Nigeria News

Of Tenure Elongation and Nigeria Customs Service

 Nobody can deny that Nigeria’s Civil Service is a key player in the horrendously endemic corruption crippling this nation from attaining its oft-mentioned potentialities of growth and progress.

Analysts agree that the Nigerian public service reform is long overdue since the excessive baggage of corruption that dogs its service delivery is anathema to good governance in the country.

Something needed to be done. In response to the need to reposition the public service and retrieve it from the brink of collapse, government set up Adamu Fika Presidential Panel in March 2011.

The 16-member committee was set up ostensibly to review the tenure of top civil servants such as directors and permanent secretaries, an issue that raised up such dust that it led to the resignation of Nigeria’s first-ever female Permanent Secretary and vice chairman of the committee, Mrs. Francesca Yetunde Emmanuel.

In its controversial recommendations, it sought to elongate the tenure of directors and permanent secretaries till age 60 or 30 years in service.

Not satisfied with the controversies that surrounded the Adamu Fika Report, President Goodluck Jonathan set up the Steve Oronsaye Committee to further examine the breaches within the public service and find creative ways of strengthening the service.

The 800–page 2012 Steve Oronsaye Report recommended among other things, the merging of certain ministries, agencies and parastatals. It suggested the reduction of federal agencies from 263 to 161; the abolishing of 38 others and the merging of 52, while 14 other Ministries would revert to Departments.

It also suggested the restructuring of the Office of the Secretary to the Federal Government, SGF, to dismantle it from its unwieldiness and allow it play a supervisory role in governance.

Its flagship recommendation, however, was on tenure regime. It suggested that heads of government agencies and parastatals should only do one term in office in order to allow younger officers upward movement within the service and that Nigeria’s Federal Character principle be upheld, to allow equity and justice in public appointments to flourish.

The challenge is that the nation’s archives are not in short supply of Reports but the political will to implement them is always lacking.

For example, the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, is a major agency of the federal government that plays very critical roles in nation building. Its primary functions include trade facilitation, anti-smuggling activities and tax collection, under the oversight of the Federal Ministry of Finance.

Comptroller General Alhaji Abdullahi Inde Dikko, who hails from Katsina State, who was appointed to the office in 2009 by late President Musa YarAdua, currently heads this critical FGN agency.

Under Dikko, admittedly, the NCS has undergone reforms which started with the payment of 100% Salary increases at all levels, and has continued with capacity building for officers and men, provision of arms and ammunitions, the building of barracks as living quarters, provision of infrastructure, etc.

However, in spite of these achievements of the Dikko administration, he is not perceived as a saint. For example, he is accused, by some, of running the Customs like a personal estate, where decisions are taken without due consultations with the appropriate agencies of government.

This came to the fore recently when a new destination inspection regime was embarked upon by the Customs, despite opposition by both the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Nigeria, who claimed the new regime was ill timed.

This opposition seems to have been justified, as the nation’s many ports are beginning to experience long delays slowing down the economy, since CG Dikko’s Pre-Arrival Assessment Report, PAAR new regime was introduced.

Also, there are complaints that while, in the last four years, the Service has received several billions of naira from the federal government as subventions, payments by the NCS to the Federation Account have been dwindling. In fact, the Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala recently issued a formal query to Dikko to explain the consistent shortfall in payments to the Account.

But more salient, now, is the question: Hasn’t CG Dikko, whose tenure in office ended long ago, overstayed his welcome as head of this very sensitive agency of the Federal Government of Nigeria? Why is Dikko still in office? Previous CGs such as Nwadialor, Ahmed, Buba, served one tenure each. Why is President Goodluck Jonathan not doing the needful and letting Mr. Dikko bow out of office?

These are legitimate questions if you realise, as earlier established, that there are laws governing the appointment and tenures of public officers in the country. For instance, the Steve Oronsaye Report, which was submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan in 2012, made very far-reaching recommendations that ought to be binding on all public officers.

The Oronsaye Report recommended that tenure elongation should no more be a cardinal feature of government in the light of present day realities such as ageing workforce.

Besides, the Federal Character principle, which is a guide to equity and justice in a multi-linguistic and tribal society such as ours, does not support the elongated tenure system.

By retaining Dikko in office, President Jonathan is not only flouting the federal character principle, but also denying others the opportunity to take a shot at the Customs top job, hopefully, for the better.

There are competent deputies and officers who can fill the position: DCG John Atte, ACG’S Austin Warikoru and Victor Gbemudu, who is in charge of Zone A at Harvey Road, Yaba, Lagos. Besides, there are allegations that intrigues by his lieutenants to take his place have reached a crescendo. This is neither good for morale or discipline in this vital Service.

Pundits and stakeholders in the Nigerian economy are mostly of the opinion that Mr. President should start showing more of a commitment to rule-of-law and due process by ensuring that officers like Alhaji Dikko leave office when and as due.

President Jonathan is already 10 months late (Dikko tenure ended in August 2013) in appointing an acting Comptroller General, pending appointment of a substantive CG from among Dikko’s many able lieutenants.

Earlier reforms in the Customs were carried out because of the need to reposition the institution for effective and efficient service delivery. They also aimed to transform the Customs Service from one of corruption, complacency and bloated bureaucracy to one that is primed to engage the business of trade facilitation, anti-smuggling and tax collection in line with Federal Government guidelines.

While Dikko has done his best at the job, much more should be aspired to, and a change of leadership could expedite attainment of these legitimate and modest aspirations for a better NCS.

Such has been the intention of government in setting up various presidential panels and committees to examine the working of government and find ways to cut out the impediments that confront our national institutions.

This is a clarion call on government to ensure that, in spite of apprehensions in some quarters; it applies its full weight behind the proposal against tenure elongation for the benefit of the Nigerian people.

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