By Stephen Ubanna
Those who think that the on-going mass posting of Assistant Comptrollers by Hameed Ali , a retired Colonel and embattled Comptroller General , Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, would affect the operation of the Service a at the ports and land border areas would be disappointed. This is because the exercise has long been expected.
The movement of the Assistant Comptrollers from the Customs formation in the north to the south , according a source is to inject discipline into the Service. It is coming on the heels of the posting of the Deputy Comptrollers last December. Prior to the deployment of the Deputy Comptrollers, that of the Comptrollers was carried out last May.
Many had expected, Ali, the Customs boss to have started with the redeployment of Officers and men of the Service on assumption of office last August but it took him about five months to make the first redeployment involving the Comptrollers and elevation of some Officers to Management position.
Investigation by the Magazine shows that the deployment of the Deputy Comptrollers last December gave Ali, an insight into the deals that goes on in the posting of Officers. It was learnt that there were instances where the Deputy Comptrollers who were serving at the port but where deployed to the Customs Headquarters found their way back to the port.
A case in point was Buhari, one of the senior Officers from Katsina state.It was gathered that when the information filtered out to the hearing of Ali, he ordered him back to the Headquarters. Insiders told the Magazine that he has since resumed at Abuja.
It is not surprising why the retired army Colonel has taken direct control of the supervision of the posting of the Assistant Comptrollers to avoid a repeat of what happened with the posting of the Deputy Comptrollers. This is because of his Presidential mandate to clean up the Customs- restructure, reform and improve the revenue collection of the Service from the N100 billion set by Abdullahi Dikko, the former Comptroller General.
A senior Customs Officer informed the Magazine that the posting of the Assistant Comptrollers had been ready since early January but the Customs boss was hesitant to give the nod for the release because of the crisis between him and the Bukola Saraki led Senate . The battle had to do with the payment of duty on old imported vehicles on Nigeria roads and wearing of Customs uniform. The trouble may have taken much of his time that Officers and men of the Service forgot about the posting excercise. It did not occur to them that Ali would go back to the exercise so soon because of his many troubles.
Nothwithstanding the trouble with the red Chamber,Ali proved that that he has come to do a job in the Customs. The recent posting of Victor Dimka, a former Comptroller of Seme/Badagry Command to the land -locked Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone D, Bauchi, in the north east geo-political zone may have sent a signal to the Assistant Comptrollers waiting for their posting that no officer would be spared irespective of the connection.
A Lagos based agent who takes much of his cargoes at Port Multi-services Terminal Limited , PTML, informed the Magazine that the posting at the Command affected all the Assistant Comptrollers. PTML has been a dark spot in Lagos.
Sources told the Magazine that on several occasions some senior Officers in the Command have been invited at FOU, Zone A, office at Ikeja over vehicles released without the appropriate duty paid. A visitor to the t Command would be surprised at the number of vehicles of different brands manufactured between 2005 and 2010 detained in the premises. The source disclosed that the vehicles would be released as soon as investigation areconcluded on them. But the mass posting of the Assistant Comptrollers may have affected the Officers linked with the release of the vehicles.
There are fears in both official and unofficial circles that the mass posting of the Assistant Comptrollers may dampen the enthusiasm of the Officers who are used to the style of their former O/C to work under their new boss. PTML has been known as the dark spot of Customs formations over the years with the government losing millions of naira into private pockets yearly.
The rot in the Command and may have forced Assistant Comptroller Adamu Mohamed, led roving team of the FOU, Zone to keep a close tab on the terminal and other ports in Lagos and the land border stations.
This has paid off as Haruna Mamudu, the Comptroller of the Command is always inviting Ali to Lagos over seizures made by the Command. Already, some of the seizures made by the roving team, according to a source have been taken to court for condemnation. One of the seizures , according to the source would touch the nooks and cranies of this country because of what was found in the Container.
The Magazine learnt that the case has been adjoined several times by the presiding Judge with no hope in sight of how soon the judgement would be given.
Besides the vehicles impounded by the roving over alleged under-payment, between January and February, 2017, the Adamu led roving team, Jerome Attah, an Assistant Superintendent and the FOU, Zone A, spokesman said the interventions of the Command through the roving team led to the recovery of n650.31 million from duty payments and Demand Notices, DN, on ”general goods that tried to beat the system from seaports, airports and border stations in guise of false declaration, transfer of value and under -payment”.
With Ali’s mass transfer of the Assistant Comptrollers, agents are already ceberating the rumuor making the rounds that Adamu, the Officer giving them headache at FOU is gone for good. It is not surprising that for much of last week the Command was like a ghost office as agents including those whose Containers are in detention avoided the premises. Mamudu made case worse by insisting that visitors including journalists must drop their phones at the Command Chief Security Officer’s desk.
Worse still, no visitor is allowed to enter any officer’s office because of the allegations by agents that Officers armtwist them to extort money from them to facilitate the release of their detained cargoes.
While Ali is struggling to restructure the Service, the Senate is not yet done with. The Senators have turned down the request of Abubakar Mali, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice not to pressurise the Customs boss to wear the Customs uniform as the case is in Court. But the Lawmakers ignored him, insisting that no individual can stop them from carrying out their constitutional mandate. The Lawmakers may have their reason. The case has not been alloted to any judge or a restraining order.
Worried that the face office between Ali, the Customs boss and the Senate may tear the party, Odigie-Onyegun, National Chirman of the All Progressive Party Congress, APC, and the party National Working Committee, NWC, may have known the problem ahead of the party if nothing urgent is done that the Committee has intervened to save the situation from degenerating.
Bolaji Abdullahi, former Minister of Sports, Youths and Culture and now the image maker of the ruling APC said ” building upon the peace process initiated by President Muhammadu Buhari who has set up the Yemi Osibanjo, the Vice President Committee to interface between the Executive and the Legislature to resolve the crisis.