COWA’s Leadership Stride To Close Gap
BY FUNMI ALUKO
Even though the history of the establishment of associations as vehicles of welfare programmes for the wives of Nigerian uniform personnel as currently obtain in the military, the police and paramilitary services has come a long haul, dating back to the 1960s after the civil war; it would appear that the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) was left behind for a very long period of time; afterwards.
In fact it was not until recently, between 2009/2010 that the then forward looking Comptroller General of Customs (CGC), Alhaji Abdullahi Inde Dikko took the bull by the horn by pushing for the formation of the Customs Officers’ Wives Association (COWA); which became functional by 2011.
It is also noteworthy that the pioneer Chairperson of COWA, Hajia Sa’adiyya Dikko made great impact in preparing a base; beginning with the building of secretariat across its zones, commands and formations.
But like a political orphan and unlike its counterparts in the military and the police, COWA from all indication lacked the courage to clearly define its vision and objective; and or the capacity to speak to the issues that bothered it most.
The worst, it would appear, happened when COWA’s founding customs administration led by Alhaji Dikko and Hajia Sa’adiya Dikko was removed from office in 2015 by President Muhammadu Buhari; following which the association went silent in a seemingly subdued despondency and as fall out of the official intimidation of post military era; when the customs service was bayed at and often blackmailed into submission.
Talking about the era the customs service came under crushing official jackboot and at the whims and caprices of military officers, and thus been tossed about between internal affairs and or trade and commerce ministries; as the military see fit. That was the time the military begun the regime of assigning military generals to supervise the customs service; which relics of military mentality also played out in the immediate past government of President Muhammadu Buhari.
It was not until December 2022 that the then Oyo/Osun chapter chairperson, Mrs. Blessing Jaiyeoba carried out what appeared like a re-launch of the association in lbadan.
According to industry observers, despite the 2022 re-launch, COWA nevertheless still remained largely unsure of itself until the emergence of Bashir Adewale Adeniyi MFR as the new Comptroller General of Customs (CGC); and by providence, Mrs Kikelomo Adeniyi, who having also emerged as the association’s national leader took immediate steps to clean up the cobweb and had the light turned on, which has been shining radiantly, thus birthing a new beginning with new hope and promises.
As the Comptroller General of Customs Conference rolls into its second day, today, Thursday December 14, 2023, it is hoped that COWA together with its leadership, vertical and horizontal will be factored into consideration to enable the association voice its programme and articulate its agenda in the short, medium and long term.
For a long time already and for inexplicable reasons, the Nigeria Customs Service and its personnel has always been regarded and treated as the weeping child by society; particularly the political and ruling class.
Whereas this questionable attitude has no ounce of moral authority given the unpalatable corruption index of those making accusations; it is common knowledge that in the recent past, the NCS has stood in the gap for the monetary need of the federal government, following the corruption aided collapse of our crude oil industry; which has been our otherwise mono economy.
Today, the federal government depends on the customs service for more than one third of its revenue needs and allied fees and taxes. It is not only the bride of the present time, the customs service has become the face of dependability and trust; and as such there must be a new recognition and new sense of appreciation and respect for and from whom so much is thus expected.
Anytime I read the slogan ‘Fear God and Respect Soldier’ it truly creates a sense of philosophical sentiment in my mind, and l must admit, it also amuses me to some extent owing to the whimsical contestation.
However one wish to disagree, you must nonetheless agree that our soldier sacrifices so much for us, and hence it makes sense when soldiers demand our respect.
In the same vein, for a customs service that goes through much pain, rigour, provocation, perseverance, abuse, assault and attacks as is often the case to provide the needed revenue to enable government meets its numerous obligations in the provision of infrastructure and services amongst other things; the time has come to accord the customs service, its officers and men, including of course its primordial interests, foremost among which is its family and dependents, within the context of its social cultural aspirations.
For too long, our governments and successive administrations has pretended that COWA doesn’t matter, but that is not acceptable because the body matters as much as the NCS matters to this country, economically, socially, diplomatically, and in all ramifications.
The time has come for its essential gender consciousness and ethno-cultural identity to unfold and be better appreciated to the extent of according COWA henceforth, every support fit to promote its cause.
