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.
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.