Customs: The Power Behind Ali’s Actions

By Stephen Ubanna

Not many people knew Mohammed Buhari, a brigadier General who is still in the Army   but appointed  Principal Staff Officer, PSO, to Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General , Nigeria Customs Service, NCS.  The kebbi state  born  Army brigadier General , according to Customs sources is said to be a link between Ali and the Customs  Comptrollers at the seaports and land border stations.

The influenced wielded by Buhari in  the power equation at  Customs Headquarters may have forestalled why  Ali ,the Customs Comptroller General , do not have close relationship or direct dealing  with the Comptrollers.

Investigation  by the Magazine shows that  Area Comptrollers who were said to  have had any message for the  Comptroller general  passed it t through him.  It is not surprising why Buhari, the PSO to Ali  is seen  by   many as the head of the  cabal at the Customs  Headquarters.

The Magazine learnt that soldiers and Customs Enforcement officers  armed to the teeth storm his residence every morning   to guide his movement and clear the road on his way to  the office .    It could not be ascertained whether he is a close relation of President Muhammadu Buhari or not.

Insiders told the Magazine that  Brigadier General Buhari  was  not new to Customs internal politics and its operations.  This is because  of several years of interactions with Customs personnel at the seaports  which had exposed him to the dynamics of the Service as a revenue generating a revenue generating agency as a middle level senior officer.   source the Magazine that he had known  some of the  senior Customs officers ,  between the ranks of Comptrollers and Deputy Comptroller Generals who are at the helm of  affairs in the agency toady t as member of the a military Task Force  on port  operations.

Compt Mohammed Aliyu: Redeployment To FOU, Zone A Allegedly Influenced By Ali's PSO
Compt  Aliyu Redeployed To FOU, Zone  A

This  may have positioned him as the right person to be appointed as Ali’s PSO. The Customs Comptroller general may have opted for an Army PSO instead ofa career Customs officeras PSO because of lack of trust.

Investigation by the Magazine shows that that what the Army PSO is doing  at the Customs Headquarters could not have been different from what a   career  Customs officer PSO would have done: acting as a link between the  Comptroller General and the members of the Management team  including the Area Comptrollers.

The Magazine  learnt  that the Brigadier General  is so powerful that he can  influence   the Customs Comptroller General on any policy matter including deployment of Comptrollers and Deputy Comptrollers to  strategic Seat  at the Commands, particular the sea ports.     It was gathered that Comptrollers who had  understood the enormous powers wielded by the Brigadier General at the customs Headquarters usually sneak into  his residence  at  night to lobby.

One of such regular visitors was said to be Mohammed Aliyu, a former Comptroller of Seme Command from kebbi state, north west Nigeria. He was said to have compensated him for his loyalty by influencing his deployment to Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, to replace his close friend, Muhammed Uba Garba who was made to swap position with him as he was redeployed to Seme Command .

The Seme border station had been shadow of itself in the recent years  because of the ban on 41 items from accessing the foreign exchange market by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN. This may have been made  worse by the poor state of the Lagos -Seme Expressway  as truck laden goods regularly fall on the road, forcing  many importers  to relocate to A papa and Tin-can island port to take delivery of their cargoes while smuggling of Tahailand foreign parboiled rice and vehicles thrive.

Aliyu may not be the only Comptroller  whose  redeployment to a choice Command was was said to have been influenced by him. Mention was also made of Sarki-Kebbi, a  former Comptroller of Western Marine Command, WMC, Apapa,  who was  said to bevery  ineffective in curtailing the activities of water ways smugglers  because of lack of operational   crafts despites promises  by Ali to equip  the Command.  The PSO may have put a smile in his face by influencing his redeployment to FOU, Zone B, Kaduna, which would keep him busy because of the activities of rice and vehicle smugglers  in the north western states  of Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zanfara, Kano and Jigawa which are under his jurisdiction.

Another notable Comptroller  who he allegedly influenced his redeployment  was Abubakar Bashir, former Comptroller, Port Harcourt Area II (Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone Command) . He was said to have been redeployed  to the busy Apapa Command, where the Brigadier General had at one time worked  as a member of a military Task Force at the port.

Olusemire Kayode, a former Comptroller of Kaduna/Katsina Command  who was also on the good book of the PSO was said to have been redeployed toFOU, Zone C, Owerri, Imo state at his prompting.

It was learnt that Comptrollers whose postings were influenced in the past  by Emirs turned out to be the losers  as neither the PSO nor Ali could listen to  appeals to favour them in the recent deployment of 70 Comptrollers. The old Comptrollers who were said to have been treated shabbily, according to sources  were those who may have refused to play ball as expected  by the Customs cabal.

A senior Customs  officer told the Magazine that Ali, the Customs Comptroller General and the PSO may be acting out a script by ensuring that the  majority of the  Customs Area  Comptrollers this time around were selected from the north west  geo-political region without following the  Federal Character policy as enshrined in the 199 Constitution as amended.

Indeed, one posting that had continued to raise dust  was that of  Bashir, the former Comptroller of Onne Command to  Apapa . This is because of the fear that he may not be able to effectively control the release of cargoes at the port because of the recent seizure of  a container load of military uniforms and other items   allegedly released from the Onne port   along  the Aba- PortHarcourt road last  July y FOU,  Zone C personnel under his nose.

The intercepted Container, according  to Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller and  the Customs spokesman in a  Statement  was taken to Owerri where” proper examination was carried out” in the presence  of the importer’s representative . The examination of the Container was said to have  revealed  11 bales containing  new sets of sewn military uniforms  Each bale, according to him contained  4000 pairs of sewn  military camouflage, 15 cartons containing  Altana  combat booths. The cartons were said to have been with 20 pairs  each and  concealed in some sacks  of other garments.

Ahead of the 2019 general election,  security experts  fears that Bashir may have been a wrong  choice  to be sent to Apapa for now because of the fears that  illegal arms dealers and their agents who were having it tough at Tin-can Island port because of the vigilance of  Customs and  Security agencies  personnel at the port who have refused to be compromised  want to test the will of the new Comptroller at Apapa by re-routing their arms import through the premier port.  Between September , l2017 and July 2018 the Command had intercepted  Container loads of arms at the port and which based on inter-agency relationship  was said to have been handed over to the Department of State Security, DSS, for safekeeping.    The Customs Comptroller General ‘s   PSO may have known the criticism  that would trail the deployment of  Bashir

Onye Chukwukadibia, a  Lagos based trader said the duo of Bashir and Aliyu, have to prove bookers wrong that they merited their postings to Apapa  and FOU, Zone a  respectively by ensuring that they do the right thing without Compromise.

He Chukwukadia has a word of advice for  Aliyu and his patrol team le and  escort  team leaders: to ensure  must ensure effective monitoring of te movement of transit cargoes from the seaport  to either  Republic of Niger or Chad until it gets to its destination before taking their leave.

This is because of past experience where transit cargoes allegedly loaded with arms and ammunitions had developed wings on the road in the north. It is not surprising why there are proliferation of guns and other dangerous weapons in the  north, smuggled into the country through unapproved routes.  Ali, the Comptroller General confirmed  that smuggling  had been on the increase in the country in the recent time because of the porous borders.

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