Why Ali Pays Lip Service to Customs Officers Welfare?

By Stephen Ubanna

For much of last year and now officers and men of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, had looked up to Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and the   Comptroller General,   to  improve on their remuneration package and solve the Accommodation problem facing  the Service.

They were worried that  staff  of  the Nigeria national  Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, and the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, both revenue generating agencies, had better condition of Service as their own was nothing to write home about.

Investigation by the Magazine shows that he may not have considered  improving the Customs personnel welfare package  a top  priority  because  of the Presidential mandate  given  to  him to reform,  restructure and improve the Service revenue generation which did cover it.

The fallout was that it rubbed off on the Service revenue generatio between 2015 and 2016 forcing  Kemi Adesun, the minister of Finance to cry out for improvement because of the down turn in the International Oil market.  The ministerial plea to  the Customs  personnel to rekindle their effort to improve the Service revenue generation and a promise that something would be done  about their welfare  may  have shut up the Service revenue generation to over a trillion naira   in 2017.

Hameed Ali: CG of Customs Running The Customs On Adhoc Basis

Appreciative of the  Customs  effort  to pay over a trillion naira into the Federation Account,  Adeosun, the minister  , was said  to have taken up the matter with Buhari on the need to improve the remuneration  package of  Customs  personnel in order to rekindle their  effort to improve on the revenue generation of the Service because  of the instability in the price of Oil in the International Oil market . Buhari was said to have directed Adeosum to work out the details to know the financial implication.

Going by the verbal Presidential approval, the minister was said to  have asked   Oladumi Biosola, a Director of Finance in the Ministry of Finance to  broke the cheery  news  of  the government plans to improve their welfare  pacckage  at a Custom  function in Abuja last January. The enthusiasm with which the officers received the news speaks volume, meaning that they had long expected it  to happen.

The Customs Officers had  expected Ali, the  Comptroller General to follow it up because of his close relationship with  Buhari to quickly  get  approval for it but he was said to have  relaxed leaving it out to Adeossun, the Finance minister,  despite  her pressing official duties both within and outside the country.

The delay in getting a quick  response from the minister  may have   forced him to set up a Committee  headed by a Comptroller to review the  salary structure of the Service. The Committee was said to have been set up  about three months ago .

Insiders told the  Magazine that the Committee which  had collected the salary structure of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC and the Federal Inland Revenue Services, FIRS, the two other revenue generating agencies of the government,  to guide  them in designing a new salary structure for the Service are yet to come out with an agreeable  salary structure  for  the Service as at  July, 2018.

The  Committee  is expected to forward its report to Ali, the Comptroller General, who in turn  would present it to the management before forwarding it to the minister with a covering letter for her input and presentation  to the Revenue Mobilisation , Allocation  and Finance Committee, RMAFC , to work on it  .The RMAFC  is expected to report  back  to the minister about the financial implication who will in turn take  it to the President forapproval and implementation.

Perhaps, one major  area the Customs Comptroller  may have failed the Service was the  provision of Accommodation .  The situation is so bad in Apapa, Tincan can Island , PortMulti-services Terminal  Limited, PTML, Federal Operation Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, and Ikorodu Lighhter Terminal, ILT where Customs officers still sleep in offices  and Containers.  The aggressiveness of the Customs Provost Officers, CPO, at the Commands, particular, FOU, Zone A, were visitors are forced to drop their mobile  phones at the gate speaks volume.

The Accommodation  problem in the FOU, Zone A, was said to be very worrisome that the Commandant of  the Customs Training College, Ikeja, was  forced to  step in  by allowing the officers to make use of the vacant places in the school,  including  empty Containers  in the premises.  Insiders told the Magazine  that the offices and classrooms are crowded with officer.  The source informed the Magazine that about  10 officers could be  found n a class or office with their mobile bags.

at Abuja, the  accommodation problem of the officers  may have reached him that he was said  to have  recently bought  a 200 units Housing Estate  which is considered a tip of the iceberg  as there over 1000 officers  at the Customs  Headquarters and the Abuja Customs Command awaiting to be accommodated.

It would  be recalled that  Abdullahi Dikko, a former  Comptroller  General of the Service had set a record of  establishing new Customs Barracks  at Abuja and renovating existing Barracks in Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, PortHarcourt, Kano and Sokoto states among others including  buying a multi-million naira new Customs Corporate Headquarters at Abuja which is still under renovation and building new Customs Command offices and warehouses in Seme and Idiroko land border stations.