God bless the group’s pioneer president, Hajia Sadiyya Dikko for peeling the badge of indifference and seeming inferiority out of its existential veneer; and for asserting COWA’s identity as a proud entity; and for the incumbent national chairperson, Mrs. Kikelomo Adeniyi for expanding the frontier of COWA’s prospects and capability.
Speaking recently, the COWA leader said the association has resolved to support the nation’s educational system through quality intervention via the establishments of primary and post primary institutions across the country.
Mrs. Adeniyi who disclosed above during a courtesy visit to the CGC and his management team, noted however that COWA has been quietly involved in humanitarian support programme in various ways, one of which is by reaching out to orphans and the less privileged.
She declared that the objective of COWA aside been to support their husbands and family, is also designed to contribute in providing assistance and support to people, particularly the vulnerable bracket to be able to cope with the prevailing harsh economic situation.
This is even as she lamented that the association has been half dead in recent years owing to circumstances she however did not explain; and requested for support from the NCS to be able to function.
After highlighting some of the areas the association desired to be assisted in towards achieving its programmes, she said that the association’s current focus is the training for their members on family health well-being, skill acquisition and empowerment; and embarking on campaign against drug abuse and the promotion of basic education.
Mrs. Adeniyi also explained that the support programmes are also been driven at the various zones, commands and formations of the NCS, through zonal, unit and command levels.
Responding, the Customs boss thanked his august guests for their visit and pledged that the NCS will continue to support them in their noble endeavours within the ambit of the law.
He said, “Let me start by saying that we recognized what COWA stands for and as our wives, first and foremost, we know that you all represent love. The Management Team of the Nigeria Customs Service highly recognizes COWA as a veritable partner for development.”
He applauded the association for thinking along the line of the Service’s plan to establish Primary and Secondary Schools across the federation, in order to improve the educational system of their wards which will also indirectly impact the educational needs of the affected communities.
“I know that Abuja is very strategic, and there are over three thousand Customs Officers working in various Headquarters formations who have families here, and these officers need to educate their children without spending exorbitant fees; thus, we take this matter as a priority. What we will do is to acquire land within Abuja, and the project is hopefully going to be co-opted in our 2024 budget.”
Under its present leadership, COWA has also outlined its support initiative programmes under a short, medium and long term template, which includes giving attention to the wives and children of fallen heroes and dead officers.
The wife of the CGC who disclosed above when she paid a courtesy visit to the Federal Operations Unit Zone A chapter, also said the act would enable surviving spouses to cater for the needs of their children.
“COWA intends to establish contacts with as many such families as possible, especially those recently bereaved, and extend helping hands to them. Our focus in this regard is to provide educational support and scholarships to the children through paying School fees and vocational empowerment of the bereaved wives to make them self-reliant.
“As a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to supporting the spouses and families of Customs officers, COWA works to ensure the attainment of its mandate through various outreach programmes, including the promotion of family values, training, empowerment schemes, as well as regular enlightenment and education of its members.”
The COWA Chairperson of FOU Zone ‘A’ chapter, Hajia Jumoke Ejibunu informed Kikelomo that the chapter was resuscitated and re-inaugurated in August 2022 with thirty (30) registered active members, including ten (10) Exco members.
Together with the immediate past Seme chapter chairperson, Mrs Chinelo Nnadi, the COWA leader last month commissioned the Seme COWA Medical Center, even as Mrs Adeniyi also flagged off a medical outreach in an area known as Zango community, where a team of medical personnel led by the Zonal Medical Director Comptroller Doctor Roland Nwankwo conducted checks and administered drugs on the members of the communities.
Speaking at the commissioning ceremony of the clinic, Mrs .Chinelo Nnadi thanked President Bola Ahmed Tinubu for his choice of Adewale as the CGC, noting that Adeniyi’s appointment is a reassuring and welcome development.
“Mr Adeniyi is a square peg in a square hole, who has dedicated all his life in the meritorious service of the nation as a facilitator of Customs business process. Our President Mrs Kikelomo Adeniyi will compliment this fine gentleman.
“COWA President Ma, your visit is gratifying to members of this chapter. It has restored our confidence and hope of sustaining COWA as a support system of our husbands as they carry out their national assignment”, she said.
It is instructive that as a non-profit organization, COWA also specializes in empowering spouses and families of Customs Officers, wives of fallen Customs Officers, the less privileged and the vulnerable across the federation through various outreach programmes.