By Stephen Ubanna
When Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, was given the presidential mandate to reform, restructure and improve the revenue capacity o as well as fight Corruption, nobody gave him opportunity to succeed. This is because of the endemic corruption in the Service .
Indeed, President Muhammadu Buhari who appointed him had a mindset that the Customs was corruption personified which required total cleansing . Ali also had same impression of Customs personnel of being Corrupt.
It was therefore not surprising that he came into the Service with a mindset to wipe out Corruption. Acting on the Presidential script that Customs operatives were Corrupt, Ali was said to have made himself clear about his policy direction ab initio, that he would not” tolerate Corruption’.’ He was said to have told the officers in his maiden address that ”fighting Corruption was not by magic but by concrete and holistic approach and not mere warnings and signals”
Unknown to the officers and men of the Service, the Comptroller General, who has a military background that had seen him work in the military Intelligence Unit had an idea on he intends to fight the cankerworm in the Service. He was said to have queued into Abdullahi Dikko, the former Customs Comptroller General automation policy as a way to reduce contacts between importers with their agents and Customs personnel at the port.
Trouble was said to have started with the recent introduction of the ”trace and tracking tools ” into Customs operations by the C omptroller General. The operational tool which was designed to trace and track offensive cargoes at the ports and land borer stations , according to sources, are now being used to track Customs officers who compromise their position in the discharge of their legitimate duties.
Investigation by the Magazine shows that no fewer than 10 officers had been dismissed in the last one month from the Service as they were said to have been captured with” the tracking tool” collecting bribe in the discharge of their duties by Ali’s suspected secret agents in Customs uniform at the port and land border stations.
using thetrace and cargo tracking tool device to track officers allegedly found taking bribe from suspected agents or smugglers appears to have demoralized the officers and men of the Service who feel that the Customs boss is out to witch hunt them, instead of appreciating their effort in revenue generation like officials of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA ,Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, Federal Inland Revenue Services, FIRS, Military Formations, Nigeria Civil Defence Commission, NCDC, and Security and Exchange Commission, SEC, in terms of welfare, remunerations, allowances and other entitlements.
They wondered why the Comptroller General should be more concerned in fighting Corruption in the Service without bordering himself about the improving the welfare of the officers and men of the Service. At a present, a Comptroller of Customs , they said earns about N350,000.00 monthly, which they claimed was far below what their counterpart in the Army, Air Force , Navy , Police or, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, earns.
They lamented that the various Customs formations across the country are operating under deplorable working condition as the monthly AIE, of about N1 million was seen as inadequate to manage a Command . A source told the Magazine that in some Commands, they lack stationeries to do their official work as they rely more Business centers to cover their inadequacies.
More worrisome is the agony and pain of the junior officers who are armed to the teeth at the ports and land border stations in the Customs anti-smuggling war. Some of these junior officers who earn below N50,000.00 per month were said to have been deployed by Ali, the Comptroller General from one Customs Formation to another in the last mass transfer of officers and men of the Service without taking into consideration about their accommodation and payment of their transfer allowances need. The aggrieved officers declared that if such officers are exposed to where they could get extra money on the road , seaport or Airport, they would hesitate to utilize the opportunity. to do so.
Theyoficer were said to be further encouraged to compromise their position in the discharge of their duties do so because they have their superiors in the office waiting to get their weekly handshake from their operations or be blacklisted as a bad officer who eats alone. It is not surprising why the officers are hard on the agents because they know that importers fake virtually all their Documents right from the factory abroad with a view to cut corners and pay less duty. From Apapa, Tincan, Port Multi-services terminal limited, PTML, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, MMIA, Onne, and Kano Commands, the story is the same, ”it is still business as usual” as importers with their agents still connive with Customs and other agencies personnel at the port and land border stations to engage in trade malpractices, thus resulting in substantial loss of revenue to the government yearly.
In spite of reports making the rounds that not much appears to had changed since Ali, the Comptroller General started his anti-corruption war ,Jibrin Musa and Mohammed Aliyu, both Comptrollers at Apapa and Seme Commands respectively had set a standard of operational conduct for officers in the discharge of their duties. The duo were said to have enthroned diligence and discipline in their respective Commands that no officer would want to fall into their trap.
At APM terminal, Apapa, where agents had been on a warpath with the releasing officers over demand for settlement to process their clients import documents , the fear that the report may get to the Comptroller had forced many of them to lie low. Some of them were said to have waited for the stubborn agents at the officer -in-charge of the terminal’s office to work against the agent to ensure that his work was delayed to force the agent to encur demurrage payment . Musa had reduced the rot at the terminal to the barest minimum.
Many believe the Apapa Comptroller enlightenment campaign on the activities of the Command and appeal to stakeholders to ”imbibe the culture of total compliance to government fiscal measures’ may have done the trick as many were said to have keyed into it.
They claimed that Musa’s strong hold on the Command may have given Mohammed Uba Garba, Comptroller, Federal Operation’s Unit , FOU, and his Roving team personnel headed by Jack Okpabi , a Chief Superintendent of Customs and his men at Apapa little or no job to do in the area as there no Containers which contranvened the government fiscal policy to intercept.
The recent interception of wood meant for export to the Asian country of China through the port may have forced Musa to go back to the drawing board to tighten the noose on the officers and the wood exporters to do the right thing.
Maritime analysts see Musa Command to be in the class of Aliyu, the Comptroller of Seme , described asa ”workaholic” who never get tired in watching over the operational conduct of his men. A close associate informed the Magazine that he is ever ready to lead a patrol team to experience what the officers go through on patrol. and to put the necessary palliatives in place to motivate them to put in more effort to supress smuggling in the land border station.
The introduction of the trace and tracking tool into the Command operations, appears to have made his job easy as he has been able to put the officers under his firm control. Insiders confirmed that before now along the Lagos – Seme border, there were about 35 official and unofficial Customs Checkpoints ostensibly to extort money from trans border traders. Aliyu may have stopped all that rots as cargo tracking devise gives him clue on the number of Customs Checkpoint on the road daily. He is firm believe on trade facilitation and promotion of international trade.
Despite his firm grip on the activities of his patrol teams, Ikechukwu John, who shuttles between Nigeria, Republic of Benin and Togo to buy goods would want the Comptroller to extend his binocular to the activities of his men on the road. An aggrieved John disclosed that they have joined the FOU, Zone A, personnel on the road , who split themselves into smaller groups to create unnecessary problems for traders.
The Magazine watched a scene at MTN checkpoint along the Lagos-Seme route where all the passengers in a bus were ordered outand asked to identify their loads. Those with half bags of rice were forced to pay between N200.000 and N500.00 before they could be allowed to go with it.
This is where the duo of Garba and Aliyu had to step in to stop the excesses of their men on the road to ensure that the government effort to enhance trade facilitation and promote International trade was not frustrated.