By Stephen Ubanna
When President Muhammadu Buhari, appointed Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Services, NCS, with a mandate to improve on the revenue collection of the Service and reform and restructure Customs nobody gave him opportunity to succeed.
This is because of people’s perception of him as a non career officer who find it difficult to penetrate the ranks of the officers and men of the Service to know what they are doing at the seaports , airports and land border stations. They got it wrong. Ali was said to quickly blended with the officers in the last three years that he could speak the Customs language: Revenue generation and anti-smuggling.
In spite of the initial challenges faced within the period of his appointment Ali according to Customs sources remain focused.. Wale Adeniyi, the then Customs Public Relation officer, now a Comptroller and his 2/ic, Joseph Attah, now a Deputy Comptroller and Head of the Unit were said to have played major role to stabilise him in office and accessible to the public. There was the initial fears that the Service yearly revenue generation would drop because of the loopholes at the seaports, airport and the land border areas.
Aware that he cannot afford to fail the fail the President to sustain the tempo of Customs revenue generation he had set his eyes at the seaports and land border stations to force the officers to cue into his policy of eliminating fraud in the clearing process. This is He had vowed to ”prosecute Corrupt officers, Importers and clearing agents involved in shady deals”.
He may have sent signals to the officers and men of the Service that the” era of cutting corners and denting the image of the Service has ended”, forcing many to go underground. The tough talking Ali may have created the impression that he is a hard nut to crack from the onset. His hard-line position may have informed the officers that they needed to sit up and ” do things right” to avoid falling into his trap.
As a prelude to improved revenue generation of the Service he has automated Customs operations from the seaports, airport to the land border station. The automation was said to have covered the transfer of Containers from the seaports to the terminals which was a major source of fraud in the past.
His actions may have sustained the revenue record set by his predecessor in office. Last year, the Customs paid into the Federation Account about N1.3 tn. That much was confirmed by Attah, the Customs Spokesman. The high revenue generation may have forced the government to set a revenue target of N1.5tn for Customs this year. Ali has assured the President that the Customs would still deliver as expected. His optimism is informed by the quarterly revenue generation of the Commands which is very impressive. Take for instance, Tin can Island Command which generated N76.78 billion as against N61.9 billion in the first quarter of 2017.
The gains in Customs revenue generation, according to Attah was also reflected in the area of anti-smuggling. Aware that the Comptrollers at the land border areas could not fight the battle against the vehicle or foreign parboiled rice smugglers alone, Ali was said to called on the Comptrollers of federal Operations Unit and the then Headquarters Compliance team to support in them in driving the smugglers out of business. The Customs image maker disclosed that” once the Comptroller General know that an officer know what he is doing he gives him an opportunity to do so’.’ It is not surprising why he gave Muhammed , Comptroller of FOU, Zone A opportunity to excel.
Ali’s major worry was that more than 90 percent of the vehicles imported through Republic of Benin are normally on transit to Nigeria market. he Magazine learnt that over 10 000 vehicles imported to neighboring countries, particular Republic of Benin, were trapped at Seme and other land border stations with the enforcement of the government fiscal policy measures banning the importation of vehicles, processed vegetable oil and foreign parboiled rice through the land border.
With the support of the Comptroller General, to Muhammed Comptroller, FOU, Zone A, and his counterparts at Seme, Ogun and Oyo/Osun Commands the have found the need to go after the smugglers in their areas of jurisdiction without compromise. The arrow head of the Command operations and Lagos Roving team, Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs and his team members are on the road 24 hours daily and have not stopped making seizures of exotic vehicles and parboiled rice. The performance of the FOU, Zone A. may have appealed to Ali that he was said to have giving both written and verbal appreciation to the Command Customs Comptroller and his officers .
Given the volume of seizures made by the Command both vehicles , foreign par boiled rice, vegetable oil and second hand clothing, Ali, the Comptroller General had visited the Customs Training School, Ikeja, last year to see things himself. He was surprised at the exotic vehicles parked at the open field awaiting clearance by the owners .
Critics had argued that there was no basis keeping the seized items to waste in the Customs warehouse when Customs could make good revenue for the government by issuing Demand Notice, DN, to the owners. But the Customs claimed that that it has being DN to importers who deserve it and those who have paid it have been allowed to take delivery of their vehicles. The importers who are said to be having problem taking delivery of their vehicles detained at FOU, Zone A. Ikeja are It was learnt that those who were able to produce their Customs papers had recovered their vehicles while those who could not still have their vehicles detained at the Command..
But the seized vegetable oil, foreign parboiled rice and second hand clothing at the Customs warehouses and other warehouses across the country on the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari were said to have been taken to Internally Displaced, Peoples, IDP, Camps in Adamawa, Borno , Yobe and Edo states. This is evident by the volume of vegetable oil, Foreign parboiled rice and second hand clothing that were carried from the Customs warehouse, Ikeja alone between January and May this year.
It is not surprising why the Customs Spokesman could beast his chest that the ”new Customs under Ali is focused and will not give in to any distraction”. Appealing to media Practioners not to allow themselves to be used by disgruntled elements within and outside the Service to pursue their personal agenda”.