There are indications that the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Hameed Ali may not be done with his re-organization of the paramilitary establishment in line with his three-point mandate to reform, restructure and increase revenue.
Aside the impending “tsunami”, it was learnt that the Customs boss plans to address the perennial issue of stagnation by dismantling the godfather structures which placed some “anointed” officers on ranks far higher than their unfavoured counterparts. That aspect of the reform may see some officers demoted and others elevated.
According to the Spokesman of Customs, Wale Adeniyi, the five Deputy Comptrollers-General of Customs (DCGs) who had earlier given notification to the Comptroller-General for voluntary disengagement, are John Atte, Ibrahim Mera, Musa Tahir, Austin Nwosu and Akinade Adewuyi.
“Three others of the rank of Assistant Comptroller-General are also affected in the re-organisation. They are Madu Mohammed, Secretary to the Nigeria Customs Board, Victor Gbemudu, Zonal Coordinator Zone ‘A’ and Bello Liman, Assistant Comptroller-General, headquarters. The rest are of the rank of Comptrollers serving in Customs headquarters, zonal offices and various area commands. The Comptroller-General of Customs stated that the retirements were part of measures to kick-start the repositioning of the service for improved performance”, Adeniyi said.
Though their disengagement was termed voluntary, Saturday Sun learnt they were actually axed but given the room to resign as soft landing.
The development, it was learnt, has sent jitters down the spines of the “surviving” senior Customs officers, who suspect the Comptroller General may soon release another sack list that will consume them.
For many, the ongoing sack was anticipated as the Customs boss, Hammed Ali had at different fora, hinted of plans to weed out those he described as bad eggs within the system.
He said corrupt officers had strangulated the service, thus reducing the amount of revenue generated into the government’s coffers.
The coming of Ali
When Hammed Ali, a retired military Colonel was appointed the Customs Comptroller General following the retirement of his predecessor, Abdullahi Dikko Inde, he was literally told to cleanse the Customs, which is undoubtedly a major revenue generating artery of the government but believed to also be a cesspit of corruption.
Before Ali was named as the new CGC, all the DCGs and some ACGs were reportedly romancing many influential politicians to be made the Customs boss following Abdullahi Dikko’s retirement.
Top government sources who confided in Saturday Sun said the lobbying soon turned into rivalry as some of the power-hungry Customs officers began attacking each other.
“The in-fighting was too fierce. All of them wanted power and I’m sure the President must have shocked them by announcing an outsider. But most of them were already billionaires following intelligence reports on them. That was not a soothing news to Buhari and he brought in Ali as a shocker. He will surely sweep away some bad eggs once he fully settles down”, a source had predicted.
Findings showed that Ali, a greenhorn in Customs quickly settled down to understand how the Service operates. He identified corruption as the major blight the growth of the service. He also discovered that corruption had become so institutionalised that there was no way any importer or businessman can transact any legitimate business without bribing Customs officers.
Ali was also fully briefed about the connivance of Customs officers and agents to shortchange the government by under-paying container and vehicle tariffs just to enrich a few persons in the system.
He also learnt of “flying containers”, a slang that means containers exit the ports without documentation. All parties involved share the proceeds and the government gets nothing. The former Customs CG, Abdullahi Dikko once described Tin Can Island Command of the service as the most corrupt Customs formation.
At a recent meeting with manufacturers in Lagos, the new Customs boss was shocked when he learnt about 70 signatures are required before any of them can get their raw materials out of the Tin Can Island Port in Lagos.
“About 70 people will have to inspect the goods and append their signatures to the documents releasing the goods, while about 40 signatures are required for the same process at the Lagos Port Complex (LPC), Apapa”, they said.
All these, it was learnt formed part of the reasons for the mass sack.
Another challenge that propelled Ali to disengage so many officers is to address the issue of stagnation and “favoured” postings.
“I’ve realised that there are anomalies in the promotion and posting of Customs officers. We have complaints on it. We have cases where people were promoted based on godfatherism and so we’ll review them. We also have cases of those who have been stagnated in a particular position for a very long time for no just cause and we also want to address that. We also have those who have been glued to a place where they make money via bribes and other underhand deals. We’ll also look into it. A committee is looking into these issues. It is already working out modalities to address these anomalies. Soon, you’ll hear what we are doing about them”, Ali said at a recent press conference.
Importers, freight forwarders and other members of the import community have described the ongoing reform as a painful surgery that must be performed for the Customs and indeed the nation’s economy to reposition for greater efficiency.
They accused the Abdullahi Dikko administration of running the Customs as a mafia ring where “his boys” enjoyed juicy posting and rapid promotion and others left dejected. -The Sun