As maritime workers threaten to shut ports
It seems the romance between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Muhammadu Buhari may have gone sour following the latter’s recent sectional appointments.
Top source revealed that both leaders are likely to hold a crucial meeting this weekend at which Obasanjo will insist on the reversal of some of the appointments, especially in the case of the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service.
According to our source, a visibly angry Obasanjo was said to have expressed disgust before an APC chieftain over the lopsided appointments saying that he didn’t care who heads the Customs but is rather interested in allowing a professional take charge of the Service.
In the same vein, there are fears that concerned maritime stakeholders may ground port operations next week following a protest over the appointment of Col. Hammed Ali (rtd) as the Comptroller General, CG of the Nigeria Customs Service.
Buhari had on Thursday, appointed retired Colonel Hammed Ali to head the Customs Service following the voluntary resignation of former CG, Dikko Inde Abdullahi, about a week ago.
However, the action was not welcomed by stakeholders in the maritime industry who are unhappy that the appointment is an affront on the sensibilities of the core of professional customs officers statutorily position to assume the apex apposition in the service.
A stakeholder told our correspondent that watchers of the industry had suspected foul play when there was a failure to announce Dikko’s replacement over 24 hours after his resignation.
“We knew that something was wrong when over 24 hours after President Buhari had accepted Dikko’s resignation, no mention was made of who was supposed to take over the reins at Customs House,” he said.
Maritime stakeholders are worried that the Customs Service, which is a professional organisation, must not be allowed to fall into the hands of people not suitably qualified to run its affairs.
“This latest appointment is a reminder of the dark days of late Sani Abacha’s regime when Maj.-Gen. SOG Ango was drafted to head the Customs Service.
“The Ango era was characterised by low officer morale, zero trade facilitation, unhindered smuggling activities and abysmally low revenue collection, as both retired and serving military officers turned the service into a cash cow, thereby distracting the customs from its core functions of trade facilitation and revenue generation,” a maritime practitioner who craved anonymity noted.
A seasoned maritime journalist and publisher of Shipping World magazine, Asu Beks, condemned the appointment saying, “This is a Nigeria Customs Service and not a northern Customs Service and Mr. President must be seen to be fair to all sections of the country.
“Since 1975 to date, the North has dominated the position of the CG as if there are no qualified officers from the other parts of the country. It is unacceptable and maritime stakeholders are determined to shut the ports in protest of this action.”
The table above reveals that the South-West has occupied the position of CG for a total of nine years; the South-East has had it for six months, while no officer from the South-South has never been appointed to the position.
On the other hand, the North-Central, North-West and North-East have dominated the position for a period of 31 years registering five, 21 and five and half years respectively.
Asu Beks added, “At a time when we are talking about moving Nigeria beyond oil and the need to maximise the potentials of the Customs and Federal Inland Revenue Service as the second and third largest sources of revenue after crude oil, this is a period to put square pegs in square holes instead of flooding the Service with retired soldiers.
“We would have preferred a situation where a retired Comptroller General of Customs was appointed to the position instead of a retired soldier who knows next to nothing about tariffs and trade policies.
“This is the same scenario that played out during Col. Ango’s tenure between 1996 and 1998 when the Customs Service was inundated with Army officers asking for auction favours,” another stakeholder who did not want to be mentioned observed.
Media reports also revealed that the manner of Buhari’s appointments have caused an outrage in the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC. Leaders of the APC have been reported to complain that the appointments tilted in favour of the North and say the party must move fast to counter the expected backlash of the President’s actions.
A leader of the APC in the South-West was quoted as saying that this was the same agenda pursued by the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, when everything was pro-North.
“It is shocking and does not speak well at all. The South have been completely neglected and must rise up against this,” he concluded.
Ali’s appointment as substantive CG of Customs has thrown the entire maritime industry into disarray, leading to brainstorming meetings between core stakeholders such as the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA; National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF; National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, NMCDLA on strategies to present their dissatisfaction with the appointment and to demand a reversal or face the consequences of the impending port shut down.