ALHAJI TAIWO MUSTAPHA is the CEO /Executive Chairman of the Pyramid Quicka, a leading freight forwarding company based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Taiwo who sits atop a very thriving conglomerate with Interests in Oil and Gas as well as Agriculture is a consummate businessman and Chairs the elite Board of Trustees of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents. Taiwo spoke with the doyen Maritime Journalism, Asu Beks, in his Trans Amadi Corporate Head office recently.
The interview centred on the performance of Hameed Ali’s tenure as Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service, the closure of Nigeria’s borders and his expectations in the maritime sector in 2020. Excerpts
HIS ASSESSMENT OF HAMEED ALI’s 4 YEARS IN OFFICE.
The hope of every Nigerian Civil Servant, Officers and men of the Nigeria Customs Service inclusive, is to get to the top echelon of his career. No civil servant will wish for that to be truncated . I am not in any particular way against his appointment as Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service but if we must look at his performance holistically, I want to rate him below 50 per cent. Now, let’s take a critical look at his mandate at Customs House. What he came to do. And whether he has achieved that mandate. I want to recall his maiden stakeholders meeting with us in Port Harcourt. I had told him I was aware he came to fight corruption but reminded him that there was no way he could win the battle against corruption in the Customs with the level of ill motivated and poorly paid staffers. For instance, how would an officer posted from Zamfara to Port Harcourt without basic transfer entitlements or accommodation expected to perform.To the best of my knowledge, this is against the letter and spirit of the civil service regulation where officers on transfer are entitled to some basic allowances to allow them settle down. Why is this not so in the Nigeria Customs Service? And of course what do you expect such an officer do when a “good Samaritan” offers him assistance and you expect him not to bend the rules to show appreciation in return ? . As a stakeholder we have had cause to foot accommodation and health bills of indigent officers apparently neglected by the service. I am not aware that the present Comptroller General has built any barracks, schools or clinics since he assumed duties more than four years ago.Go and see for yourself the Mile 3 Customs barracks in Port Harcourt, it is unhabitable. There is no potable water nor electricity and yet you keep telling the world that you have come to fight corruption. How do you fight corruption when you have failed to produce the basic conducive environment for officers to work? Why are Customs officers who sacrifice their lives for the service of this great nation treated as though they are Second class citizens? This is not fair and totally unacceptable. The only way to fight corruption in the Service is by improving their welfare and salary in line with other public servants such as the NNPC, Central Bank of Nigeria, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, NIMASA,NPA and a host of others.
Under the tenure of the past Comptroller General, Dikko Inde Abdullahi we moved to Asycuda and Asycuda ++ but ask me what efforts has been made to upgrade our ICT since Hameed Ali came on Board? Under Dikko, there was regular consultation with stakeholders who are always carried along in policy formulation, but not any more under the present Customs Management. Customs operation in terms of trade facilitation and compliance has hit an all time low under Hameed Ali.
Curiously,the regime is celebrating high revenue haul but if I may ask at what exchange rate? Under Dikko ,at an exchange rate of #196 to a dollar, we realised about #960 billion per annum. Now tell me, are we not making a fool of ourselves if we are celebrating an annual revenue figure of say #1.2trn at an exchange rate of #320 per dollar? How dare we say revenue collection has improved? The answer is a categorical NO. Those who are making a case for Hameed Ali’s tenure to be extended should look dispassionately at the records and compare and contrast with the previous administration? But the honest question I want to ask is what should Nigerians expect if we give Hameed Ali another four years as Customs CG.? Failure? For me, making seizures daily does not translate to trade facilitation, there are several trains by the current customs management which hampers trade facilitation and compliance levels. We have the FOU,the CGC’s strike force and the Border patrol team, all these are anti trade barriers which have fuelled corruption in the Nigeria Customs Service. Today, every Customs man is a valuation officer. If we must extend Hameed Ali’s tenure then he should do the needful by dismantling all these impediments to trade facilitation.
ON BORDER CLOSURE
I endorse 90 per cent the decision of the Federal Government to shut down our borders. Even though I sympathize with some of my colleagues at border stations whose means of livelihood have been punctuated but if we look at the madness called transborder trade at our land borders, I completely support the move. The take home from the government’s action is that it has reduced to the barest minimum activities of bandits as well as the influx of arms and ammunition. But the big question remains for how long shall we shut our borders? What is the guarantee that if we reopen the borders we will not return to our old ways? What are the lessons we have learnt from the closure? What measures have we put in place to avoid a re-occurence? We surely need a new orientation, we need scanners. How do you in this age and time subject Customs officers to physically examination of cargo? Efficiency can not be guaranteed under such crude procedures if we must be honest with ourselves. The other day, CGC Ali was heard asking stakeholders to provide scanners at airports, borders station and seaports. There in the US, UK and several countries in Asia, cargo examination has gone scientific, not the manual approach adopted here by the Nigeria Customs Service. Just visit neighbouring Ghana, they have a perfect valuation system. Before your goods arrive in Ghana, you would be notified of the actual quantity, quality and value. They have a verifiable data platform that can be accessed importers and their agents,not the hide and seek system which Nigeria Customs Service adopt for purely selfish reasons. The world Customs Organisation has given a universal value for all goods on their website but the system in Nigeria is still open to manipulation.
It is good to be security conscious by locking your gate and keeping your family, especially the kids indoors. But the question to ask is how do they go to school? How do you go for shopping? How do you access the hospital if any member of your household takes ill? Every good policy has its side effects.
ON HIS EXPECTATION FOR YEAR 2020
From what I saw at the World Global Maritime Summit in Abuja, I am quite impressed with the focus of the present NIMASA Management. I am aware that crime rate in the Gulf of Guinea has been high in last 10 years. Most Coastal vessels have been under attack but in the last six months, you will agree with me that so much has been done to curb activities of pirates in the region But we want more punitive action to ensure that culprits are arrested and made to face the wrath of the law as this will serve as deterrent. Dr. Dakuku Peterside needs to do more for a more secure and safe Nigerian waterways.
On the issue of the port Concenssionaire I think the Nigerian Ports Authority should urgently review the agreement. Have the concenssionaires added value to our port system? The answer is a capital NO. They (concessionaires) have not modernised our ports. Facilities and equipment are abysmal compared to high charges which are not commensurate with services rendered. One issue I have against concessionaire is the flimsy excuses they give for arbitrary deductions from our container deposits. There is also the issue of our port access roads which have reached very deplorable state. From Apapa to Tin Can, Onne and Port Harcourt ports, the story is the same. Just one month revenue from the Customs or NPA as the case might be can take care of the repairs of these dilapidated roads.The Lagos Badagry road which is an international route is another eyesore. As a government, we need to be more responsive.
ON ANLCA AND CRFFN
Sadly, since their (CRFFN) inauguration I have not seen what positive impact they have brought to bear on the freight forwarding industry. I think the POF collection has been one major factor plaguing our practice. Now that we have a Board, the question I want to ask is what impact have they had on our practice? Is the Board here to fleece our members or to improve the lots of our profession?