Heads may roll in Customs as Ali goes to work


 …DCGs, ACGs, vulnerable

TOP hierarchy of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) are now jittery over impending job cuts in line with the Federal Government’s resolve to reform the establishment for higher revenue generation.

This was as industry watchers believe President Muhammadu Buhari’s preference for an outsider to head the Customs was to allow a neutral person to clean the paramilitary agency seen by many as a cesspit of corruption in Nigeria.

The new Comptroller General of the NCS, Hameed Ali, while addressing top officers of the service in Abuja last week reminded them of his presidential mandate to restructure, reform and increase revenue generation while he holds sway at the service.

Though his address sounded like that of any new head of government establishment, analysts viewed his body language on “reform” in the Customs as a pseudo word for mass sack going by precedence.

For instance, in 2004, then President Olusegun Obasanjo “reformed and restructured” the Customs by sweeping away the then acting Comptroller General, Tayo Ogungbemile, who just took over from Mustapha Aliyu that retired.

Also affected in the “tsunami” that was casually tagged “reform” were all Deputy Comptrollers General (DCG) (six of them), 13 out of 17 Assistant Comptrollers General (ACG) and 75 Comptrollers. By the time the dust had settled, Buba Gyang emerged as the CGC, even though he was formerly an ACG.

The ghost of the 2004 reform exercise appears to be haunting the Customs’ top brass who report to duty everyday expecting the bad news.

“Some of them have already developed thick skin and made up their minds to face whatever fate throws at them at the end of the day. Many of the service’s top brass appear not to trust Ali who is seen as a strict disciplinarian. So they can only expect the worst,” a Customs officer who preferred anonymity told Daily Sun.

President Buhari, it was learnt, found it difficult to pick a successor among the senior officers of the service because security checks on them revealed many are stupendously rich far above their legitimate earnings with cash and assets stashed across the country and overseas.

Before Ali was announced as the new CGC, all the DCGs and some ACGs were reportedly romancing many influential politicians in the hope they would be made the Customs boss following Abdullahi Dikko’s retirement.

Top government sources who confided in Daily Sun said the lobbying soon turned into rivalry as some of the power-hungry Customs officers began attacking each other.

“The in-fighting was too fierce. All of them wanted power and I’m sure the President must have shocked them by announcing an outsider. But most of them are already billionaires following intelligence reports on them. That was not soothing news to Buhari who then opted for Ali as a shocker. He will surely sweep away some bad eggs once he fully settles down,” a source said.

Though the appointment of Ali, a retired Colonel, is seen in many quarters as strange, records show Buhari’s action did not in anyway contravene the Board of Customs & Excise Law, which was set up on June 1, 1972 and amended by Decree No. 45 of 1992 and the Customs and Excise Management Act 2004 (as amended).

Ali’s choice was widely criticised because industry watchers fear that he risks being derailed by corrupt officers who may capitalise on his near-zero knowledge of the service to commit fraud right under his nose.

Stakeholders also wonder the place of a retired army officer of the typewriter age in a 21st Century, ICT-driven Customs, his sound security and education background notwithstanding.

There is also the worry that Ali would spend time, energy and resources to learn the ropes, when he is expected to hit the ground running.

However, some freight forwarders welcome Ali’s appointment, describing it as an era of “no business as usual.”

Source : SunOnline

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