Ali: Officers Nightmare

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”

. Mohammed Aliyu: Needed to Use His Binocular To Watch Over His Men Turned Toll Collector On The Road
Mohammed Aliyu: Needed to Use His Binocular To Watch Over His Men Turned Toll Collector On The Road

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.

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