FOU/ Strike Force Battle For Relevance
By Bayo Bernard Business Editor
Few days ago some officers of the Comptroller General of Customs, Strike Force team in Lagos led by Assistant Comptroller Salisu Assababullah pursued some rice smugglers along the Ijebu Ode highway, almost causing accident on the ever busy road.
While this was going on, the Federal Operations Unit, FOU officers that mounted surveillance on the same highway only looked away in a manner that suggested that they are totally lost in the new anti-smuggling arrangement of the NCS.
Some disgruntled officers later told the magazine their frustration since the Strike Force was established six months ago in February, insisting that their job have become more difficult in the light of the creation of the elite unit.
Recall that the Service in a circular released in February disbanded the Compliance Team paving way for the New Unit headed by a Deputy Controller of Customs, Abubakar U.A. In the team also are Assistant Controller Kolade. R.K, Jimado D.K, the staff officer.
The Strike Force, Joseph Attah, the spokesman of the service said will operate from four zones comprising Lagos, Kaduna, Bauchi and Port Harcourt.
“On trade facilitation, there should be no unnecessary hindrance to trade on our highways,” the NCS image maker said.
Anxiety had loomed within the ranks of men and officers in FOU following the creation of the strike force.
The assurance by Attah that the team “will only be seen patrolling when they have credible information of smugglers’ activities as furnished by the surveillance operatives who do covert operations,” failed to assuage existing fears.
But the mandate of the Strike Force, top officers told the magazine last week strictly undermines that of the FOU. As it’s “the Strike Force has obviously put a big question mark on the operations of FOU” an officer in the Kaduna FOU told the magazine recently.
“The controllers heading the different FOU units across the country may feel that the creation of the strike force is a vote of no confidence passed on them by the Customs Headquarters in Abuja,” an Assistant Controller in EI&I told the magazine yesterday.
The officer said the replacement of the Compliance Team with strike force is a strong message that the FOU “has been further supplanted.”
This development is the latest in the polarization within the service since Ali became the CG over two years ago.
In a recent report published by the magazine, some top officers from the ranks of ACGs and DCGs disclosed that they have lost confidence in the management style of the retired Army Colonel.
While those that are posted to ‘juicy’ commands for instance have good words for the CG, same cannot be said of those that have either fallen out of favor or found themselves on the wrong side of the ladder.
“The CG is doing well since he came to office. As you know the service has been sanitize as things are no longer the way they used to be. Under his leadership all revenue leakages have been blocked. There is no CG that has fought corruption in the service like the current CG.
The effort has paid off, when you consider the fact that the service has paid more revenue into the coffers of the federal government in the last two years,” one controller in Lagos told the magazine recently.
As good as this may seem, a large chunk of the officer cadre insist that Ali is not a round peg in a round whole, considering the way he has handled sensitive issues in the service, which has somehow exposed his inexperience.
On their part, some officers close to a controller recently redeployed from Lagos, just barely few months after he resumed work, in a discreet chat with the magazine, had knocked the CG for his intolerance of officers “who have no connection” with powerful politicians in the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC. ’
Ali is the Director General, Buhari Support Organization, a group inaugurated last October by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo for the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019.
One top officer in FOU Zone C, headquarters in Owerri, told the magazine recently, though in confidence, that Ali is creating confusion in the service.
According to him, “the reason for the dissolution of the Compliance Team is that they failed to stop smuggling across the country. But this cannot be said of the FOU which has the enviable record of combating smuggling across the country.
Rather than support the FOU with all that is necessary to continue in the milestones, the CG went ahead to create a parallel force,” the officer said.
According to him, this has only created more confusion as the “FOU and Strike Force are now falling over themselves to do the same work, or better put please the CG.”
He explained that the situation will cause the problem of disloyalty in the service “as officers will find it difficult to put in their best under these circumstances. What you see nowadays is the heads of various units trying to do eye service, in order not to be accused of dereliction of duty” he said further.
Some officers in Kaduna FOU Zone B told the magazine that the level of morale in the unit is now as low as ever since the creation of the Strike Force. One officer said, the belief in the unit is that the Strike Force “are here to take food away from our mouth.”
He may be right. Except for one of the units with headquarters in the south west, “that is seen to be doing much in terms of combating smuggling, other units obviously have nothing to show despite the high rate of smuggling going on in their areas,” a top officer at the Enforcement Investment and Inspection, EI&I department at NCS headquarters in Abuja told the magazine recently. DCG Galadima A.A is the head of this department.
Awoyele Idowu, an expert in customs issues told the magazine that in a situation where there is divided interest in any military or paramilitary organizations, it will be difficult for officers to give their best, particularly when there is the tendency that their efforts will not be rewarded.
Meanwhile, Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller of Customs and the spokesman of the NCS said the Strike Force is an ad hoc arrangement that does not infringe on the mandate of any other units.
“I’m not aware of any anxiety concerning strike force team. It’s not a new development in customs to have an ad hoc team to address particular situation from time to time. The mandate of the unit does not conflict but rather compliment the activities of the FOU and area commands. Strike force is the third layer of security in NCS’ Attah said.