From Godwin Obi, Lagos
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari’s appointment of a retired Army Colonel, Hameed Ali, to head the Nigeria Customs Service was greatly greeted with discordant tunes for obvious reasons.
The fear was how a retired military officer would function in an unfamiliar terrain and deliver to the satisfaction of Nigerians.
A legion of germane questions that agitated the minds of many shipping stakeholders emanated from the fact that the Nigeria Customs Service is an important agency of government, and indeed the second highest revenue earner for the government.
And so, many thought that for greater progress to be achieved in the service, whoever must make an inroad there must come from within the service, to be able to maximise revenue collection, reduce smuggling to its barest minimal level, facilitate trade, enhance informed compliance with the provisions of the customs and excise management act and other supervening laws and regulations of government.
Most Nigerians began to have haphazard guesses on what premised the choice of Col. Ali who is reputed to abhor corruption. Could his appointment then be discerned as requiring him to clean up the Customs Augean stables? A kite had, in the weeks preceding his appointment, been flown to the effect that he was favored to head the EFCC; another pointer to his disinclination or abhorrence for corruption.
Prior to Ali’s appointment, Nigeria customs service was riddled with very numerous revenue leakages in very many facets of its operations, and the system replete with influx of contraband goods with endless issues of concealment and under-declaration of imports, thereby denying government of substantial revenue.
On assumption, Ali was given a threefold mandate: to reform, restructure and increase revenue. Three years down the line, Our reporter went to town to sample the views and impressions of relevant shipping stakeholders and top Customs officers on how Hameed Ali has fared in three years he has called the shots as CG of the Nigeria Customs Service.
For the immediate past President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Eugene Nweke, “Hameed Ali will forever be commended for instilling and integrating a disciplinary culture in the service. We have not had it so good that officers now work with the rule of thumb precision, taking their duties very seriously.
The CGC is doing his job well and he is not making noise about it. Look at how he ordered that all officers must declare their assets. He further ordered that all area controllers, heads of units and departments shall be sending weekly report on all cases of false declaration, deliberate misappropriation of tariffs, undervaluation, concealment and seizures with full compliments of action taken to the office of the CGC, and without mincing words, indicated that all area controllers, heads of units and departments would be accountable for infractions in the areas of their operations.
He threatened officers found to be corrupt to make sure that they are jailed. All this was to put officers on their toes in the overall interest of the service and Nigeria economy”.
Another frontline freight forwarder, Dr. Frank Ukor, said, “I think Ali deserves my pass-mark. Before he came, some officers had planted themselves as bottlenecks, remaining in one place for 12 years. But when Ali came, he broke that jinx by moving them to different locations. Ali may be a military man, but he has injected his administrative competence into the service”
In his assessment, Rev. Emmanuel Agubanze said, “When you look at the background of the CGC as a former military officer, you will agree that he has done well. Looking at the mandate given to him by the President, to restructure, reform and generate revenue, Ali has done well in these areas.
He started by transferring officers which no man could have had the guts to transfer. He also took the issue of training very seriously. However, in the area of revenue, Customs placed so much value on goods, thereby making common man to suffer. Except in this area, Ali has done creditably well.
For Stanley Ezengal, “Ali has put his officers on their toes. Before his arrival, officers were compromising a lot but today, he has instilled discipline in the service. He has done well”.
In a similar vein, a foremost customs broker, Jone Idemili, said, “I will not give the CGC a negative remark on performance because he is doing what he is supposed to do very well.
In terms of seizures, he is doing very well. The only thing I will appeal to the CGC is to stop the FOU from stopping containers that have been cleared from the ports”.
According the National PRO of the NCS, Joseph Attah (DC),“The Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service ,Col. Hameed Ali, is a performer per excellence.
The CGC has excelled in all facets of customs’ administration; in revenue generation and anti-smuggling activities. The CGC has been able to achieve blocking of revenue leakages and strategic deployment of personnel for increased productivity.
Sincerely speaking, we as a service have been so reformed, restructured and motivated by the CGC to the extent that we no longer relax on our functions nor compromise our position in the cause of serving the country.
We have continued to maximally evoke the provisions of Sections 147 and 158 of the Customs and Excise Management Act (as amended) to enter anywhere suspected to be used to warehouse smuggled goods, seize the goods and legitimately patrol everywhere in the country to achieve our goals.
For this reason, our service anti smuggling activities have resulted in increased number of seizures amounting to over four thousand seizures with a duty paid value of over N10b and still increasing.
Looking at the tall credentials of Hameed Ali, and how he has brought his background experience as an intelligent military officer to change the trajectory of Nigeria customs Service within a short period, there is no doubt that the appointment of the present CGC is the best thing that has ever happened to the service. I must also commend the service management for its sustainability of zero tolerance for corruption policy of the CGC.
Nigeria Customs Service, under Ali has continued to wield the big stick against officers found to have compromised on their duties by engaging in acts of corruption. The present management has also developed the penchant for rewarding hard work as recently done with officers who made outstanding seizures while also increasing its priority on officers’ welfare.
I praise God for using such a rare gem with a bundle of intelligence and administrative savvy in the person of Col. Hameed Ali (Rted) to transform the entire customs operations”, Attah stated.
For the Tin Can Customs Command’s Public Relations Officer, Uche Ejesieme, “Generally speaking, the coming on board of CGC Ali since 2015 has actually changed the narrative and trajectory in the entire gamut of customs operation.
You will recall that part of his change mantra shortly on resumption, he made it abundantly clear to all and sundry that he had a mandate to reform, restructure and raise revenue. And if you look at these areas without trying to massage the ego of the CGC, he has actually done tremendously well because his background as a military intelligent officer was brought to bear in the general administrative procedure.
Very remarkably speaking is the issue of transparency and integrity and due diligence and his reform ideologies. If you pick up one particular area, talking about revenue generation, has very clearly led to the giant stride and milestones the NCS has recorded in the past three years.
“Beyond that is the issue of discipline. He has zero tolerance for indiscipline and the officers and men of the service are aware of the concept of reward for hard word and sanctions for belligerency and that is why you saw that the CGC, in conjunction with his management, has recently promoted some officers that participated in some remarkable seizures like the arms seizures.
And in the spirit of reward for excellence, these guys have been considered for special promotion and have been promoted. The same applies in areas where he believes sanctions should be applied.”
“ So, generally speaking, I don’t have any doubt that the CGC is a round peg in a round hole. And I am particularly astonished at his quick grasp with the technicalities of the job. This is because it takes someone who is extra ordinarily intelligent to grasp very well with the technicalities of customs’ operations.
I was amazed that within a short period, the CGC had become very conversant with Customs Management Act and Statutes books of the service, and above all is his penchant for merit as against mediocrity.
He has taken the issue of training and retraining (capacity building) very importantly to the extent that this was the first time Customs College, Gwagwalada, was used to train officers at the level of NDA. Equally of strategic importance is the software upgrade that the CGC has introduced, especially the NICES 1 to 2. Again, salaries are paid as and when due.
There is nothing as gratifying as that after working, you see your wage. That will spur your marginal productivity”, Ejesieme remarked.
But on the likely area of improvement in the service, the Tin Can command’s spokesman said he believed the issue of accommodation for officers was paramount, but believing that the CGC is already working assiduously towards providing housing for the officers and men of the service.