Two weeks ago the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS held a press conference in Abuja, since then the convener of the parley who’s also the spokesman of the Service, Joseph Attah, a deputy controller of customs has been expressing his frustration discreetly with the current management of the service, led by Hameed Ali over failure to provide logistic for him to perform his duty as the image maker of the NCS.
What happened? Attah had approached the CG to approve funds for logistics to carry out the event. He was shocked when his boss told him that no funds were available. In order to protect the image of the service, Attah had to seek fund elsewhere.
Some officers close to Attah told the magazine that he has not been finding it easy working under the current CG. “Attah served as the 2/ic to former image maker, Wale Adeniyi, so he’s an experience hand. But working under this CG has been extremely difficult, but he cannot complain openly because of the rule guiding the service,” a source at Customs Headquarters, Abuja told the magazine last week.
The Public Relations Department is not the only unit threatened by the ongoing crisis of confidence between the CG and top echelon of the service. Sources in the service disclosed that top officers from the ranks of DCGs, ACGs and comptrollers of customs are not happy with the management style of Ali.
The situation has become so bad that sources close to the CG told the magazine that some senior officers in the service have threatened to leave the service if something is not done quickly to remedy the situation.
Top officers from the ranks of ACGs and comptrollers who spoke with the magazine disclosed that it has not been easy working with the CG. An officer from Katsina state said the CG’s failure to allow them free hand to do their job is having a toll on the operation of those of them on the field.
He said the situation has made it impossible for them to generate revenue for the federal government. He explained that the focus on seizure rather than trade, is not only robbing the federal government of revenue, but that many businesses are dying because of it.
He said the CG is not listening despite their efforts to impress it on him to be flexible. He said it was not like this under previous comptroller generals of customs.
“Take for instance, the seizure of goods going on across customs formations in the country. This is not how to run the economy. If you seize goods belonging to one businessman, not once or twice, what you are telling him is to close shop. How then do you expect to create jobs and move the economy further,” the source said.
Recently, the Lagos state government warned the Federal Operations Unit, Zone A, Ikeja to stop parking seized containers loaded vehicles on the road. Sources from the Lagos state ministry of transport told the magazine that many road users have complained to the state government, how the illegal parking is affecting free flow of traffic in and around Ikeja.
But insiders in FOU unit however told the magazine that nothing can be done about the issue. According to officers who spoke in confidence because they have no permission to comment on the matter, parking seized items on the road is the only option available for now.
The Customs warehouse close to the NCS training school is said to have filled up, leaving no room for new seizures. “The only way to create space is to auction some of the seized goods to members of the public, but as it seems those in Abuja appears not disposed to such,” one superintendent of customs from the unit told the magazine.
He explained that the efforts of Comptroller Muhammed Uba Garba, the head of the unit to find solution to the problem has not yielded any result. The source disclosed that the controller has written his boss in Abuja, requesting that some of the seized goods be auctioned or returned to owners at agreed price. But “nothing has been done,” he said.
An ACG (name withheld} at the headquarters in Abuja told the magazine that a memo sent to the CG by FOU has been received, but that the CG has issued ‘keep in view’ directive on the issue.
According to the ACG “the controller wrote in the memo that the unit be allowed to auction at least seven containers or trucks to the public so that space can be created in the warehouse.”
Recall that the Customs warehouse in Ikeja recently caught fire with goods worth millions destroyed in the blaze.
The situation is not different in all customs’ warehouse across the country.
The Senate Committee on Customs led by Senator Hope Uzodinma had during a visit to the warehouse flayed the Ali-led customs over the situation in the warehouse. The senate said it’s better to return the goods to the owners, better still auctioned rather than allowed it to be destroyed.
Sources in NCS told the magazine that the feeling among top echelon in NCS resonates with that of the Senate that the seized goods be auctioned to generate funds for the federal government.
“There are many seized state of the art vehicles kept in the warehouse. The owners can be issued demand notice, DN so that they can take possession of their goods. What is the gain to the government if the vehicles are destroyed,” said the ACG.
As it is, the CG is believed to be ignoring his subordinates who he believes are corrupt and therefore cannot offer useful advice.
“The CG is like an outsider in the service. In fact many of his top officers working with him see him as an interloper who’s not qualified for the position he’s currently occupying. The situation would have been better if he listens to these DCGs and ACGs who have in-depth knowledge of how customs work,” one controller recently redeployed from Lagos to headquarters told the magazine.
“The CG knows what’s happening, that what exists in the NCS now is like the proverbial peace of the grave yard. Even though those working closely with him are not happy they are not allowed by law to say so openly,’ the source further said.
The magazine learned that head will soon roll in the service because the CG feels that some top echelon of the service is working at cross purposes with his agenda to change the service.
It was learned some DCGs and ACGs will soon be retired” so that fresh blood that believe in the CG’s vision for the NCS can be injected into the decision making body of the customs,” a close aide if the CG told the magazine yesterday.
The source said that some controllers will also be redeployed in the new arrangement “to give the service a new lease of life,” according to the source.
But in spite of the complaints, some analysts told the magazine that what’s going on in the service is like the thespian battle of light and darkness. The feeling among this line of thought is that some top officers in the service are inadvertently working to frustrate the effort of the CG to exterminate corruption from the NCS. But it doesn’t seem like it.
Efforts by the magazine to get the reaction of the NCS image maker, Joseph Attah on the issue was unsuccessful as telephone calls made to his line were not answered and text messages sent to him were not replied.