By Stephen Ubanna
When President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel as Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, with a mandate to restructure, reform and improve the Service revenue generation base, nobody gave him opportunity to succeed. This is because of the rot in the Service.
Moreso, he was coming from a military background, quite different from the Customs which has the responsibility to generate revenue and enforce anti-smuggling operations in the country.
Given his lack of knowledge of Customs operations and its internal politics, most Customs officials at the seaports, airports and land border stations believe they could commit any fraud and get away. They got it wrong.
Unknown to them, Ali, the Bauchi state born Comptroller General had taken the first one month of his appointment to study the files left by his predecessor Abdullahi Dikko in the office about the investigation that had been carried out by the investigation Unit and the disciplinary actions taken. The reports were ready. it was a matter of time for the reports to be implemented.
Given his military investigative background, he knew he has a big task at hand and determined to prove to the doubting Thomoses that his appointment by Buhari to head the Customs was not a mistake. Indeed, officers who had been indicted by the various reports who had expected the new Comptroller General to dump it and start on a fresh note were disappointed as he moved to implement the it and the rent ones.
The NCS monthly order report shows that between October 2015 and now, the army Customs Comptroller General has sacked 61 officers and retired 16 over alleged different offences ranging from Certificate forgery, improper examination and fraudulent release of Containers and refusal to obey staff orders.
The report shows that two Comptrollers and 27 other senior officers of the rank of Deputy Comptrollers, Assistant Comptrollers and Chief Superintendent of Customs were affected by the Ali huricane. Investigation by the Magazine shows that one of the alleged affected Comptrollers was Ndalati Mohammed, a one time Comptroller at Seme Command who had retired.
Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller of Customs and the Customs National Public Relations Officer when contacted about the Comptroller’s huricane dismissed it as ruse. Attah asked, ”where is that coming from and who sacked who? I don’t understand. ” There is no such thing pls”, he said. He however confirmed about the sacks and retirements which is an old issue and which is usually reported in the Service monthly order.
A senior Customs officer informed the Magazine that the sack and forced retirement that had hit the said officers may soon be the lot of other senior officers at Apapa, Tin-can Island and Port Multi-services Terminal, PTML, and offshore terminals who had been involved in improper examination and release of cargoes including those who refused to comply with recent Staff orders at the seaports but fingered in the recent frauds at the ports.
This is evident going by the number of Containers and vehicles that had been intercepted by the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Roving team , headed by Charles Opabi Jack, a Chief Superintendent of Customs, in the last one month and which reports had been sent to the Customs Headquarters by Mohammed UBA Gabar, the Comptroller.
The team alone were said to have intercepted 12 Containers carrying different items ranging from leather, unprocessed wood , medicaments, scrap metals, electric cables, wet blue to used clothings and tyres in the one month. Mohammed UBA Gabar, Comptroller, of the Command disclosed that the Duty Paid Value of , DPV, of the cargoes intercepted by the Command within the period was N356.25 million.
Insiders told the Magazine that the worst fraud are being committed at the Tin-can Island and PTML, vehicle seats. It was learnt that vehicles are undervalued by officers for their own pecuniary gains. Genuine importers who may have made their duty payments are replaced f by importer that had not paid any duty and cargo released and exited.
More worrisome is the improper valuation of most of the vehicles released at the port. This is evident going by the number of released vehicles that had fallen into the hand of the Command Roving team operatives. There was a case of a Jeep where the ex-factory price was said to be $240,000 but was said to have been valued based on $34,000 ex-factory price. The number of agents who had been issued Demand Notice that runs into millions of naira over their intercepted cargoes or vehicles speaks volume of the rot at the seaports.
It was gathered that Jack and his men close watch on the cargoes a released at the seaport in Lagos may have put fears on the officers who now see the FOU, Zone A, Roving team personnel as their enemies.
Sources informed the Magazine that it is always a bad day for importers with their agents when the no nonsense Jack decides to lead the team operation as he could cover all the nooks and corners of Lagos. An agent disclosed that Jack and his men would stop at nothing to move into the streets of any part of Lagos to impound any vehicle or Container alleged to have been illegally released.
The impounded vehicles were said to be 2015 and 2017 models which are at the Command mechanical workshop, training school and office complex . A retired Superintendent of Customs confirmed that most of the impounded vehicles were from one of the volatile areas of Lagos as the Youths of the Communities are to fight the Customs personnel to a standstill with their dangerous weapons.
Many believe that the job of the FOU, Zone a, roving team personnel were made simple as the Customs systems used at the port takes note of the dossier on the officers who perpetuate the fraud of illegally releasing cargoes and vehicles at the seaports. The number of officers from Tin-can Island and PTML Commands that are being questioned by officers of the FOU Enforcement officers is a clear evidence that the Ali sledge hammer may soon fall on moreofficers at the ports at Lagos Lagos.
UBA, the FOU , Zone A, Comptroller believes that his Roving team personnel are doing a good job in their effort to sanitise the sea ports. He was said to have provided the team with all the necessarry logistics support to perform.
The officers at the Ijebu Ode checkpoint in Ogun state are said to be giving the Roving team all the support needed to ensure that cargoes or vehicles which escape their eagle eyes in Lagos would not escape them. Indeed, this is working out well for the Command as the Ijebu Ode team are said to be making an impact in the Command’s anti-smuggling war.