By Stephen Ubanna
When Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, supervised the conduct of the senior officers promotion last year, the officers had expected the promotion result to be released without delay. They had their reason. This is because of the alleged fears in Customs circles that the delay might result in officers who could not make it by merit to use their money to buy their way.
The fear became pronounced because of the experience prior to the promotion examination. The Value News learnt that the question papers were allegedly sold to officers who could afford it at N200,000.00, thus giving them an edge over others. The delay in the release of the result for over one and half year on the ground that the Customs Board has not met to approve it speaks volume. It was learnt that officers who have the money to buy the promotion had taken advantage of the delay to pay between N4 million and N5 million for their name to appear on the promotion list.. It was gathered that a named Deputy Comptroller had Coordinated the deal.
More worrisome was the news making the rounds that there were officers who did not even attend the promotion interviews but their names were said to have appeared on the list of the officers promoted by the Board. Aggrieved officers who could not hide their feeling said Ali has succeeded in killing Professionalism from the service for Mediocrity.’’Never had a the rot associated with the recent Customs promotion exercise under Ali, the Comptroller General ever happened in the service’’, an officer remarked.
But a beneficiary of the 2019 promotion exercise had dismissed the Complaints of the aggrieved officers that there was manipulation in the exercise , stressing that it was based on merit. He advised the aggrieved officers to channel their Complaints or write petition to the office of the Comptroller General outlining l what they perceive was wrong with the last promotion exercise.
Perhaps to avoid a future criticisms of senior Custom officers Promotion exercise, there have been a clamour for the use of Consultants or Independent examination bodies to conduct the examination for the service. Many believe that the Cabal in the service may not want Ali, the Customs Comptroller Genera do so to avoid giving the service a bad name of being incapable to Conduct promotion examination for its officers.
Despite the mixed reactions that had greeted the senior Customs officers promotion list, which had 2,634 officers and whose promotion were backdated to January 2019, the newly promoted officers are expected to wear their new ranks this week .
A breakdown of the promotion list that was released by Jerome Attah, a Deputy Comptroller and the service, Spokesperson shows that 37 Deputy Comptroller were elevated to the enviable rank of Comptrollers of Customs. One of the newly promoted Comptrollers was George Nwakama. He was said to have described the promotion as ‘amazing’ and thanked the Board for giving him the opportunity to wear the Comptroller’s rank. It is not surprising why his joy know no bounds.
110 Assistant Comptrollers were said to have scaled the Deputy Comptroller hurdle. Also promoted were 138 Chief Superintendent of Customs to Assistant Comptrollers while 93 Superintendents and 93 Deputy Superintendents of Customs were said to have got the approval of the Hajia Zainab Ahmed, minister of Finance , Budget and National Planning led Nigerian Customs Board to adorn the ranks of Chief Superintendents of Customs and Superintendents of Customs respectively.
The big news that may have emerged from the recent Customs Board meeting was the dismissal of one Assistant Comptroller General of Customs, ACG, over alleged gross indiscipline and the Compulsory retirement of another over alleged negligence of responsibilities. The Customs may have taken the extreme decision to deal decisively with the two senior officers based on the recommendations of a Board of Inquiry set up by Babagana Munguno, a etired Army Major General and National Security Adviser , NSA, who incidentally is the Chairman of the Operation Swift Response, popular, Border Drill.
The report of the investigation panel was said to have recommended the dismissal of Aminu Dahiru, an ACG, and former Zonal Coordinator , Border Drill, sector , 3, based in Ilorin, Kwara state for gross indiscipline. The dismissal of the former ACG Dahiru, was not unconnected to the probe ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari, over alleged smuggling of 295 tankers of Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, popular, petrol, across the border between Nigeria and Benin Republic last December.
Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, who had issued a Statement on the wrong committed by the security operatives noted that’’ it is ‘’disheartening to learn that 295 smuggled petroleum tankers were released without due authorization on December 17, 2019 by some security officials charged with the responsibilities of protecting our borders’’.
The Board of Inquiry was said to have recommended to the President that all the officials , Civilian or security operatives, found to have connived to undermine the government’s efforts should be withdrawn from the Border Drill and severely sanctioned by their respective Organisations. It was not surprising why Dahiru lost his Customs job.
Another ACG, who was said to have lost his job was Bashir Abubakar. He was said to have been Compulsorily been retired from the service for alleged acts of negligence. His retirement, according to insider sources is coming barely two years that he was recommended as an anti-Corruption Crusader for his anti-Corruption stance in the discharge of his official duties. He was said to have rejected a $412,000 bribe from tramadol drug traffickers when he was the Comptroller of Apapa Command.
Indeed, his sad end from the service was said to have started some time in December 2019, when it was reported that a total 140 ‘50’’ bags of foreign par boiled rice were seized from one Alhaji Habu Sarkin-Fulan, identified as the President’s Confidant by agents of the Border Drill operations, sector 4, Kaduna. It was reported that the goods were seized in a warehouse in Daura, the home town of the President.
Insiders said the Abubakar’s men had acted on a tip-off to storm Fegi quarters in Daura to effect the seizure. Another source disclosed that the rice found in the warehouse were not really smuggled from neighbouring West African country of Benin Republic but were said to have been sourced from farms in Kebbi and Sokoto states.
The rice dealer was said to have applied to the Customs Headquarters to be allowed to move large quantity of the product to be sold in the southern part of the country because of the government policy on rice imports. The Customs Authorities may have created the hurdle for the rice dealers to obtain the permit before movement of bulk rice around the country , as part of the anti-smuggling measures. There are allegations making the rounds that some traders re-bag the foreign rice in local trade sacks and distribute them as locally produced rice .
But on receiving the application permit from Sariki Fulani, the Customs Authorities were said to have sent a signal to Abubakar, the Border Drill , Zonal Coordinator, in-charge of the sector 4. The Customs Comptroller was said to have made efforts to reach out to him through phone calls but no luck.
Given the importance attached to the signal, he has proceeded to pass the message to the field operation Team in-charge of the area who may have misinterpreted the directive as a green light to raid the warehouse.
The raid, according to insider sources had unearthed only 140 ‘’50’’ bags of foreign rice as against 5,000 ‘’50’’ bags of local rice stored in the warehouse. Many believe that if Abubakar, had made himself available to the Katsina Area Comptroller to receive the message, his boys in the Daura axis could not have raided the private warehouse without his approval. This may have informed why the members of the Board of Inquiry described his action as an act of negligence of duty and therefore should be punished . tHis luck was that he was not dismissed. At least, he is still entitled to his pensions and gratuities.
The Board may have put smiles in the face of five acting Comptroller Generals, who were confirmed full ACGs. They were Wale Adeniyi, who was a Customs Spokesperson for several years before he was replaced by Attah, a Deputy Comptroller. As a confirmed Assistant Comptroller General of Customs, he was appointed the Commandant of the Customs Staff and Training Colge Gwagwalada, Jack Njoku, Strategic Research and Policy, Emmanuel Elton Edorhe, Zonal Coordinator, FOU, Zone C, Mohammed Boyi, Doctrine and Development.
Hajia Ahmed, the minister of Finance , Budget and National Planning , who insidentally is the Chairman of the Customs Board had said that the decision to approve the Customs senior officers promotion list and make the new Management Team appointments during its recent meeting were meant ‘’to motivate the officers and drive better operations of the service’’.