by Damilola Hammed
A landmark achievement was
recorded by the Nigeria Customs Service, Apapa Area Command, with N413 billion
generated in 2019, the highest in the history of the command’s operations. This
figure is N41 billion above the projected N372 billion revenue target for the
The Command’s Area Controller, Comptroller Mohammed Abba-Kura had told a news conference on 20th of December 2019 of the feat and the surpassing of the target even though the year had not ended.
As usual, Comptroller Abba-Kura had conducted journalists round the seizures made by the command in the outgoing year worth N12 billion.
A no-holds-barred interview by Inside Watch Africa (IWA) with the Area Controller is more revealing, and the following are excerpts of the one-on-one chat:
IWA: Nigeria is predominantly an importing and exporting nation, yet some people say doing import and export business in Nigeria seems to be problematic. Sir, what is your take on this?
Comptroller Abba-Kura: Let me start by saying that I do not agree with the assertion that import and export business is a problematic business in Nigeria. However, whatever business endeavour anyone desires to be involved in, it is compulsory that one should have very good knowledge of the laws that govern the business. Regrettably, I have over the years observed that most people, who go into import and export in Nigeria, go into it ignorantly. My advice for anyone that desires to go on this line of business either in Nigeria or in any other country for that matter, as it would be required in any other venture, is for such a person to first make enquiries and get sufficient information about the rules and regulations that guide whatever he or she wants to either import or export before jumping into the venture. It is only by so doing and strictly adhering to the rules and regulations that the person would be able to escape what I call “avoidable problems’’ in the course of importing into or exporting out of Nigeria.
IWA: Still on advice, what in your opinion should one do to become a successful customs officer? What are the salient things to be done?
Comptroller Abba-Kura: The customs job is essentially a very energetic one thus a Customs officer is generally expected to be up and doing and must possess the ability to face diverse challenges. One is constantly confronted with such challenges because of the nature of the job. The essence and practices of the Customs job is entrenched in global statues, treaties and laws, thus in order to be successful in primary duties of a Customs officer which entails trade facilitation, revenue collection and smuggling prevention, he or she should be willing to go the extra mile and get acquainted with all the relevant global statues, treaties and laws. Fortunately, the Nigeria Customs Service traditionally gives opportunity to its officers on regular basis to undergo on-the-job and off-the job trainings and courses in order to be properly equipped for the job as long as the officer is ready and willing to learn.
IWA: You are one of those officers who have had the privilege of undergoing many courses within and outside the country. Which of the courses do you consider the best and most rewarding?
Comptroller Abba-Kura: It is true that I have undergone a lot of courses within and outside the country on various topics and I must confess that I am really grateful to God for the opportunities that the Service had given me over the years in this regard. To answer your question directly, the course I have enjoyed most are the intelligence courses I attended at different times when I was in the Customs Intelligent Unit. The courses had exposed me to so many very instructive things about the job and about life generally. There was a particular course on risk assessment and management I attended for over a year which I consider all-encompassing as far as the Customs job is concerned. We did valuation, classification and also did non-intrusive examination. I must confess that even now as an Area Controller, I still draw from the knowledge and experiences I acquired on those intelligence courses.
IWA: Apapa port means different things to different people; to some it is just Africa’s premier port. Sir, as the Customs Area Controller of this port, how would you describe Apapa port?
Comptroller Abba-Kura: Apapa port is not just Africa’s premier port in the Maritime industry in Nigeria, Apapa port is the number one port and so much is expected of it particularly in the area of revenue collection, suppression of smuggling, and in many other areas. I must give kudos to my predecessors who had over the years raised the bar of excellent service delivery at this port. However, since I became the Area Controller, we have continued to put structures in place that have seen us raising the bar much higher than my predecessors in all area of our performance. So far in the history of this port, we have generated the highest revenues and the figures are there for everyone to see. Understanding and realizing the pivotal role that human capital will play in our quest for success, we decided to take capacity building in this command very seriously. I am glad to inform you that we have finished the first phase of the training we organized in-house in the first week of November 2019 where we trained 350 officers.
IWA: This training that you mentioned organizing in-house for your officers sounds interesting, can you please tell us more about it?
Comptroller Abba-Kura: We took them in batches and the courses taught are as follow: classification, valuation, enforcement, examination, non-intrusive examination, risk management, fast-tracking, administration, Customs in the 21st Century, among others.
IWA: What is Customs in the 21st Century all about?
Comptroller Abba-Kura: The 21st Century Customs idea was introduced by the World Customs Organization (WCO) to essentially teach officers and get them ready for the eminent disruption that is already happening in the way things will be done in the Maritime industry globally, going forward. As a responsible leader, I consider it pertinent to keep my officers abreast of the global goings-on in our industry because if the officers don’t know where we are and where we are going, they will lag behind. Let me also inform you that this capacity building training is not only for customs officers, we are extending the training to all the critical stakeholders in the industry so that all of us will be on the same page.
IWA: As customary with us in IWA, in your last word in this interview, you are allowed to and can say whatsoever you desire to say that we did not ask in the course of the interview?
Comptroller Abba-Kura: Going by the nature of my job, I am not expected to work on or base my judgement on rumours, hearsay or suppositions. So I will greatly appreciate it when people want to come forward with their complaints and do so with concrete evidence. I do not consider it fair for anyone to be judged or punished by mere rumours or suppositions.
Having said this, my last word to the public will be, whatever the dealings they intend to have with the Customs Service, they should please try to always back it up with tenable and concrete evidence.