By Bukola Idowu
As part of its commitment towards ensuring a safer world for all, the World Customs Organisation (WCO) has been in the forefront of the fight against illicit trade and trafficking of dangerous substances and drugs.
The organisation had, during the 2013 International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, called on its 179 members, including Nigeria, to demonstrate once again, that the Customs community was mobilised to combat this scourge in solidarity with other organisations forming the United Nations.
The International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking provides an opportunity for the WCO to recall the significant role played by customs administrations which are responsible for more than half of all drug seizures worldwide.
While counting on the Customs to actively combat illicit trade, WCO Secretary-General, Kunio Mikuriya, said, “It is vital that we unite and coordinate our day-to-day efforts to combat, in all its forms and on every front, the creeping poison that is drug trafficking, which spreads around the world fuelled by globalisation.”
In 2012, over 43,000 reports of seizures were recorded in the WCO Central Enforcement Network (CEN), covering in total 1,768 metric tonnes of drugs of all categories. A breakdown showed that 1,486 tonnes of cannabis in all forms was seized, over 72 tonnes of cocaine were intercepted, while more than 11 tonnes of opiate products such as heroin and opium morphine were intercepted.
As part of its drug enforcement programme, the WCO works closely with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and actively supports initiatives aimed at raising public awareness of the drugs problem.
Similarly, the organisation recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with TRAFFIC to build the enforcement capabilities of customs frontline officers in the fight against trafficking in wild fauna and flora.
The MoU was signed by Mikuriya, and the executive director of TRAFFIC, Steven Broad, on behalf of both organisations at the WCO headquarters in Brussels. The MoU formalises the on-going co-operative relationship between the WCO and TRAFFIC on sensitising the customs to wildlife conservation issues and bolstering efforts to respond to illegal trade in protected animals and plants.
The parties have agreed to pool their capacity building efforts by disseminating existing reference and training materials, jointly developing new materials and organising joint training activities for customs officers.
They have also agreed to enhance information exchange, an agreement that would see TRAFFIC assisting the WCO in identifying gaps in enforcement and detecting new threats, while the WCO would provide TRAFFIC with customs seizure data.
Reacting to the MoU, Mikuriya noted that “the illegal trade in endangered animals and species is a scourge that the Customs administrations are working hard to combat. I am pleased to be able to count on the support of TRAFFIC to meet the complex challenges posed by this type of illegal trade,” he said.
On his part, Broad pointed out that “customs officers are truly on the frontline of international efforts to counter wildlife trafficking,” adding that TRAFFIC was pleased to lend its full support towards these vital enforcements efforts.
TRAFFIC’s expertise, experience of effective strategies and technical resources for training have previously been put to use by the WCO, and many Customs officers taking part in WCO-led operations have received specific training on wildlife trafficking enforcement from TRAFFIC.
Both organisations are now working together to provide guidance to frontline officers tackling illegal practices in the timber trade which is rated as one of the most valuable wildlife commodity traded worldwide.
To further galvanise support in the fight against illicit trade, the WCO secretary-general also recently met with the director-general of the European Union (EU) Joint Research Centre (JRC), Mr Dominique Ristori. The meeting which took place last week focused on the possibilities of a collaboration between the WCO and the JRC on common themes such as container monitoring, risk analysis and the fight against counterfeiting.
While a more focused meeting would be convened in the coming months, several other items for potential collaboration were discussed with particular interest in Container Traffic Monitoring and Risk Analysis Programme on container movements. The WCO used the opportunity to present its activities in relation to intellectual property rights (IPR) and public health and safety, along with a briefing on interception operations and the WCO’s anti-counterfeiting tool.
Mikuriya also focused discussion on issues of trade facilitation and supply chain security, and protection of society and the environment when he attended the 10th ASEM Customs Directors-General/Commissioners meeting recently when directors-general and commissioners from almost 50 European Union (EU)/ASEM members and representatives from the European Commission and the WCO came together to discuss issues of strategic interest to the customs.
The secretary-general used the opportunity to update delegates on the work currently being carried out by the WCO and urged members to implement the Interface Public-Members (IPM).
Speaking about the WCO strategic plan, Mikuriya emphasised the three platforms underpinning WCO activities which includes international cooperation, research and raising the profile of the customs even as he informed delegates about recent WCO-led negotiations with the ICAO in the area of security, globally networked customs (GNC), revenue collection and the need to promote knowledge and increase the WCO’s visibility. To this end, the need to prioritise trade facilitation, supply chain security and coordinated border management (CBM) among others were agreed upon at the meeting.
Meanwhile, at the local level, in discharging its role as one of the nation’s security agencies, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) is not leaving any stone unturned in ensuring that illicit goods and dangerous weapons are not smuggled into the country, although this is rather a herculean task considering the vast and porous nature of the nation’s borders.
Tasked with curtailing the smuggling of drugs and other dangerous weapons into the country in view of the rising level of insecurity and obvious desperation of the perpetrators of the crimes to employ all possible means of smuggling prohibited items into the country, the NCS has, in recent times, given priority to its security function which has often resulted in remarkable interception and seizures.
The NCS management under the leadership of Abdullahi Dikko, has mapped out strategies to ensure that no lapse comes from its end in the joint effort by all security agencies to guarantee the nation’s security.
According to the WCO, a more important and effective way of addressing national and regional security, issues relating to the rising menace of terrorism and proliferation of weapons as well as the international drug smuggling and other cross-border crimes, would be inter-customs administration partnerships. This will make it almost impossible for criminals to move from country to country with dangerous weapons and drugs.
The need, therefore, for the Customs administrations to build strategic partnerships which would aid trade facilitation on the one hand and help curtail the movement of illicit goods on the other cannot be overemphasised.