By Bayo Bernard
From extreme obscurity, the fortunes of Deputy Comptroller of Customs Abdullahi Kirawa has changed so rapidly that he has now become the most powerful officer in the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS only next to the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd).
You will not be surprised to now find him in his classy-furnished office at the Customs College in Lagos, drinking expensive champagne as importers besiege daily to curry his favour.
He has taken the shine off the Federal Operation Unit, FOU, Zone A, which used to be a beehive of activity for who’s who in the cargo and containerized business.
Not a few has disavowed Joseph Attah, the NCS spokesman’s view that the new sheriff in town will exercise his power with equanimity and grace.
“The Coordinator of the Strike Force DC Abdullahi Kirawa is aware of his limitation and will not attempt to go beyond his brief,” Attah said. Indeed.
The customs officer is the head of the Strike Force created not long ago by the CG to monitor the movement of cargo in and out of the country.
But his meteoric rise to power has started upsetting the apple’s cart in the NCS as other officers appears not happy with the CG’s decision to concentrate enormous authority in the hands of a most junior officer.
“Every officer now wants to relate with Kirawa because they think he has the CG ears,” one officer said.
Kirawa brilliant elevation to stardom started with a memo the Customs High command recently sent to all customs command across the country detailing them to ‘answer to” Kirawa in the effort if the NCS to clean the Augean stable of corruption in the Service.
In the memo signed by the Deputy Comptroller General of Customs, DCG(E,I&I), A Chidi, the CG accused customs controllers at the ports of compromising cargo examination.
Expert told the magazine that what the CG meant is that all the controllers at the ports are badly corrupt and that they have been collecting bribes from importers to make sure that cargo are not properly examined.
The implication of this, critics say, is that the CG is blaming his subordinate for insecurity in the country because most weapons now being used by insurgents and other criminals are believed to have come in through the seaports.
He’s also holding the controllers responsible for loss of huge revenue by the federal government at the ports, others told the magazine.
According to the memo dated April 25, 2019 and titled “100% Examination of Cargo At The Seaports” the CG said that he has “observed that 100% examination of cargo at the ports are not are not done properly by the officers assigned to do so.”
As a result, the NCS will not fold its arms in the face of deliberate compromise by the controllers and “consequently, the following instruction must be carried out with immediate effect and Area Controllers will personally be held responsible for non-compliance.”
The CG said the controller should now defer Kirawa in the matter of cargo examination. “ Henceforth, every Area Controller must respond accordingly to Strike Force intervention alerts.
The Strike Force team has been authorized henceforth to intervene right in the port and possibly make seizures where necessary without hindrance,” the CG said warning that any resistance on the part of the resident officers will attract severe sanctions.
Obviously, the resident controllers are not taking the issue with a pinch of salt even though they have clearly restrained themselves from making an open condemnation on the CG’s directive.
For instance, some officers at both Apapa and Tincan commands told the magazine that the memo will cause a lot of problems because what the CG has done is very inappropriate particularly in a para-military organisation where seniority is very key.
“A controller cannot defer to a deputy controller, this is very wrong and it tends to rubbish the chain of command in the service.
This is the same thing that happened under a former CG, Abdullahi Dikko Nde when many junior officers were given so much power to the extent that they no longer respect their superiors.
The ignoble act received trenchant condemnation at the time, though it has done severe damage to the Service,” one controller who requested to remain anonymous, told the magazine on Monday.
Also an ACG told the magazine that “the Gestapo-like administrative style of the CG does not sit well with many senior officers. But there’s nothing anybody can do because it’s obvious that the president has given him powers to do as he pleases with the service.”
No fewer than five controllers who spoke with the magazine said they disapprove of the CG’s directive.
Meanwhile, the directive appears not to have been well received by other stakeholders operation in the ports across the country.
The National President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Tony Iju said the directive has put a question mark on the trust the CG has for the resident officers or controllers to be able to carry out their duties without being compromised.
“Does it mean you don’t trust your resident officers? Or do you want to put checks and balances on the resident officers? He must have a reason for that. So that reason I don’t know and the reason is what we want to know,” Iju said.