BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
It is most unlikely that any CEO in the history of the nation’s public service, of recent, has received the amount of attention, attestation, affirmation, competence and or unsolicited vote of confidence like the Acting Comptroller General of Customs, CGC, Adewale Adeniyi MFR, has so far received.
Perhaps, the sheer fact that colleague CEOs from sister government agencies have been part of the attestations makes it not only absolutely sincere and believable, but heartwarming, inspiring, very encouraging and exemplary to say the least.
Stewardship in public service cannot ask for more, because the essential traits in visionary leadership as clearly identified are earned and inborn, being characteristics and credentials one don’t pick up at the supermarket.
An earlier article by this reporter titled ‘Great Expectations As Adeniyi Starts Strong’ has the following opening paragraphs:
‘For someone that has been saddled with strategic planning and the carriage of the image and integrity question of the Nigeria Customs Service on his shoulders for almost two decades, it is not unexpected that the newly appointed Customs Comptroller General, Bashir Wale Adeniyi MFR, will begin strong, reinvigorating the service through critical strengthening, prioritization and coordination.
“Not only did he hit the ground running, he did so fully conscious of the task ahead, and as the leader of the team, gave full expression to the demand for team work with a deliberate and diligent tour of the departments of the service domiciled at the headquarters.”
As he marks 100 days in office Wednesday, September 27, 2023, it is most auspicious to do an appraisal and take a look at how much his visionary leadership has impacted on the Nigeria Customs Service, which a cross section of industry minders thinks has been radical, significant, dramatic and exponential.
Adeniyi also came with a force of a clear vision of where the customs service should be, and thus began the journey with a determined stride, that has so far led unswervingly in the right direction.
Like a man who was in a hurry to get things done in a quick-match manner, he took firm charge of the wheel driving in the direction that will enhance customs’ overall efficiency need through strategic local and international collaborations, cutting-edge technologies, call it operational tools; improved manpower techniques, workforce motivation, innovative programmes and projects that will shape the future of customs operations in Nigeria.
To say the least, his partnership with professional bodies and global experts geared towards making informed decisions such as would promote trade facilitation, raise national security, and enhance the right service delivery through reward system that promotes compliance, transparency and accountability in all the facets of operational engagements come as second to none best practice.
For brevity, we shall consider three items that defines his policy thrust which are Collaboration, Consultation and Innovation, to assess his first 100 days, adjudged central to unlocking the customs service full potentials.
The NCS three primary and core mandates are: revenue generation, suppression of smuggling and trade facilitation. Experts agree that these key functions can be optimally achieved through deliberate, radical and collaborative engagements with stakeholders, at home and abroad, besides leveraging the deployment of cutting-edge technology.
At every fora, Adeniyi has emphasized the power of collaboration as witnessed in all his engagements so far, whether with international or local partners, the organized private sector, sister law enforcement agencies, government agencies (MDAs), counterpart customs administrations, as well as in customs-community relationship.
He says, “As we embark on this new journey, we recognize the need for collaboration and partnerships. We value the relationships we have built with our Partner Government Agencies and the private sector. These collaborations have been vital to our adoption of technology as a tool to enhance revenue generation and streamline processes.
“We will strengthen these partnerships and engage with stakeholders through revitalized platforms. By promoting dialogue, we can resolve disputes and advance mutually beneficial solutions that lead to more efficient and effective service. The Nigeria Customs Service will continue to treat its esteemed stakeholders as partners who have a stake in our success,” he noted.
During a recent collaborative engagements with critical partners aimed to operationalize the use of GEOINT to enhance the efficiency of NCS enforcement operations, the Ag CGC at his meetings with international partners such as the WCO, Japan International Cooperation Agency, JICA, and the Japan Customs Administration, notes that the NCS cannot do it alone.
Above engagement was specifically to garner support for establishing the Customs Laboratory, which is a significant milestone in enhancing customs operations and trade facilitation across Nigeria.
The Laboratory will provide comprehensive solutions to address the challenges of counterfeit goods, non-compliant imports among other quick accomplish tasks, aimed at bolstering revenue generation and ensuring the protection of public health and safety. With its advanced analytical capabilities, the laboratory is expected to deliver precise identification, verification, and classification of goods, enabling efficient enforcement measures and informed decision-making while fostering an environment of trust and credibility within trading community.
