By Stephen Ubanna
More facts have emerged why Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, could not appoint substantive Assistant and Deputy Comptroller Generals barely two years after assumption of office. This is because he is making the appointments without the approval of the Nigeria Customs Board and operating as a Sole Administrator as against the letter of his Presidential appointment.
Going by the At establishing the Customs Board, it is the only Authority that has powers to approve such appointments and confirm it. Indeed, past and present Ministers of Finance had not paid much attention to the inauguration of the Board, thus giving the Comptroller Generals the ammunition to operate as Sole Administrator as well as penetrate the Presidency to get quick approvals for their documents. The fallout was lack of respect for the minister of Finance, the Supervising minister.
This is evident going by the key appointments that had been made in the last two years by Ali to reconstitute the Customs Management team. Aware that making substantive appointments of both Assistant and Deputy Comptroller Generals of Customs to re constitute the Customs management team, the Customs Comptroller General may have taken advantage of his closeness to President Muhammadu Buhari to make such appointments in acting capacity.
Barely a year after assumption of office and with the sacking of the old management team led by the then Comptroller General Abdullahi Dikko, he had appointed Six Deputy Comptroller Generals and eight Assistant Comptroller Generals . He was said to have made the appointments with the approval of the President to the neglect of Kemi Adeosun, the minister of Finance, the supervisory minister.
Many believed that with the retirement of the Assistant and Deputy Comptroller Generals appointed by him , Ali should have considered it expedient to facilitate the inauguration of the Nigeria Customs Board by Adeosun, the Finance minister, for the smooth operation of the Service. instead , he had continued in the old arrangement of appointing acting Assistant and Deputy Comptroller Generals to constitute the Customs management team.
He was said to have had the backing of Buhari in the appointment of the seven Assistant Comptroller Generals and four Deputy Comptroller Generals of Customs. They are Alu Sule Rober, Olubiyi Ronke, Dangaladima Aminu, Iferi Patience, Chidi Augustine and Hamza Ladam.
Others aare Ekezie Kaycee, Haruna Mahmud, Sarki Umar F.M, Fatade A.O.B, Enwereuzor Francis and Dahiru Umar. He also approved the re-deployment of eight Comptrollers in acting capacity as part of efforts to reengineer the Customs management for efficient service delivery.
Customs sources told the Magazine that the tenure of these key Customs appointees may be short lived as many of them had less than three years to still wear the Customs Uniform. They believed the management crisis in the Service could not have got to this level if the Customs Board had been reconstituted to make such appointments.
According to the Customs source, the ongoing controversy over the perceived shortfall in the fiscal direction of the NCS should be blamed on the non reconstitution of the Customs Board which ought to direct the strategy implementation of the Service as contained in the provisions of the Customs and Excise management Act CEMA, cap 204
The delay in the reconstitution of the Customs Board may have forced Lucky Amiewero and arrow Head of National Council o Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, NCMDLCA, to petition the Presidency to expedite action in the establishment of the Customs Board, insisting that there is urgent need for the government to give the Service direction through a legally constituted Board . Under the CEMA act , the minister of Finance is expected to head the Board. This means that if the Customs Board is inaugurated today, Adeosun, the Chairmanship of the Board automatically falls on the shoulder of Adeosun, the Finance minister and Ali , the Comptroller General would serve as the Vice Chairman.
Insiders believe that if the Customs Board had been inaugurated by the minister as expected , it would have whittled down the powers of Ali, the Customs who is still operating as a Sole Administrator. This is because the Board , according to the ct establishing it is saddled with the powers to appoint persons in all the offices of the Service including power to make appointments on promotion or transfer and to confirm appointments.
It is not surprising why the Comptroller General is in a fix to make substantive appointments of Assistant and Deputy Comptroller Generals and to confirm such appointments. A senior Customs official told the Magazine that the relationship between Adeosun and the Customs Comptroller General is not quite different from what happened during the era of Ngozi Oknonjo-Iweala, former minister of Finance and Coordinator of the Economy and then Customs Comptroller General, Dikko. The duo had a frosty working relationship. The relationship was so bad as the Customs boss prefer to take orders from the Presidency than the supervisory ministry. He had his way because he had the backing of the then President Goodluck Jonathan.
He had frustrated all plans by the minister to inaugurate the Customs Board by Okonjo-Iweala to inaugurate the Customs Board to strengthen his plot to run the Customs as a Sole Administrator instead of seeing himself as appointee of the government that has a boss.
The question on the lips of most people is: why do Comptroller Generals of NCS from the north disrespect their supervising ministers of Finance from the south geo-political zone. The argument in both official and unofficial circles is that once the Customs Board is put into existence, the Customs Comptroller General would know where his power stops and where the power of the Board begins.
Hope Uzodinma, Chairman, Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff believes that the way out of the management crisis in the NCS is to sack Ali, the Comptroller General to give Adeosun, the Minister of Finance the free hand to inaugurate the Customs Board to forster good working relationship between the duo.