Interviews

How I Deployed Stakeholder Engagements Against Smuggling to Boost Revenue – Comptroller Wada


 

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Chedi Dalha Wada Chedi, Controller Federal Operations Unit Zone B in Kaduna State was recently honoured by the World Customs Organisation(WCO) for his outstanding performance in deploying community relations to achieve customs goals in various areas he served. 

 

Chedi’s acts of enhanced stakeholder interaction aligns with the Theme for the 2024 Intetnational Customs Day(ICD) which was “Customs engaging traditional and new partners with purpose” 


 

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In this interview with Ismail Aniemu, he explains the journey of using social interaction , persuasion and education without compromising the law to fight smuggling, collect revenue and promote legitimate businesses

 

Chedi who was honoured at the 2024 ICD Celebration in Lagos, said he applied an unrelenting all inclusive approach to leadership as a strategy to win at all times. 

 

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Q:Congratulations on your recent award at the International Customs Day in Lagos.You were honoured for excellence in Customs Community Relation and Stakeholders engagement.Tell us how you have been relating with stakeholders in the various areas you have served like in Seme Port Harcourt, Kastina and FOU Zone ‘B’.

 

In all, I applied team work, using basic human relation style and ensuring everyone was carried along in all the areas I served as Controller. While doing these, I never deviated from our enabling laws like the old Customs and Excise Management Act(CEMA) the present Nigeria Customs Service Act (NCSA) 2023, the Public Service Rules(PSR) and our various books of instruction guiding our job.

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Comptroller Wada(left) being congratulated by Comptroller General of Customs, Bashir Adewale Adeniyi shortly after receiving his award in Lagos recently

 

 

This started from Seme when I was Acting Controller over there.We tried to build the relationship between Customs and the community on one hand and Customs and other stakeholders on another hand.

 

I made efforts to revive it and it really worked because we were able to combat a lot of smuggling activities and we brought about peace in between Customs and the community . Of course you know it’s a border area with its peculiarities.

 

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Comptroller Wada (third from left) with a combined team of Nigerian Army and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps in Seme where he was acting controller showing inter service cooperation

We really succeeded in making a lot of seizures at that time because I remember that it was during the Covid 19 period.There was a total border closure and at the same time, the people engaged and in smuggling were also unrelenting but we stood our ground.Through sustained public engagement, we were able to curtail smuggling to the barest minimum level.

 

 

Eventually, I was posted to Kastina and I took over.It was an herculean task and next to impossible.At that time they used to throw stones at Customs officers.

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Wada (middle) flanked by Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, Adegnoyega Oyetola and CGC

Once you make a seizure and you cannot bring it down to the station, they will stone you and stage a mob action of hundred to two hundred people to attack you.There is no way we can shoot at the crowd.

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We couldn’t shoot to defend ourselves because if we did that, the information will get to the National Assembly and other places leading to more troubles. I had to deploy tact

 

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Wada after a session with traditional rulers and community leaders as part of public enlightenment in Katsina State

Firstly, I made a study to critically assess the situation and achieve government objectives without casualties

 

I activated Custom Community Forum with 12 border stations.I grouped four Commands and made it Phase 1.I used to go there and have a meeting with all the community leaders, youth unions, Human Right Unions,Trade Associations.It was a forum.We talked about our problems and the way forward.I moved down to Phase two which included another 4 stations and the last one, I had relationship with the traditional leaders, religious leaders , Traders Association, Youth Forums and so on and.

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In a group photo with a team of foreign counterparts and other NCS officials in Katsina

We discussed with all government agencies too and all these agencies made it a point of duty that we must have a meeting before the council meeting and I was the one coordinating it.

 

We were able to start combating the problem between we and the community because the Customs and community started making progress. Every law abiding citizen had nothing to worry about. I used to spend about one hour on radio stations enlightening the people and answering questions live on air.

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Cross border cooperation against smuggling and other crimes

We used to have another unit at the central headquarters where the agencies will send their own representatives and the government will send representatives including other stakeholders and the likes.

 

Seperately, we invited the critics of Customs to educate them about our mandate as some were acting on limited knowledge.All the time I always carry out all governmental instructions like tariff, legal notices and even PSR rules.

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Wada during a press briefing as Controller Federal Operations Unit Zone B, Kaduna

I discovered they didn’t know much about us and we succeeded in educating them appropriately then on CEMA and now on NCSA .When we say at least we have a good intelligence that we are having for example a contraband in your house with reliable information, and you expect us to write you before we come to your house, what do you take government to be?

 

That law gave us the power to go make seizures under Section 148 for premises, 149 for vehicles, train or .We educated them on sections that gave us powers of the police to arrest and make detentions.Most of them didn’t know these earlier and the education we gave them really.

