As a reporter I am always suspicious of any public officer who likes publicity. This may sound illogical because by definition the words and deeds of public servants should be public. But then there is a difference between publicity as a matter of course and public relations. The one focuses on the deeds, the other on the person.
The public officers I am always suspicious of are those who like to worship at the altar of the gods of public relations. Such public officers are invariably more concerned about their image than about their performance. Needless to say, they abound everywhere, including of course, in Nigeria.
Until I met the Comptroller-General of Customs, Alhaji Dikko Inde Abdullahi, about a couple of years ago, I thought he was one of those publicity seeking public officers who are more image than substance; hardly a week passed without one story or another in the press about him receiving one award or other for supposedly excelling in his job.
Indeed my first meeting with him, which was accidental, was in the course of his receiving one of those seemingly interminable awards, this time in the UK. I happened to be visiting our High Commissioner in the country, Senator Sarki Tafida, an elder friend, in his office in London, when he told me of his invitation to attend the award ceremony and extended his invitation to me. I was reluctant at first but in the end agreed to accompany him essentially because I really had little doing the evening of that day.
Since then I had kept a fairly close tab on the Comptroller-General (CG) and have since come to the conclusion that he may like his publicity so much but he reminds me of the bombastic Muhammad Ali, the living boxing legend; like Ali, the man justifies his PR.
When he took over as CG five years ago on August 26, the service was generating a comparatively paltry sum of 27 billion Naira a month. He nearly doubled that to 50 in his first year in office. Since then its revenue has grown to about 100 billion a month, making it a total of over a trillion annually.
As a good manager he has ensured that the increased productivity of his men and officers has reflected in their welfare by doubling their salaries and allowances, renovating and upgrading their offices and staff quarters and by investing heavily in their training and re-training at home and abroad and giving them the requisite hard- and soft-ware to do their jobs well.
Exactly a year ago last month, the man completed his first four years in office as CG. This led to speculations that he would be retired and replaced by one of his six deputies. Thanks perhaps to the confidence which he seems to enjoy from President Goodluck Jonathan, he survived the speculations.
This survival was child’s play compared to the threat he overcame in his first year in office following allegations by one, Olajide Oyewole Ibrahim, through his lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo, that the CG entered the service with forged academic qualifications. President Jonathan, to whom Keyamo had addressed Ibrahim’s affidavit, seeking the CG’s sack, was said to have dismissed it as the malicious work of possibly disgruntled traducers.
Apparently, the allegations did not distract the CG from getting on with his job as best as he could. So far he has more than proved his mettle. Indeed, all indications are that he could do even better, but for some problems he seems to have encountered from his parent ministry, the Ministry of Finance, under our super minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who doubles as the country’s co-ordinating minister.
First, there is the scandal that has surrounded the duty waiver regime under the authority of the minister. Under this regime waivers of duties are supposed to provide incentives for investments in strategic and job creating sectors of the economy. Widespread suspicions that the waivers were instead being abused prompted the finance committee of the House of Representatives to ask the minister for figures and beneficiaries of such waivers between 2011 and 2013.
She told the House in January that the figures came to 171 billion for the period. It turned out that they were 1.4 trillion! At least those were the figures revealed by Customs and to date they have not been contradicted. What was more, over 60% of the waivers were for items without any value added to the economy.
Worse, so far no one has been brought to account for the criminal difference between the two figures. Worst of all, it seems the waiver abuse has only abated somewhat but is far from ended. As The Nation said in its editorial of two Mondays ago, “If Nigerians needed proof that the import duty racket was alive and well, the latest report showing the Federal Government as granting N25 billion Naira in waivers over a five-month period this year should be proof enough.”
Second, there is the issue of the Destination Inspection that had been under some private companies since government abolished pre-shipment inspection about eight years ago. Last December the contracts with the private companies were terminated and the job reverted back to Customs. Since then the service has faced a number of challenges in meeting expectations, not least of which is possible sabotage by elements outside the service who would be more than happy to see the new arrangement fail.
However, in spite of such possible sabotage and the usual problems that go with changes from the old ways of doing things, Custom has managed to improve the clearing of goods from 24 hours to an average of 6. And, of course, it has saved the nation the huge fees paid to the companies, heads or tails.
Third, there is the delay the service has routinely encountered from its parent ministry in the release of the 7% of the revenue it generates which it is authorised to retain as incentive for increased productivity.
These are, of course, not the only obstacles standing in the way of the CG performing even better than he has so far in his five years in office. However, they are the biggest. With them out of the way, the service should be able to surpass even the N1.2 trillion it set for itself in January as its target for this year.
And with such revenue from Customs alone, not to mention other revenue generating services of government, it is not difficult to see why the public was outraged by the presidency’s recent announcement that it would like to seek a loan of $1 billion dollars, or the equivalent of about one eighth of Custom’s annual revenue in Naira, to fight the Boko Haram insurgency.
A most shocking death
The death of Mr Dimgba Igwe, the Vice-Chairman of The Sun Publishing Limited, came to me as a big shock. It came in the form of a text from Mr Raheem Adedoyin, the Secretary of the Nigerian chapter of the International Press Institute of which Dimgba had been a very active member. I didn’t know when I screamed after reading Raheem’s text because Dimgba’s death was the last thing on my mind when we last met in Katsina penultimate weekend for this year’s annual conference of the country’s editors.
He couldn’t look healthier and fitter than he was as we interacted throughout the conference in our hotel and at the venue of the conference. As usual when I saw him alone I asked him where he had left his “twin brother,” as most of us call Mr Mike Awoyinfa with whom he had worked at both the defunct National Concord and Sun, turning both into two of the widest circulating newspapers in Nigeria.
Mike, he said, couldn’t come because his son was graduating abroad, and he himself almost didn’t come because of fears based, of course, on media reports that the Boko Haram was all over the place in the North. In the end he came and he was, he said, glad that he did not miss the conference for the success it turned out to be and to see how Katsina had been transformed from the glorified village it was in 1991, when he first visited it, into a beautiful city, thanks in large measure to the current administration.
You can then imagine my shock at realizing that Dimgba, the affable gentleman, great reporter, editor, author and columnist, was no more.
May God grant his wife, Oby, with whom he had always attended the IPI annual congress, his immediate family, his “twin brother” Mike, and his larger press family, the fortitude to bear his great loss.
RE: A professor’s lies with statistics
It is very interesting and at the same time disheartening that a man of Professor Darah’s repute will be calling for a division (of this country). But I wish to inform you that he is a professor of oral literature and folklore not of mass communication.
Okobi Colosus Philip,
Federal Capital Territory,
I stand corrected. However, The Guardian, where he was a columnist for several years and whose editorial board he once chaired described him as “professor of communications” in the introduction of an interview with him it published on July 13.
We know your style. Don’t demonize Darah/Chinweizu. You’ve been writing worse things about Southerners for a very long time. FOR EVERY MONSTER, THERE IS A MIRROR IMAGE.
I think the eggheads who decided that Darah deserved to be a professor‘ll be pinching themselves if he actually said those things you attributed to him. People like him also put the political future of minorities in jeopardy because he made it look like the size of your tribe also decides the size of your mind even as a professor!
One other question is: what has Jona done for the Niger Delta apart from empowering ex-militants to steal more oil? All other projects are located in his small Otuoke. Most Nigerians know the (national) conference is nothing but ‘2015 @SURE-P’.
I read your write-up, “A professor’s lies with statistics.” Please, I want to ask, are you a professor?
Osakwe E. O.,
No, I am not a professor. I am not even a PhD.
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