By Stephen Ubanna
Barely four years of calling the shots as the Comptroller General of the Nigerian customs Service, NCS, Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel, appears to have stepped on many toes.
The fallout was the ganged up by the aggrieved parties calling for his removal by President Muhammadu Buhari over his running of the service as an appendage of the military. They want the government to appoint a Competent Professional to take over the running of the Affairs as the army are not trained to generate revenue but to carry guns. One of the aggrieved persons and who is very knowledgeable about Customs operations, a one-time member of the Ali Management Team and now a Senator, Federal Republic of Nigeria, representing Osun East Senatorial District, south west Nigeria is Francis Ade Fadahunsi .
Fandahunsi, a retired Assistant Comptroller General of Customs, Enforcement, Inspection and Investigation, who was may not have not have hidden his anger against the Customs boss, who has a Presidential mandate to’’ reform , restructure and improve the revenue collection of the service’’ over his abrupt retirement in 2006. The Osun state born politician who is now the Vice Chairman of the Committee on Customs may have seen his election into the Senate as a member of the Committee to continue his unfinished battle with Ali, the Customs Comptroller General to ensure that the right thing is done.
In a recent interview with one of the National Newspapers, Fadahunsi had cited some of the atrocities being committed in Customs under the close watch of Ali. One of such atrocities, according to him was the inflated contract on the renovation of the Customs Headquarters at Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT. He had alluded to the fact that the former Management under retired of Buba Jang, now Gwomgwom Jos, had awarded the contract at the sum of N2.7 billion but the contract had been reviewed upwards to N30 billion, showing an increase of 27. 3 billion. F.More worrisome was the award the contract , for the supplies of furniture, for the Customs Headquarter offices which runs into billions of naira when the job has not been completed.
In apparent reaction to Senator Fadahunsi emotional outburst over the variations on the contract sum on the renovation of the Customs Headquarters, Joseph Atta, a Deputy Comptroller, and Customs spokesperson recalled that the contract was awarded in 2006, by a former Management of the Service and not Ali, as alleged. Atta justified the variations in the contract sum for the renovation of the Customs Headquarters building to that the changes in the prices of items within the period spanning over a decade.
Another allegation by the Senate Committee Vice Chairman on Customs, against Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, was the engagement of a Consulting firm , on agreed fee of N1.6 billion, to recruit 3,22 persons into the service. The question on the lips of most members of the Committee was: whether the Army, which is Ali’s original Constituency , ever used Consultants to recruit personnel?.
Given an insider information on the alleged N1.6 billion payment to the Consulting firm , Fadahunsi had said that the amount was captured in the service budget presentation and defense at the Senate but was queried by the Leadership. Ali, the Customs Comptroller General ,may have his reasons for engaging Consultants to handle the Customs recruitment process instead of allowing the service Human Resources and Development Department to do it .
He was said to have told those that cares to listen that ‘’ Customs officers are Corrupt’’ and thus, may boggle up the recruitment process. He believes that bringing in a Consultant to recruit the 3,200 persons into the service and pay the N1.6billion demanded by the Consulting firm would make exercise ‘’credible, transparent and smooth from beginning to end’’.
Given a breakdown of the amount budgeted for the Consultant involved in the Customs recruitment process, Attah , the Customs spokesperson, said the figure bandied about by Senator Fadahunsi, was misleading. According to him the correct figure was N1, 570,769,00, which is approximately N1.6 billion, a figure quoted by the Senator, an indication that Fadahunsi was right.
He had said that N300,000.000, out of the amount was for the payment of the Consulting firm, while feeding of the 3,2000 officers to be engaged was put at N2,000.00 daily for six months amounting N1,152,000,000, logistics, training kits and Teaching allowances was calculated at N1,570,679,000.00, thus bringing the total expenditure of the recruitment process to about N3 billion. The Customs spokesperson’s worry was that the Osun state born politician said N1.6 billion was paid to the Consultant.
In spite of the criticisms that had trailed the engagement of the Consultantin firm in the Customs recruitment process by Ali, the Customs spokesperson in a Statement confirmed that the Consultant had shortlisted 62,399 persons out of the 828,333, Candidates that had applied for the Customs job.
He disclosed that the shortlisted Candidates have been contacted through their email addresses and phone numbers on where to do their aptitude tests at a date and center indicated in their respective notification slips, which they are expected to print out from their email account without Complaints of extortion.
This is a remarkable departure from the recruitment exercise handled by the Abdullahi Dikko led Customs Management team in 2009, and which dragged on to 2015 because of allegtions o f fraud. Pressure were said to have been mounted on the Dikko Management by the Law makers, particular, the Senate and House Of Representatives Committee on Customs including some top government officials at the Federal level, which forced the Customs Authorities to cave in and embarked on another round recruitment of persons in 2011, 2012 and 2015, in order to satisfy these perceived interests. Top Customs personnel were said to have l also seen it as an opportunity to bring in their relations into the service.
Note that Fadahunsi also has an axe to grand with the no nonsense Customs Comptroller General over his poor border control management which had resulted in the proliferation of small arms , thus threatening the existence of the nation. He lamented that the Customs boss due to his incompetence had allowed traders to smuggle contraband goods and other illicit items into the country that had been banned by the government and only for his men to turn round and raid the traders shop intimidating them with their guns.
The osun state Senator, who could not hide his feelings
insists that Ali’s border management has ‘’failed’’ as contrabands have
flooded the country. Many believe that Fadahunsi,
who was in his days in the Service, regarded as an axe Enforcement
Officer, because of the spectacular seizures made could not have done so
today because the situation of things in the country have
: new policies and ban on importation of several goods into the country, particular, foreign parboiled rice, either through the land border or the seaports and 40 other items.
It was not surprising why Ali had to engage the other security agencies but with the Customs as the lead agency, on the approval of the President to launch the Joint Border drills, popular, Operation Swift Response, in order to deal decisively with the hydra-headed problem of smuggling activities in the country. There is no gainsaying the fact that the Coordinators of the Border Drills in the northwest, south-south, north central and north west geo-political regions, have adequately Complimented the efforts of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, across the country and the Comptroller General Strike Force, to deal with the smugglers headlong with their rive and vehicle seizures, which liter various Customs formations across the country.
Security watchers believe that but for the steps taken by Ali, to seek the presidential approval for other security agencies including the Department of State Security, DSS, to participate in the Border Drills Operation, Nigeria could have been turned into a dumping ground for third party goods imported through the West African country of Benin and the landlocked country of Niger, including the Central African country of Cameroon. This where Senator Fadahunsi, may have to drop his opposition against Ali over the management of the Borders with the neighbouring West African countries and Cameroon. As I may not have been a failure as alleged.