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Showing seizures of seized smuggled cars to journalists in Kaduna

Some were saying no Controller of Customs in katsina stays more than three months. Even the Governor was saying that.They were shocked that I stayed for over two years there before our transfer to Port Harcourt.

 

In Portharcourt, I included all stakeholders like the importers and exporters, journalists and the whole maritime community in my plan and it worked like magic.This time around, we did two sessions.The technical sessions with importers and agents and the general session. We educated them on how to use codes appropriately when making declarations to avoid delays and ensure success in the transactions . It was difficult for those who planned to cut corners but easier for those who complied

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For them, the kind of customs community relationship I started was unprecedented in the history of the command. I ran an open door policy, ready to listen to everyone and jointly discuss solutions.They have never seen this kind of relationship.

 

Before in places like Bayelsa, some don’t know that we existed.I now reestablished the relationship between Custom Service and other agencies.I started having some meeting forums to tell them we are here and it worked

 

I received a commendation letter from my headquarters before this recent award from the CGC and they really appreciated me .

 

Q: What will you say were the immediate gains to NCS and Nigeria from your community relation efforts?

 

Our education and enlightenment efforts made many people involved in illegitimate activities to change and start doing the right things.

 

We promoted economic activities and exposed them to the very many benefits of trans border trade done within the law

 

 

In fact, we were able to convert so many illegal exporters into lawful exporters.We were taking them to the NEXIM, and other the banks.They enjoyed the benefits and the incentives of the Federal Government.

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Showing seized drugs to newsmen in Kaduna

Within the five months, we were able to collect about N1 billion and we had about N5 billion worth export because we were invited by Dangote for sugar, from BUA and so on.

 

We went to the Katsina Governor and said we needed 50 hectares of land to go and have what we call our own Customs village which he approved upon seeing how important our services can be.I went there and we got 25 hectares of land.I processed the C of O and we got the Cof O. handed it over to the former CG.He was so happy. He said such is not common so he appreciated it and he gave a commendation.

 

There is an eight mile checkpoint which is the most populous checkpoint in Kastina state.Right now , the check point is inside our own land which we got from the Governor directly.That is what the community relationship earned us.

 

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In Katsina we revived the clinics, went to NYSC, putting out an application after requesting for go ahead from the headquarters.I arranged what we call medical outreach.They will go to border stations, checkpoints and Customs base to offer free medical care to the communities.

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This brought about a good relationship with the public.The fight and stoning stopped and at least we made a lot of success.There is nothing as good as engaging the public ,traditional rulers and stakeholders.There’ll be a lot of harmony.

 

 

Q:These are outstanding feats on your part for the service and for Nigeria.Where did you draw your inspiration from and what training did you receive?

 

 

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It’s a long way really.As young officers at that time, we were privileged to attend several courses.I was nominated and I went for ISPS course in 2004 . I also attended joint training involving Customs , Immigration and Navy where we were trained by the US Government.

 

I went for a lot of courses and if I couldn’t get official sponsorship, I sponsored myself.People always asked why I was going for courses.Those courses made a lot of impact on me.

 

I received five training from the American Training Department.At the same time, I was posted back to TCIP as general duty officer. We started becoming overworked by the big men.Eventually when I became a Controller, the training,courses and good examples by our superiors,helped . Some of the courses were within the country, others were foreign courses

 

Till tomorrow I remember all those process and all those we followed and I am so grateful.Some of them are now late,like Senator Ali Wakili who was my Controller at Tin Can Port.May their souls rest in peace.

 

 

 

Q: Tell us the level of cooperation you have gotten from your subordinates and how were you able to get them carried along?

 

 

It was very difficult.From the beginning, I remember when I was appointed Acting Controller of Seme.The day the circular that stated that I take over Seme border from Comptroller UG Mohammed came out, I said I was supposed to be number five among the Deputy Comptrollers.

 

 

We were six and I was only senior to one of them .I was told that it doesn’t matter because all my works were x-rayed and the CGC was looking for the best hands.Eventually, they all agreed in the management that I should be the one.

 

Within a short period,I was able to convince my lieutenants by making them part of all the decisions I made .Before you know, they forgot about seniority.They started coming closer and eventually,they supported me in making progress and succeed.

 

Whenever we wanted to do any stakeholders meeting, they must be involved.We started sharing responsibilities.In everything I did, I always involved the Deputy Comptrollers. Today, some of them are ACGs

 

I also made meetings compulsory for all my OCs, especially those that are not in far away outstations. These regular meetings and exchange of ideas helped our anti smuggling and trade facilitation drive .

 

 



Ismail Aniemu

Ismail Aniemu, Publisher of JournalNG and ghost writer, is a maritime journalist of over two decades' of practice with multidisciplinary background. He holds a masters degree in Transport Management from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology(LAUTECH) with bias for logistics. He is also an alumnus of the Times Journalism Institute where he obtained a post graduate diploma in Journalism. Email: ismail.aniemu@aol.com

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