It goes without gainsaying that these transformations are bold step towards achieving seamless customs operations, efficient trade practices, and national economic growth in line with the vision of the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu led government.
It is on record that his engagements also extended to fruitful discussions with relevant development partners, experts and donors, focusing on crucial areas of customs operations such as Time Release Study, TRS, the implementation of the Authorized Economic Operator, AEO, program, leadership and management development, etc.
These discussions underscore his commitment to comprehensive improvements and his inclination to adopt innovative solutions across various customs domains, aimed at enhancing operations.
Some of the bold collaborative steps he has undertaken include engaging with the government of Benin Republic towards enhancing Nigeria’s trans-border trade and national security. The collaborative engagements crystallized when the also hosted Senior Officers of Benin Republic Customs, led by their Director-General, Alain Hinkati, at the Nigeria Customs Headquarters Abuja, which lasted for two-days.
The session, which started on Monday, 11th September 2023, was aimed at deepening the diplomatic relationship between Nigeria and Benin Republic while promoting both countries age old bilateral trade ties that appeared to have come under serious strains of recent.
The engagements both at Cotonou and Abuja which was initiated by Adeniyi is aimed at addressing a number of mutual trade issues that include the proper use of International Transit Guidelines in respect of transit-bound goods and applicable fees from Cotonou Port to Nigeria; Integration of Nigeria into the Interconnected System for the Management of Goods in Transit
While speaking on the parley, the CGC said, “Will prepare the way for an in-depth mechanism to harmonize the import prohibition lists of products banned by the two countries.”
The dialogue also recommended the meeting of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and President Patrice Talon to give verve to the shared commitment already agreed upon by Adeniyi and Hinkati Hinkati towards promoting trade facilitation and economic development between both countries.
So far, the collaboration has also produced strong partnership with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme and UN-Habitat, in the area of anti-smuggling support.
The CGC on Tuesday, 19 September 2023, said when he received Ambassadors of the UN—Habitat, at the Customs Headquarters, Abuja said, “What we’re trying to do is to raise a modern Customs Service through partnering with stakeholders to achieve our goals because we value partnership, and I am happy that you extended your hands of collaboration to work with us.”
On his part, the Director of UN-Habitat, Dr. Raymond Edoh, after thanking President Tinubu for Adeniyi’s appointment described him as “a competent Customs officer who knows the terrain and is a master of the job.”
UN-Habitat is the United Nations entity responsible for developing urban policies and translating them into action to create sustainable cities and promote viable urban development and adequate shelter for all.
The NCS focus under Adeniyi’s watch has not been different with the MDAs, with the Federal Ministry of Transport been the first to visit the CGC, to discuss critical partnership in customs and ports related issues. The Permanent Secretary Ministry of Transportation, Magdalene Ajani, then Acting Minister and her team during the visit to the CGC at Customs Headquarters Abuja on 6 July 2023 received the CGC’s assurances for synergy.
While the CGC stressed the need to implement policies that create sufficient space at the ports, the Permanent Secretary assured the CGC that overtime cargo disposal committee is working assiduously to implement policies that will decongest the four major ports in the country.
During his visit to the National Security Adviser, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, at his Office in Abuja on Tuesday, 11 July 2023 to seek Support on Border Security, Adeniyi was frank and business like as he explored possible areas of collaboration.
He said, “The porous nature of the nation’s borders necessitates this visit to the NSA to fashion the best way to tackle the menace of smuggling, which has adverse effects on our economy and security.”
Addressing the media on Sunday, 16th July 2023 in Lagos, he said he expects constructive criticism of the activities of the NCS, so that he can always know where there are issues and map out how best to attend to the,
“We will be open to collaborating with our partners in bringing more comprehensive reports to let Nigerians know what our challenges are, what the gaps are, what we can do to bridge those gaps to improve border security and, generally, Nigeria.”
The President of the Nigeria Guild of Editors, Eze Anaba, while congratulating him on his also loudly spoke about Adeniyi’s capacity to impact significantly on the customs service through radical restructuring and repositioning.
“Your coming on board is a refreshing development, and I am sure we will enjoy such interactions on behalf of my colleagues. I assure you that if you continue this way, the Nigeria Customs Service will have it good in the media”, he said.
