DEVELOPING STORY IN THE LEADERSHIP OF NIGEIA CUSTOMS SERVICE: MATTERS ARISING

September 1, 2015

 

PRESS RELEASE

 

DEVELOPING STORY IN THE LEADERSHIP OF NIGEIA CUSTOMS SERVICE: MATTERS ARISING

It is no longer news that the emergence of Alhaji Muhammadu Buhari as the President of Nigeria is an act of God and a measure of earned respect and integrity.  It is also a fact that Mr. President is very much aware of the expectations of the greater number of Nigerians who have suffered for so long due to extreme cases of human rights abuses occasioned by corruption at all levels of Government and public life in Nigeria.  We believe that Mr. President is very much aware that going forward in building a greater Nigeria there is the urgent need to go “solo” and at the same time leaning on the law thus observing the tenets of democracy.

We are all aware that Mr. President is emphatic over three critical pursuits to better the lots of Nigerians.  These shall include Anti Corruption War, provide employment for the teeming unemployed and ensure security of the Nigerian state.  This is without prejudice to the common need of the greater numbers like, the provision of water, shelter and general infrastructure and public goods.  It is also a fact that Mr. President is following his promises systematically though some people in their own rights might believe he is not moving fast enough necessitating some giving him the nickname “Baba go-slow”.  However it is a general belief that slow and steady wins the race.

We in NAGAFF have been following with keen interest the progress being made by Mr. President in his efforts to redefine the Nigerian state in the oil and gas sector, the Military, NIMASA, Nigeria Ports Authority, NIS and most recently the change of guard in the Nigeria Customs Service.  The hot pursuit of Boko Haram with a mandate to the military to terminate them within three months is also a landmark intentions.

As very critical stakeholders in the maritime trade and transportation, it is obvious that the emergence of a retired military officer as the Comptroller- General of Customs calls for concern and due attention of the stakeholders.

There is no doubt that the appointment of a retired military man into a highly technical organization like the Nigeria Customs Service caught the attention of the industry stakeholders with some describing it as “putting a round peg in a square hole”.  It is to our knowledge as critical stakeholders that the appointment of the military officer did not go down well with almost everybody for the fact that a modern Customs administration is dynamic and information technology driven.  We in NAGAFF are primarily concerned with the law, professionalism and merit rather than mudslinging.  It is our firm belief that the appointment of Rtd. Col. Hameed Ali was done in consonance with the laws of the land.

We have carefully read and studied Section 5 of the Nigerian Constitution and the law establishing the composition of the Board of the Nigeria Customs, we did not find any contravention on the part of Mr. President.  At the moment we have perceived the appointment of Hameed Ali as being political and a child of necessity rather than being professional.  It is our opinion that Mr. President is very mindful that most Nigerians are looking up to him to salvage Nigeria.  It is said that the devil that you know is better than an angel you don’t know.

We can only but assume that Mr. President is very much aware that he must not disappoint Nigerians who other than political party affiliations voted for him as an individual.  And for the avoidance of doubt it is our belief that Mr. President is holding to his chest Section 5 (1) of the 1999 Nigeria Constitution as amended which states:- The executive powers of the Federation

a.)         Shall be vested in the President and may, subject as aforesaid and to the provisions of any law made by the National Assembly, be exercised by him either directly or through the Vice-President and Ministers of the Government of the Federation or officers in the public service of the Federation; and

b.)        Shall extend to the execution and maintenance of this Constitution, all laws made by the National Assembly and to all matters with respect to which the National Assembly has, for the time being, power to make laws.

The implication of this Section is to advise everybody who may be complaining to understand that he who owns can only give or refuse to give.

The executive powers of Mr. President can be delegated and as such if he decides to delegate such powers it is to his advantage or otherwise.  We believe Mr. President understands the implication of any abuse of such powers and will not delegate it to someone who he may deem not to be competent.  In this wise Mr. President rightly or wrongly has given powers to Rt. Col. Hameed Ali and as such people complaining should see it from this perspective.

The opinion and position of NAGAFF and its members with regard to the appointment of the new CGC is that Mr. President must have good reasons to do so.  Patriotism demands that we trust and believe the judgment of Mr. President because he will not do anything to the contrary that will retard the progress of Nigeria as he strives to restore the past glory.

It is also important that we make mention of our findings from Customs officers who we relate with on daily basis.  We observed that most of the officers and men of the Nigeria Customs Service have not been really happy the way and manner the Government has been treating them despite their contributions to the national economy.  Aside from risks and deplorable working environment, the negative feelings of the public against Customs officers are most disheartening.  The consolation is to remind officers that tax collectors are never liked by the payee.

The intrusion of non professional Officers at the highest level of the Customs administration is most disturbing to the officers.  In the past there has been an experience of such decisions against the service personnel.

