The paradox of human psychology is the tendency to resist what is already known as the most inevitable, CHANGE. Nothing has ever been known to be as permanent as change, not even human beings themselves who come to this world through birth as infants, experience biological changes and eventually die.
Our dear country Nigeria has experienced many changes in government. Military, interim and civilian regimes have come with different laws and political focuses. The Nigeria Customs Service is unarguably, one of the oldest institutions of government in this country with history spanning as far back as 1891.
As one of the frontline organisations that contribute to national security and economic growth, the Service functions of collections of revenue and suppression of smuggling have remained crucial to security and development of Nigeria.
Curiously, the enabling law of the Service Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) could not substantially benefit from transformations, experienced in the life of this nation in the areas of law reforms and other facets.
In over 100 years of the Service history, various reforms and re-organisation committees have come and gone emphasizing only on style of operations and equipment with special focus on the paraphernalia of office. Surprisingly, none have taken bold steps in critically looking at the very archaic laws that govern Customs.
In a digital age where trade facilitation is the hallmark of any professional, Customs administration, operating under 1958 colonial laws with almost non-deterrent penalty, cannot represent the interest of any nation that is truly willing to be among the top 20 global economies in year 2020.
But who is afraid of the ongoing bold effort under the present progressive Comptroller-General of Customs, Dikko Inde Abdullahi (CFR) to review and update the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) bringing it in tune with the modern day realities?
The transformation in the Service today has gone beyond the increase in salaries, provision of sophisticated working tools, improved accommodations, building of the Regional Customs Staff College e.t.c. to that of reviewing enabling laws with a view to repealing and bringing CEMA up to date for professionalism and trade facilitation.
The road to this end has been long and enduring, starting from the management of the Service approaching the Attorney General of the Federation for the need to review to the outdated CEMA. On the directive of the Attorney General, an initial committee consisting of lawyers from the Federal Ministry of Justice and Customs officers who are lawyers from different departments of the Service was constituted and held several preliminary meetings. The committee was later expanded to include representatives of the Federal Ministry of Finance, Commerce, Aviation and other critical stakeholders under the chairmanship of the Ministry of Finance. This expanded committee went into work and held various painstaking meetings with stakeholders in Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt and Lagos. The review work which was later sent to the Chief Law Officer, the Attorney-General of the Federation for input is today, before the House Committee on Customs.
In a bid to include all useful shades of legal opinions and to carry all interest groups and organisations into consideration, a two-day public hearing was held at the National Assembly to provide opportunities for interested persons and groups to submit position papers and suggestions.
However, it would appear that though the Hon. Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who supervises the Nigeria Customs Service remains an international figure with high inclination to excellence and professionalism. There are indications that some persons in the bureaucracy may not be comfortable with the eventual product of the exercise which is expected to remove some identified deficiencies in the extant laws.
Concerned citizens have always complained against abuses associated with present 1958 CEMA. Weavers, Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme (CISS), and free Zones extant laws which have become an avenue for illegal enrichment for some people who may not be interested in a review exercise that may block any leakages.
Concerned stakeholders have continued to worry aloud why the minister of Finance who should be in the forefront of efforts to update the enabling law of an organisation under her supervision appears to be uninformed about the process. Could there be some fifth columnists working to protect a selfish interest? The only consolation is the fact that the Honourable Minister, though not properly briefed, expressed her readiness to co-operate and contributes ideas that can help achieve the purpose of the CEMA review exercise. This is the type of purposeful leadership Nigerians are looking for.
What remains probably, is the need for the Honourable Minister to take a hard look at the functionaries of her ministry with a view to weed those who are standing on the way of progressive change that will usher in a new Nigeria Customs Service whose laws will guarantee professionalism, engender compliance through adequate deterrent penalties.