee tasked with revitalising the zonal structures of the Service, granting them the authority to rejuvenate the Service; the reconstitution 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: 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, harmonised with the goal of contributing to the government’s development agenda, fostering enduring and positive relationships with communities, elevating the NCS’ reputation as a socially responsible organisation, and enhancing staff engagement and productivity; the creation of an idea bank comprising feedback and comments gathered during the operational visits to Customs commands; re-energising the activities of the National Trade Facilitation Committee through engagements and the hosting of a retreat to chart the way forward on Trade Facilitation in Nigeria; finalising arrangements with the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) to integrate NCS systems and minimise the registration of smuggled vehicles; holding engagements with several stakeholders including government agencies, non-governmental agencies and the private sector, to mention a few; the prompt clearance of arrears for officers, serving as an interim measure to boost their morale, while further incentives are under consideration; the introduction of the Work-Life Balance (WLB) initiative, aimed at enhancing officers’ well-being and welfare, signifying NCS’ unwavering commitment to ensuring that its dedicated personnel lead balanced and fulfilling lives while maintaining peak performance in their roles.

The activities of the NCS during the period under review have also been guided by four strategic objectives, namely: transparency, revenue growth, collaboration, and structural fortification. The four pillars have provided the framework for its actions and initiatives.

These activities have led to some milestones among which is Enhanced Revenue Generation. One of the NCS’ early achievements has been a remarkable boost in monthly revenue collection as evidenced by a substantial increase of an average monthly collection of N202bn in the first half of the year, surging to an impressive N343bn between July and August, this year. This outstanding growth amounts to a remarkable 70.13% increase in revenue collection. The Service has consistently exceeded the monthly target collection of N307bn, marking a remarkable departure from previous performances.

Despite its early successes, the Service encountered certain challenges during the initial phase of implementing its policy thrust. These challenges included resistance to change, bureaucratic bottlenecks, dissonance in fiscal and monetary policies, the need to reorient the mindset of some officers and stakeholders, and the persistent issue of smuggling.

These challenges, if left unaddressed, have the potential to impede the Service’s progress and hinder the achievement of its objectives. Resistance to change, for instance, can slow down the implementation of new and innovative solutions. Bureaucratic bottlenecks can lead to delays in decision-making and hamper the Service’s ability to respond swiftly to evolving situations. Dissonance in fiscal and monetary policies can create inconsistencies that affect revenue collection. Moreover, any reluctance among officers and stakeholders to embrace the vision of the Nigeria Customs Service could undermine the synergy required for effective collaboration and innovation. The persistent issue of smuggling poses a significant challenge to the efforts of the Service in revenue collection and border security. Smugglers continually change their tactics, making it crucial for us to stay ahead of them through innovative strategies and increased cooperation with relevant agencies.

However, the Ag. CGC has assured that these challenges are not insurmountable. He reassured of the Service’s commitment to addressing them proactively and leveraging them as opportunities for growth and improvement. He further stressed that the journey towards consolidation, collaboration, and innovative solutions demands resilience and adaptability, and that the Service is prepared to confront them head-on.

As the Service reflects on the achievements of the first 100 days in office and the journey it has embarked upon, it is determined to look ahead with a clear vision for the future, driven by a vision of a Nigeria Customs Service that is not only the most efficient and service-driven government organ but also a pivotal driver of national economic growth and border security.

Its expectations for the journey ahead are high, and rightly so. The Service is committed to continued growth and improvement, driven by its unyielding determination to serve the nation better. In the coming months and years, it anticipates significant strides in various areas, including revenue collection, border security and, above all, trade facilitation.

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