The verdict has not been different with all the other stakeholders which include National Center for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, NCCSALW, commercial banks, Nigeria institute of public relations, border community stakeholders, representatives from sister agencies, corporate bodies, etc.
While speaking at the Palace of the Akran of Bdagry and calling for synergy among sister agencies and community leaders, the CGC said, “We must draw strength from the complementarity of our operations and, of course, our traditional rulers, always being there to guarantee the support of the communities that we serve.
“National security is the business of every citizen. It should not be for only Security Agencies, so as we make life easier for business, I want to charge you all to make life and the work of our Security Agencies easier.”
He has also met with state governors including the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu and pledged partnership with the state government. He assured the Governor of the Services’ commitment to operate within the framework of the law and supported his drive to make Lagos a mega city.
He said, “We just secured presidential approval to undertake decongestion at our ports, using a combination of public auction and transferring some of the containers to the Government Warehouse in Ikorodu.
“I’ve visited all the facilities, and very soon, while working with all the stakeholders, we will be able to kick start this process and create the space necessary inside the port and around the premises of the port”, he added.
Adeniyi has taken his collaborative efforts to the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, Nigeria Police Force Headquarters, the Nigeria Army Headquarter, etc; where he always stressed the importance of collaboration for the success of national assignments.
Sequel to the closure of the land borders with Niger Republic by President Ahmed Tinubu, the Customs boss visited the Governor of Katsina State, Dikko Radda, to solicit cooperation of border communities on how best to tide over the period of closure.
To improve on anti-smuggling operations, the CGC embarked on a number of review which includes the scrapping of the Customs Headquarters Strike Team, retraining of personnel on arms handling.
Also in a swift and yet far reaching decision necessary to prop up transparency, he wiped into place Authorized Dealer Banks said to have failed repeatedly to meet Service-Level Agreements, SLAs, related to Customs Duty and the statutory charge remittances.
Importers who previously relied on the deactivated banks for duty payments were advised to utilize other Authorized Dealer Banks that comply with NCS regulations. But he provided a soft landing that the deactivated banks have the opportunity to be reactivated once they meet all regulatory requirements and settle outstanding remittances.
Under his watch, the collapsed Customs Officers Wives Association, COWA, rived back to life and is currently providing certain material and moral support for the NCS, looking into areas of poor educational needs of personnel.
The Acting CGC has also undertaken a number of strategic negotiations with relevant agencies organisations – private, corporate and multinational to arrive at the best solutions and practices that will re-connect with the NCS objectives and mission.
Highly adjudged as possessing the right credentials required for international negotiations and consultations, he is on top of his act, leveraging on global platforms to better the fortunes of the NCS; as has been enumerated above.
At the local scene, the Ag. CGC within his first 100 days in office, helped to end the ove five years crisis within the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, through the instrumentality of the Customs Consultative Committee, CCC, he put in place.
Speaking when the newly elected leaders of the association paid him a courtesy visit, Adeniyi again maintained that under his watch, collaborative efforts and partnership will enjoy priority attention.
“I want to use this opportunity to rekindle the good understanding and peace between yourselves so that we will be able to synergize in eradicating threats against revenue collection and national security.”
Just last week, he organized a physical and mental fitness trekking exercise codenamed “Work-Life Balance: Balancing for A Better Tomorrow”, where officers and men, including operatives of sister agencies and the military all participated.
An astute and motivational leader with whom there is no dull moment, the Ag CGC speaking on the exercise described it as one that keeps officers and men at full alert all of the time, making it possible for them to face their constitutional duties effectively.
Fully kitted for the exercise he addressed participants, “We have gathered here to launch a transformative initiative that reflects the core values of our beloved Service-the Work-Life Balance Initiative. As officers and men, we come under lots of pressure to fulfill various obligations, and most of the time, these pressures come from our workplaces – emanating from the nature of our tasks, which are usually physically and mentally demanding; thus, the exercise will help reduce such pressure for us and enhance our productivity at work.”
With a firm grasp on the above tripod, Adeniyi looks forward to the successful implementation of the new Customs Act 2023, as he has continued to work diligently to familiarize officers and stakeholders with its provisions, to ensure its effective application across all strata of the Service operations.