By Ben Oramalugo

On the 26th of January, 2024 the Nigeria Customs Service joined other customs administration in the world to commemorate the International Customs Day (ICD) with the theme “Customs Engaging Traditional and New Partners with Purpose”Historically, ICD can be traced back to the establishment of  Customs Cooperation Council (CCC) in 1952 now the World Customs Organisation. It actually came into being during the 30th anniversary of the of the CCC’s first session in 1983. Since then 26th January, has been observed globally to recognize the contributions of customs administrations worldwide and promoting awareness of their role in facilitating international trade, safeguarding borders, protecting national interest, revenue collection and promoting sustainable practices.

The Nigeria Customs Service was not left out in the celebration. The NCS during the gathering reiterated its commitment to improved relationships with compliant stakeholders in the future. This is because the theme is in tandem with the core objectives of the NCS and the fundamental pillars of the Comptroller General of Customs’ vision of consolidation, innovation and collaboration. It would be recalled that the new customs Act 2024 has made the transformation of NCS imperative. The theme has demonstrated the need to align the customs operations with global best practices. It is obvious that the full implementation is impracticable without the engagement of right partners.

The theme of this year’s ICD has provided an impetus to effect change by cogitating creatively about the future of customs administration in the country. In other words, there is need to explore the dynamic interplay between customs agencies and their traditional allies, as well as the emerging partnerships with innovative entities. One potential way to enhance customs administration is to devise a guide to tackle conventional customs challenges and explore new opportunities.Future customs activities should enhance engagement with traditional partners, including other government agencies, traders, and development partners, through establishing regular communication channels to share information, updates, and feedback as well as foster a collaborative environment by organizing meetings, workshops, and seminars to promote dialogue and understanding. Digital platforms are also important for efficient communication and information sharing. Besides, an online portal or system is imperative to streamline processes, reducing paperwork and enhancing transparency.

It is a recognized fact that one of the major challenges facing customs administration in the country is the proliferation of agencies at the port. It is mentioned that there are over 22 different agencies directly involved within the terminals, which has resulted in the duplication of procedures and caused delays in the clearance of goods.  A fully evolved single window can designate a lead to conduct inspections on behalf of other agencies. This as a matter of fact would provide a lasting solution to this challenge.

It is imperative to strengthen capacity building through training programs for customs officers, government agencies, traders, and development partners to enhance their understanding of customs procedures and regulations. Joint task forces or committees with representatives from customs, government agencies, traders, and development partners can be created to address specific challenges and find collaborative solutions. Aligning customs policies with the objectives and goals of other government agencies, traders, and development partners will also facilitate smoother operations.

A stakeholder consultation on regular basis is also another panacea for improved performance. The Comptroller-General of Customs, Bashir Adewale Adeniyi MFR, exemplified this by conducting a roundtable interactive sessionwith maritime and excise stakeholders in Lagos on 15 December 2023. This session, a part of the activities following the CGC’s Conference 2023, brought together senior serving and retired Customs Officers, Terminal Operators, Freight Forwarders, Licensed Customs Agents, and Representatives of Excise Stakeholders to discuss and address issues affecting clearance processes in ports across the country.

The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) can strategically forge new partnerships to embrace innovation, particularly in adopting new technologies such as data analytics and artificial intelligence. NCS can leverage these partnerships for process improvements and novel collaboration approaches through collaboration with Tech Companies on data analytics and artificial intelligence. This collaboration can provide the NCS with access to cutting-edge technologies and expertise. During the recent conference held in December 2024 by NCS, the Comptroller General of Customs, Bashir Adeniyi MFR, highlighted the NCS’s commitment to leveraging data analytics as a transformative tool. The initiative is expected to streamline processes, enhance risk management, and contribute to a more responsive and agile customs service. The focus of harnessing data analytics within the NCS is on trade facilitation. By analyzing historical data and patterns, the customs service can identify trends, assess risks, and facilitate smoother import and export processes. The proactive approach expedites legitimate trade and aids in early detection of potential irregularities.

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The NCS can also explore collaboration with research institutions and technology in the areas joint research and development initiatives. This can lead to innovative solutions tailored to customs processes. There should be regular forums and workshop that bring together customs officials, technology experts, and industry leaders. These platforms would facilitate ongoing discussions, idea exchange, and the identification of opportunities for collaboration.

International collaborations with customs agencies from other countries that have successfully implemented advanced technologies are also crucial. This exchange of knowledge and best practices can facilitate the adoption of innovations. NCS should collaborate with purpose, which entails collaborating meaningfully by participating in joint endeavors, forming partnerships, or engaging in cooperative activities with a distinct and intentional purpose or objective. The emphasis on purpose underscores the significance of having a specific aim or direction, particularly with well-defined visions, shared values, mutual benefits, and measurable outcomes when entering into collaborations with partners.

Effective collaboration involves more than just working together—it requires a shared understanding of the purpose and goals underlying the partnership. When organizations collaborate with purpose, they do so with a clear and intentional focus, ensuring that their efforts are directed towards a specific objective. This purpose-driven approach emphasizes the importance of having a well-defined aim, providing a sense of direction for joint efforts. Moreover, the emphasis on purpose extends to the need for clear visions, shared values, and mutual benefits in collaborative initiatives. A shared vision ensures that all parties involved are aligned in their objectives, working towards a common goal. Shared values create a foundation of understanding and trust, fostering a collaborative environment. Additionally, mutual benefits ensure that each partner gains value from the collaboration, reinforcing a sense of fairness and reciprocity.

Furthermore, the concept of purpose in collaboration emphasizes the importance of measurable outcomes. By setting clear and measurable goals, organizations can assess the success and impact of their collaborative efforts. This approach allows for accountability and evaluation, ensuring that the collaboration contributes positively to the objectives outlined at the beginning. In essence, collaborating with purpose involves a strategic and intentional approach to partnerships, where organizations align their efforts with specific objectives, shared values, and measurable outcomes. This approach enhances the effectiveness of collaborations and contributes to the overall success of joint endeavors.

In the final analysis we have shown that the ICD theme revolves around three major areas; traditional partners’ engagement, new partnerships, and collaboration with purpose. Essentially, the International Customs Day presentation urges customs agencies to participate in purposeful partnerships, adjust to the evolving trade landscape, and collectively tackle challenges to ensure the efficient and secure facilitation of international trade.

The celebration also witnessed the presentation of awards to compliant partners such as the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANCLA). This was meant to motivate the awardees as well as others stakeholders for improved performance in the future.

• Comptroller Ben Oramalugo PhD, FCIA, FNIM

Customs Area Controller, Oyo/Osun Command