By Stephen Ubanna
This is not the best of times for Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, over the ban of supply of Petroleum Products to filling stations 20 Km to border Communities across the country.
This is because the National Assembly Comprising of the Lawan Ahmad led Senate and Femi Gbajabiamila, led House of Representative, appear to have constituted themselves into major opposition to the Customs Comptroller General ban on the sale of Petroleum Products near Border Communities in order to force him to reverse the decision. It may be difficult for the Lawmakers to have their way because the ban has the backing of President Muhammadu Buhari and members of the Economic Advisory Council, ECAC, who reports directly to the office of the President.
The Dealers who may have been affected by Ali’s hardline position may have taken their case to the National Assembly as to curry their favour to use their Constitutional powers to force the Customs Comptroller General to restore normal supply of products to the filling stations 20km to the Border Communities without further delay in order to ease the suffering of the people.
The All Progressive Congress, APC, controlled Senate , were said to have devoted much of Wednesday, November, 13, 2019, in their plenary session to revisit the suspension order placed on the supply of Petroleum Products 20 Km to border Communities in the south-south, south west, north central and north west geo-political regions by the Customs Comptroller General on November 6, 2019.
The aggrieved Senators were said to have called on the Customs helmsman to restore normal supply of products through the identified suppliers to the licensed filling stations which are located 20 Km to the Border Communities by the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR. The Senators may have known that it is a wasted effort as they were said to have resolved to engage the Ali, the Customs Comptroller General in a dialogue in order to work out a viable policy framework to mitigate the sufferings of the residents of the Border Communities along the nation’s borders due to the Customs Comptroller General directive suspending supply of products to the areas.
Already the Senate Committee on Customs which has the likes of Ade Fandahunsi, a retired Assistant Comptroller General of Customs – Enforcement, Inspection and Investigation and who had worked under the Ali led Customs Management before venturing into the murky waters have been given the mandate to summon the Customs Comptroller to appear before the Senators for questioning on the ban order.
Maritime analysts want the Senators to give Ali, the Customs boss, a breather and channel their demand to restore normal supply of the filling stations along the Borders across the country to the EAC, who in turn will take it up with the Katsina born Nigerian President in order to carry weight. This is because the Customs Comptroller General, according to security sources is acting on the instruction of the President based on the advice of the EAC. The EAC, were said to have made it clear to the President that the only way to restore the country on the part of Economic Growth and Development would be to close the Land Borders with the Republic of Benin, Niger, Tchad and the Central African country of Cameroon, to checkmate the activities of smugglers who had turned the country as a dumping ground for foreign goods, particular foreign par boiled rice from the Asian country of Thailand.
Two months into the Border closure, the Council were said to have also advised the President to close all the filling stations along the Border routes across the country to stop the diversion of Petroleum products meant for local Consumption to these neighboring West African countries including Cameroon that bordered Nigeria in the north east geo-political region. The President did not hesitate in buying the idea as he quickly gave the nod to the Customs Comptroller General to go ahead and do it.
Given that the Customs Comptroller had been waiting for such an opportunity to do so because of the repeated complaints about diversion of premium Motor Spirit, PMAS, popular, Petrol, meant for filling stations along the nation’s border Communities to service the neighbouring countries by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC and Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR.
The Customs boss may have also been encouraged to jump at the Presidential order to suspend the supply of Petroleum Products to the filling stations because of the frequent seizure of thousands of gallons of 25 litres Jerry Cans of petrol being smuggled through the Creeks and unapproved routes in different parts of the country by his anti-smuggling officers .
The Senators believe that what the Customs Comptroller General ought to have done would have been to explore the use of ‘’modern and technological devices in tracking , management and scheduling of Petroleum Product trucks that undertake business along the border Communities instead f adopting the extreme measure of the of Products to the Border filling stations.’’
.As a prelude to solving the problem, the Senators were said to have suggested a ‘’Comprehensive audit of all Petroleum stations and their suppliers Along the border Communities across the country’’.
The House of Representatives under the close watch of Gbajabiamila, were said to have followed the foot step of the Ahmad led Senate to Condemn the Customs Comptroller’s action.The House claims that it Contravenes the provisions of the Customs and Excise Management Act, CEMA, Cap 204. This may have informed why it called on the President to order the Customs Comptroller General to lift the ban to ease the suffering of the people in the Border Communities because they are Nigerians.
The quantity of PMS, that had been saved over the last two months that the Border with the neighbouring countries were closed speaks volume. Ali revealed that in two months alone of the Border closure, the country has saved over 10 million litres of PMS, an indication that the country was the major suppliers of PMS to these neighbouring countries, described as parasites in the Comity of nations.
This may have informed the reason why people believe that it may be very difficult for the Lawmakers to have have their way in forcing the government to reverse the Ali’s order for now because it is yielding result which clearly shows that that PMS from Nigeria are use used to service African countries in West and Central African sub-regions. For now, there are fears that the January 31,2020, deadline set by the President to re-open the closed border Communities may not be realistic going by fillers from the Presidency. This is because the neighbouring countries appear not have learnt anything from the Border closure as they were allowing the smugglers to use their countries as base to carry out their nefarious activities because of the financial gains.
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