A retired senior Customs officer who spoke to the Magazine disclosed that Dikko  could achieve  this much because  he has the support of the then President Goodluck Jonathan. He was said to have  judiciously used  the seven percent cost of revenue collection approved for the service  by the  then President Olusegun Obasanjo to provide the Housing and other infrastructural  facilities for the Service including an enhanced salary structure  for the Service which  was approved by  the former President Jonathan.

. The question on the lips of  most people was: why was Ali not spending the seven percent cost  of revenue collection allocation from the RMAFC as expected. He has been in the saddle as the Customs Comptroller General  for about three years the monthly allocation to the Service.  In 201 collecting the seven percent  cost of  revenue collection for the government. Between 2017 and the first two months of 2018 alone,the NCS  was said to have received  N53.479 billion from the Commission, which  may have facilitated the buying  of the 200 Housing  units in Abuja.

There are fears in both official and unofficial circles that he may have been returning the unspent  financial allocation  to the Federation Account to win the heart of Buhari as a transparent political appointee .  The source posits that  Ali may have to act fast to improve the revenue  remuneration package and solve the Accommodation  problem of officers to save the situation from degenerating.

But maritime analysts believe that  the major reason  why Ali may be dilly-dallying  in improving   Customs personnel welfare  has to do with a cabal at the Customs Headquarters  who were said to have held him hostage over the last two years . The Magazine learnt  that the cabal  which spread across the management  team  down the line, were said to have occupied him with other issues that takes his mind away   from  officers welfare need.  Moreso, he was said to have allegedly blocked  the Comptrollers  from  having direct access to him to  preempt unsolicited  advice from any of them.

His rigidity  and inaccessibility to the Comptrollers , who are the field officers may have forced many of them  with good ideas on how to move the Service  forward   to  remain calm at  their various  meetings with  him at Abuja. They may have withdrawn  to their shelves to avoid been tagged by the cabal as the ”know it all Comptroller”, thus leaving him to be in the strong grip of the cabal.

It was not surprising why Adeosun, the minister of  Finance  said ”being an outsider in an insider’s place  is a difficult job”. There  are decisions which were said  to have  been taken by  him but considered  by many as counter-productive. Take for instance the setting up of the Compliance team which was disbanded after one year   of operation at the seaports,  airports and land border station  across the country.

Also, last May , he had set up the Headquarters Strike Force, HSF, as a replacement for the Compliance team, doing  precisely the job of the  Federal Operations Unit, OUs across the Country: anti-smuggling operation. Just like the FOUs which  had Zonal offices located in Lagos, Kaduna, Owerri and Bauchi,  the HSF,  also have the same structure, thus making nonsense of Customs traditional  structure  he met on ground.

.The HSF, has a mandate  to strike based on intelligence   information supplied to it by the Customs ruling center at the headquarters or Apapa, for the Lagos team and return back to their operational  base .They Strike Force  personnel may have been carried  away by the job and the interest to service at the  Customs Headquarters   that their operational vehicles  are  found all over the Federation competing with FOU personnel. This is evident at the busy Oshodi-Apapa Express way in  Lagos, fueling speculation that Ali knows what he is doing to whittle down the powers of the Customs FOU, described  in both official and unofficial circles as the Customs  Police Unit.

More worrisome was the militarisation of the police to serve the interest of the cabal outside the Service. Given his military background, he had created a Customs police Unit , described as an ”internal  mechanism to check  and ensure discipline in the Service.  he  was said to have spent millions of naira  to  train the  Customs police officers  at the Nigeria military  police school in Zaria, Kaduna state.

Many believe that the establishment of the Customs police was a waste of funds as the FOUs across the country are well equipped to do   the customs police  job going by the arrests that had been made over the years of importers with their agents involved in dubious trade transactions. is regarded  as the police of Customs  is recognised in the Customs and Excise Management Act, Cap204.  The copy cat Comptroller general of Customs  may not have  fully read out the duties of the Customs Police  Unit as in the case of  the military police, the Unit has a clear-cut function to maintain discipline in the Barracks  and indeed, the military in general.  As a prelude to setting up the Customs police, a gun had been mounted at the entrance  to the Corporate headquarters manned by trigger hungry Customs police men who hare armed to the teeth. Analysts inssts  that there was no basis for the militarisation of Customs  operation because it is a para-military Organisation, with established structures . They described the Customs policemen as Ali’s body guards and not established to serve the interest of the Service.

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