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Nigeria's Anti-corruption Drive Claims Customs Chief

FILE - Nigeria's former customs chief Dikko Abdullahi (official website)
FILE - Nigeria's former customs chief Dikko Abdullahi (official website)

The head of Nigeria’s customs service resigned earlier this week, the latest high-level official to resign or be fired in the wake of the new president’s push against corruption.

Dikko Abdullahi is the latest government official to leave since President Muhammadu Buhari took office last May with a pledge to clean house in Nigeria’s scandal-plagued federal government.

Buhari has similarly shaken up the leadership of the armed forces and the state-owned oil company.

Customs is a major revenue generator for Nigeria, notes Dawn Dimowo, a consultant at Africa Practice. Dimowo says Buhari is now looking for someone with a clean reputation to run the agency.

“One of the ways he’s going to show that he’s serious about fixing that is to put people that he sees as being credible, transparent, that will bring that transparency to the agency," said Dimowo.

Managing director of the Lagos-based Centre for Public Policy Alternatives Folarin Gbadebo-Smith says the departure of the customs head is just the first step to reforming a service that has a reputation for siphoning off funds from travelers and importers.

“We are leaking money in this country at a pace that is just unbelievable. And the president has to stem that leakage first before even doing anything else. He cannot do it with the same people who are running the racket," said Gbadebo-Smith.

But there is more to it than that, Gbadebo-Smith says. Allegations of corruption have circled around customs in the past, but the true extent of the misdeeds may not be known until a new leader is hired for the agency.

“Everything below the surface of the water there is like 90 percent of what’s going on, while what we see is just a small tip of it," he said.

The president's biggest appointments are yet to come. Cabinet ministers are expected to be announced sometime in September.