- May solely administer the Service
- World Customs Organisation rejects appointment
Two weeks after President Muhammadu Buhari announced him as the new Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, former military Administrator of Kaduna state, Col. Hameed Ali, rtd, assumed duty as successor to Abdullahi Inde Dikko who retired from the Service only recently under controversial circumstances.
A statement by Customs spokesman, Wale Adeniyi yesterday announcing Ali’s assumption of duty described him as Comptroller-General of Customs.
According to the statement, Ali in his maiden meeting with the management of the Service restated his mandate to undertake reforms and re-structuring to enhance the capacity of Nigeria Customs Service generate more revenue. He charged Customs Management to work with him to deliver on the mandate given by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Specifically, Adeniyi quoted Ali as saying that, “the mandate he has given me are three basic things: go to Customs, reform Customs, restructure Customs and increase the revenue generation, simple. I don’t think that is ambiguous, I don’t think that is cumbersome. It is precise and I believe that is what all of you are here to do.”
He pleaded with the Management not to see him as a stranger in the Customs Family, noting that his mission in Customs is to help build and strengthen the Service. He solicited the support and loyalty of all Officers and Men in his collective approach to make Nigeria Customs a better service.
Earlier, the Deputy Comptroller General covering duties for CGC, John Atte, while handing over, gave him a brief history of the Service and assured him of unquestionable loyalty of Officers and Men to work towards suppression of smuggling, increased revenue collection, facilitation among others, in the interest of the nation.
The retired military man who arrived the Zone 3, Wuse, Abuja headquarter office of the Service 11am yesterday was received by top Customs officers led by the DCGs. Ali, dressed in mufti and accompanied by a retinue of security details was reported to have temporarily rejected the job for purely professional reasons until some close associates of the president prevailed on him to “give it a go,” said one federal government official.
CG or Sole Administrator?
Although Adeniyi’s statement addressed Ali as Comptroller General, officers and men of the Service were not sure yesterday as to his correct portfolio and hence, mission at Customs House. In other words, staff of the Service who had expressed mixed feelings from the point of his appointment remained in dark over the role of Alhaji Ali who stormed the Customs premises in a black Babanriga with cap to match.
While some wondered why he assumed office and inspected guards without the conventional Customs uniform, others who spoke anonymously to Nigerian Pilot were of the view that the earlier pronounced Comptroller General who only spent 20 minutes in office days after he was appointed CG could be working as sole administrator after all.
“We don’t really understand what is happening. The normal thing is that any CG is expected to put his uniform. I think the indication is that he may actually become a sole administration.
“…We here are still watching to see what happens in days to come. He has been appointed to head us and there is nothing much I can say,” one of the senior ranked officer confided in Nigerian Pilot.
Another senior officer who didn’t want his name on print remarked, “He is somebody we have not met before. Someone we don’t know. We are hopeful that definitely he is going to cope on the former CG has done.
“We cannot really comprehend his actions or reactions but whatever thing he does, we know that his going to do a nice job. You know he was appointed by the president, since he has not been in the profession.
“So we still believe that there are some areas where he can really cope and there are some areas where he needs people to advise him on what to do. He is on appointment so you can’t say that he will not perform but before he takes any decision, he will receive the advice of the management and know how to do all things but we are quite sure that he came for the betterment of the service.”
Said one middle rank Customs officer on the matter, “I am confused; not only me; we are many. Is he here as Sole Administrator or CG? He gave assurances to the management not to see him as an outsider, but he really is an outsider. “The annoying thing is that the appointment of Col. Ali contravenes the provisions of the Customs and Excise Management Act, CEMA, which does not allow for an outsider to head the Customs either in the guise of sole administrator or Comptroller General. It is like the case of a blind man coming to lead a one eyed man.”
Veteran maritime journalist, Elder Asu Beks, who is also the publisher of Shipping World magazine, pointed out that if President Buhari insists on appointing Ali to take over Customs either as Comptroller-General or Sole Administrator, then the former military man should acquire some basic training in Customs procedures.
“The maritime community is worried with recent developments in the Customs Service. Nobody has a problem with Col. Ali. But for him to come and take over the Customs either as Sole Administrator or as CG, he should first go for an intensive six-month refresher course at the Lagos or Kano Customs training school,” Asu said.
He continued, “In that six-month period, Buhari should appoint an acting Comptroller-General from the crop of professional officers available until Col. Ali concludes his training and is ready to assume the sensitive task entrusted to him. If this were the army, it would be practically impossible for a civilian to be appointed as head over serving officers in flagrant disregard for the existing hierarchy protocols governing the Armed Forces.”
Nigerian Pilot learnt that Ali’s stint in the Customs would “come with a massive reorganisation,” said a presidency official. According to him, “Mr. President has given Col. Ali specific mandate to clean up that place. Yes, the Customs has been a major revenue source for the government over the years; it could have contributed double or triple of what it currently files as returns to government if not for the corruption in the Service.”
He said that Ali would reorganise the “officers and management of the Customs, including the zonal commands where everyone knows there has been brazen looting by officials of the Customs.” He mentioned all the Zones of the Service especially, the Ports Operations unit at Tin Can Island port and the country’s border posts as well as the airports as areas that Ali will “concentrate his attention on.”
He would not confirm however if the reorganisation would cost any officer of the Service their jobs.
It would be recalled that Alhaji Ali’s appointment August 27 came as a shock to entire Customs staff few days after Deputy Comptroller General John Atte was made Acting CG.
Customs Organisation kicks
Already, Ali’s appointment as Comptroller General of the NCS may have sailed into trouble waters, as the world Customs Organisation, WCO and Customs agents among other stake holders voiced their opposition to the appointment.
Feelers from outside the country show that WCO may also not be comfortable with the appointment of a retired Col, to direct the activities of the Service.
A source indicated that the WCO has already subtly kicked against the appointment saying that installing an unprofessional man as CG could set the organisation back. The body could suspend Nigeria, if the country remains adamant.
Also, Licensed Customs Agents under the aegis of International Freight Forwarders Association of Nigeria, IFFAN, who flagged off the opposition condemned Ali’s appointment stressing that Customs Service tasks, though paramilitary in nature, was still of a technical and professional nature that even a crack military officer may not be able to perfectly perform.
Stating this in Lagos, the IFFAN Director of Publicity, Mr. Ossy Ezeweiyinya lamented that the appointment genuinely portends great danger, not only for the revenue collection drive of the customs service, but also for the consummation of the laudable on-going reforms and growth of the Service.
“Though sound, the retired Col. is not a professional”, the body reasoned, highlighting a point for which an Enugu based lawyer has presently dragged Buhari to court for, positing that the Court should call Mr. President to order.
“The position of my association is that we have been taken five steps backwards now, we need a professional as CG.
“If you want to fight corruption, you cannot use an outsider who knows nothing about revenue collection, I don’t know what a retired army officer can do here, if it is discipline I can say it’s okay, but we are talking about revenue collection and cargo facilitation,” Ezeweiyinya stated further.