By Stephen Ubanna
When Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel was appointed the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, by president Muhammadu Buhari, in late 2015, not many people gave him opportunity to succeed . this is because of the peculiar nature of the NCS where Officers and Men of the Service who have entrenched themselves in a particular area were not ready to accept posting to another Command. They had expected the Customs boss to start the restructuring and reforming programme of the government by moving the Officers and men of the Service around.
The Customs boss may have given people the impression to doubt his capability to carry out the Presidential mandate when delayed the posting of officers and other personnel of the Service as expected to break their wings.
Investigation by the Magazine shows that past Comptroller Generals had not followed the Civil Service transfer rule of not allowing a staff to stay at a place for more than three years. It is not surprising why in most of the customs formations some Officials have spent over 10 years. It is worse in okoto/ Kebbi/ Zamfara Command where those who had been transferred to another Command found their way back because of their close relationship with the smugglers in the area.
Insiders told the Magazine that what people consider as smuggling of rice and vehicles in the south west is nothing compared to its smuggling in Sokoto/Kebbi/ Zamfara and other states in the north. Take the case of the border town of Maigatari in Jigawa state where car smuggling is a way of life for people of Communities in the area.
Sources told the Magazine that Ali had used the first five months in office to study the file of the Customs personnel in readiness to start the restructuring exercise. A senior Customs officer informed the Magazine that in the past many had lobbied for posting to the north because of the numerous land borders in the region. Ali alluded to this in Kaduna when he addressed the Officers and men of the Command during his familarization tour.
”many of us have formed the habit of lobbying for posting.”, he said. He shocked the officers when he declared,” we have decided that posting now in the Service is after three years”. The Customs boss made it clear that anybody who has spent three years in a place should be ready to go.
unknown to the Officers, Ali has made up his mind on what to do which will see to the posting of the Officers and men of the Service from one Customs formation to another, an indication that there would be no room for lobbying as was the case in the past.
Barely a year after Ali dropped the hint of following the Civil Service rule of Staff transfer, he has matched his words with action. He began with the transfer of the Comptrollers in May 2016. The transfer of the Comptrollers was quickly followed with the posting of the Deputy Comptrollers last December and that of the Customs Formation Spokesmen was carried out out last March. The Assistant Comptrollers posting was released late last month.
The Magazine learnt that the posting of other senior Officers including the Inspectors have been concluded and ready to be released. When the source visited the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja,Lagos last week, some of the newly transferred Officers from the north to the Command had arrived , looking like fish out of water. This is because the activities in the Command look strange to them compared to what obtained in the north.
As at last Tuesday, April 4, 2017, the officers who had worked with Mohammed Adamu , an Assistant Comptroller , who was affected by the transfer exercise were not in good mood. It was learnt that Adamu had raised the team and nurtured it to be a formidable force in FOU, Zone A, that both fraudulent agents and their Customs collaborators at the ports including smugglers dread them,
A source told the Magazine that with the transfer of Adamu, the team may be disbanded, fueling speculation that the Command Deputy Comptroller Enforcement may now be in full control of the Command Operations . There are indications that a new poster is being prepared to accommodate the newly transfered officers to the Command.
Ali would want any officer who has established himself or herself in his or her previous Command to do so in the new posting. Many believe that the postings would achieve its desired result if the Customs boss could expedite action to facilitate the transfer of other Officers and men of the Service to avoid sabotage of his efforts.
While Ali is forging ahead with the Customs restructuring and reforming programme,many believe that he has not done anything to uplift the image of the Service in the last one year. They described the one year which Ali has held forth as the Comptroller General of the NCS as a failure as he could not really point out any tangible thing which he has done with the seven percent cost of collection which the Service enjoys for collecting revenue for the government at the ports and land border areas. The amount was approved for the Service by former President Olusegun Obasanjo for the Service as a way to encourage the Officers and men of the Service to put more effort in their revenue generation and anti-smuggling operations.
Abdullahi Dikko, a former Comptroller General of Customs is being remembered by the Officers and men of the Service as having used the money wisely to improve their welfare package, build Customs barracks in various Customs formations and changed Customs anti-smuggling weapon to AK47 as well as purchase of anti-smuggling speed boats which was lacking in the past in the Service. Ali must provecritics wrong that he would do better than his predecessors.
- Customs Personnel on Parade