It is on record that a Veterinary Doctor Alhaji Bello Mohammed, and a serving Army Officer Bridadier Gen. Ango Abdullahi were at different times appointed as CGC.  It is also alleged that one Alhaji Shehu Musa as a Permanent Secretary was drafted to head Customs.

In the same vein the saga of Abuja 88 brought into Customs a lot of Retired Army Officers, Navy, Police and all that into the senior cadre of Customs ranking without cognate experience.  The 2004 Customs reforms again dealt a big blow to the spirit and morale of officers of the service.  Officers of lower ranks were unduly promoted above their superiors without any merit or consideration for experience.  All these have dampened the spirit of officers of the service till today. The emergence of Rt. Col. Hameed Ali to the best of our knowledge and standing may be like adding salt to injury.

However the only advise we can give to Customs management is to approach National Assembly to make necessary amendments in the composition of the Board and appointments into the Nigeria Customs Service to exclude outsiders from being the CGC.  For example Section 215(1a) of the 1999 Constitution as amended makes it expressly clear that the appointment of the Inspector General of Police must be from the serving Police Officers.

The present Board and appointment as it is presently situated shall continue to subject the officers and men of the Nigeria Customs to unwholesome situations of this nature where it is most likely that they may not aspire to the highest position in the Service.

The thinking of the strategic group in NAGAFF is that the broom of APC as a political party may be deployed to address all the injustices in the Nigeria Customs as stated in our observations.  The 2004 Customs reforms under the leadership and supervision of Nenadi Usman was the worst situation in the management and administration of Customs personnel.  We were witnesses to the corrupt elevation of Assistant Comptrollers to the position of Assistant Comptroller General of Customs; (without any justifiable reason) a clear three steps above their equals and colleagues in the Service.  As we speak the rot is still ongoing in the Customs where juniors do not take orders or directives from their superiors.  It is our view that Mr. President is aware that all is not well with the Customs administration.

There is another school of thought, as discovered by the strategic group of NAGAFF, that the rumour to privatize the revenue function of the Customs could be part of the reasons to bring a neutral person to clear imagined threat of sabotage to that effect.  The intention of Mr. President is very germane still from our strategic group because the ports and border entry points are designated area of high corruption rate.  In that regard the appointment of a retired army colonel may have to do with some measure of coercion.  The Nigeria Customs as a Para Military organization requires a military person rather than a civilian to deal with the injustice in the Customs.

We believe that our opinion about this appointment should not be predicated only on the legality or not of the action.  The question we should be asking is how equitable is it?  That a Customs Officer who has chosen a career path in the Service cannot aspire to be the head of the organization he/she has labored for throughout a period of 35 years is to our minds not equitable.  When one chooses a career you aspire to get to the top some day.

This makes for dedication on the officer’s part because he/she knows that with dedication his ambition will not be truncated by some political or social factors. We think that the morale and zeal of even the lowest ranking officer in the Service will be at its lowest ebb with this type of decision.  In one fell swoop so many technical officers who have been trained with tax payers’ money will be thrown out of the service without the nation getting the benefit of their training.

Some of the people we spoke to think that if even for the purposes of argument we say that the service is corrupt, are we to believe that not one or so of the officers who are being shown the way out of the service could be found to be above board?

They are of the opinion that we should not stigmatize a service that has performed in a corrupt and tainted environment creditably well and decide to throw away the baby with the birth water.  This type of fundamental structural re-engineering can only lead to a destabilization of the Service.  We must say that it would have been more appropriate to err on the side of caution in this appointment.  We should not be seen to be cutting our noses to spite our faces.

For this reason, we urge the President to use every available means to douse this fear and reassure the Officers and men of the Nigeria Customs that this type of appointment of an “outsider” to head the NCS is just an exception and is not going to be the practice.  We believe apart from the President, the new Comptroller-General of Customs, Rtd. Col, Hameed Ali will deploy his wealth of experience and administrative astuteness in reassuring the rank and file of the Customs that he has come as a friend and colleague and not an a sole  administrator/dictator.

Whatever will become of his story at the end of his tenure will depend on his attitude to the officers and men he meets on ground. In short, he needs the cooperation of those people to succeed. And we believe he wants to succeed.  In another vein, without passing any judgment on the Customs, we think the officers and men of the NCS need to re-evaluate themselves, look inward to identify their problems because with this appointment, the government seems to have passed a vote of no confidence on the Customs. Unfortunately, Government may not be alone in this judgment as many Nigerians appear to be on the same page with government on the avoidable inadequacies of the Customs operatives.

However we still believe, just with little push, the Nigeria Customs Service has what it takes to reach its peak and win the confidence of Nigerians.  We may make further statement in due course while pledging our loyalty to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and support for Mr. President as our leader and the Nigeria Customs Service as a responsible partner in international trade and freight forwarding profession.

 

Dr. B. O. Aniebonam

Founder NAGAFF

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