The Comptroller General (CG) of the Nigeria Customs Service NCS, Colonel Hameed Ali (rtd.), has revealed that the service lacks the capacity to effectively man the nation’s borders.
The CG who disclosed this on Thursday in Abuja, while giving a report of the service’s budget performance of 2020 and presenting year 2021 budget before the House of Representatives Committee on Customs, lamented that the nation’s borders were too long and too porous.
TheFact Nigeria reports this in the light of President Muhammadu Buhari’s speech during the virtual inauguration of the Nigerian Immigration Service NIS Technology Building, in which he had raised the tempo in the efforts by his administration to tame the worsening insecurity around the nation’s borders. The president had stressed the the urgent need to improve security around the country’s borders so that criminals will not find Nigeria a safe haven in which to hide and perpetrate thier criminalities, and charged the nation’s security agencies to improve thier drive towards the protection of lives and property.
Given this kind of large borders and poor staff strength of the service, Ali, who hinted that personnel strength was a little above 15,000, said even if about 8000 were to be deployed to man the borders, it would still be very insufficient.
“The borders of Nigeria are long and porous. There is no way we can be everywhere to block these borders,” Ali said.
The Customs boss also attributed the difficulty in manning the borders to abject poverty in border towns, which often lacked government presence.
“Most of the communities where smuggling takes effect do not have a feel of government,” the CGC stated.
He said on the part of the service, they had drilled boreholes, built health centres there, which were duties of other agencies.
“Communities gang up in most places, burn our vehicles, kill our personnel, because they do not owe allegiance to us but smugglers, because smugglers pay them,” Ali regretted.
He said that he felt the pains of the inhabitants of these border communities as they travelled to distant towns to seek medical care and education because the government did not care about them.
“Customs alone cannot do this. There is a gap in terms of officers. Customs stayed for seventeen years without recruitment,” he lamented.
The CGC said while 3,200 persons were lined up for recruitment into the service, presently only 800 would be employed, just to pick junior officers.
He said presently, the service was short of senior officers at strategic cadres, stressing that very soon, there would be no more senior officers in Customs and the juniors of today may not rise to a certain senior level before retiring if nothing was done urgently to arrest this anomaly.
“These are gaps that were created and it is affecting the service. We are short of senior officers,” the CGC said.
Responding to allegations by some lawmakers that the service was docile in tracking arms smuggling into the country, he said the service had been blocking arms smuggling, adding that if they were not doing this, the problem would have been worse.
He disclosed that Customs had done exceptionally well in the 2020 budget in the performance of targets given to it by government.
Responding, Hon. Leke Abejide, Acting Chairman of the Committee, commended the performance of the Service, saying that it had been meeting targets and that the House in plenary had commended the Service.
He however, tasked the CG to improve on the living conditions and work environment of his personnel, bemoaning the dehumanizing conditiins under which most of them worked.