Discordant Tunes Over Hameed’s Appointment As Customs CG | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Discordant Tunes Over Hameed’s Appointment As Customs CG

Posted: Sep 8, 2015 at 12:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Andrew Airahuobhor,


Col. Hameed Ali’s (rtd) appointment as Comptroller-General of Customs (CGC) of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) is the most controversial of all appointments President Muhammadu Buhari has made so far.

The announcement of a retired Army Colonel to head the Customs days after former Comptroller General, Inde Abdullahi handed over to the most senior Deputy Comptroller General, John Atte, following his controversial resignation, has continued to generate mixed reactions.

President Muhammadu Buhari is perceived by many to have made a procedural mistake, considering that section 3.11:1 of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Official Gazette No 24 Vol. 89 of 25th March 2002, which  clearly indicated that the choice of the Customs Comptroller-General shall be filled by “appointment of a suitable Deputy Comptroller-General of Customs (General Duty)”.

This guideline is on page 226 of the gazette, which is an administrative publication of established procedures, orders and regulations. A strict interpretation of the gazette would suggest that Ali was not qualified for the position since he was neither a Customs officer nor a Deputy Comptroller-General of Customs.

But this gazette has never been observed, as the former CGC Dikko Abdullahi was appointed from the rank of assistant comptroller general.

There is strong indication that Ali’s appointment may have been prompted by President Buhari’s strong desire to sanitise the NCS, which has gained the notoriety of one of the most corrupt government agencies in the country.

Unconfirmed reports indicate that the lobby for the top job even before Abdullahi stepped down was largely embarrassing, giving an insight into the level of economic sabotage that will likely be committed by those whose candidate manage to get appointed as CGC. More than 36 officers were allegedly jostling to clinch the top job, some allegedly hired Senators and other influential Nigerians to lobby for them. Perhaps the most embarrassing was when a President of an African country allegedly lobbied for one of the contenders.

Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, founder of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), thinks the officers and men of the NCS need to re-evaluate themselves, look inward to identify their problems because with this appointment of a retired Army Colonel, 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.

It would be recalled that in the past, especially under past military regimes, outsiders were appointment at different times to head Customs.

Shehu Musa, a career civil servant, was appointed Director of the Department of Customs and Excise in 1975 by late General Murtala Muhammed to reform the structure inherited from the colonial government. Musa later served as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in the second republic.

Haliru Bello Mohammed, a veterinary doctor, was in the Ministry of Internal Affairs when he was seconded to Customs as a Director in 1989 by the government of General Ibrahim Babangida. At the time, Customs, Immigrations and Prisons were one unit under the Internal Affairs Ministry.

In 1990, after the three services were unbundled, Mohammed was appointed the first Comptroller-General of Customs. He later became a Minister and acting Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the fourth republic.

In 1993, a serving Army officer, Samuel Ango, then a Brigadier-General, was appointed Sole Administrator of NCS by the administration of late General Sani Abacha. Ango held the position until February 1999 when General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s government appointed Aliyu Ahmed Mustapha, a serving Customs officer, as the Comptroller-General.

However, these instances were long before President Olusegun Obasanjo issued the administrative order in 2002 which was gazetted, thereby giving it a procedural authority. Since then, successive Customs Comptroller-Generals have been appointed from within the service, but not necessarily from the rank of deputy comptroller general.

Maritime industry stakeholders are divided over the propriety of Ali’s appointment. The Chairman of Nigerian Ports Consultative Council, Otunba Kunle Folarin said there was nothing wrong with having a retired colonel as the Customs Comptroller-General if officers will support and help him deliver on his mandate.

“What have we gained from those who are insiders? Have they succeeded in the single window project? If we have an insider who comes to deliver zero, is it better? We need performance and those who will focus on different areas and not just a single area of generating revenue.

“This is not the first time a military man is occupying that position. At this point in time, stakeholders are worried about processes not about personality. Over the years, what has been the focus of the personalities appointed? If he can deliver why not, revenue generation should be a mandate but not the entire focus,” Folarin said.

But the National Publicity Secretary, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agent (ANLCA), Kayode Farinto expressed disappointment over the appointment of Ibrahim Ali as the new customs boss, describing it as a backward step.

“With this appointment, we are going 1,000 steps backward. Are they saying that there are no officers capable of being appointed as customs CGC even among the Deputy Comptroller Generals or Comptrollers? If you look at the profile of this man, he is the one who sacked over 30, 000 workers as an administrator in Kaduna.

“So whoever must have advised the President has not helped us at all. It is most unfortunate that they are taking us back to the military era. How will the international community see us? This man does not know anything about trade facilitation or Customs operation,” he said.

In an apparent double-speak, ANLCA described the appointment of retired Col. Hammed Ali as the Comptroller General of Customs as a welcome development.

“He is welcome and we are in support of what the government has done because selection or appointment of the Comptroller General of Customs is the responsibility of the President.

“We believe his stay in office will be very short because he is not a customs officer and for the President to have appointed him, I am sure he is coming for intervention maybe that which will not be more than 90 days to correct some anomalies and hand over to a customs officer but we don’t know the mind of the President,” Kayode Farinto told newsmen after the association’s executive committee’s meeting in Lagos.

Farinto said Ali’s appointment initially came as a shock to the association. He said since the appointment was the decision of the President, there are likelihood that President Muhammadu Buhari may want to overhaul the entire NCS management which he said could only be done by an ‘outsider’.

Deputy National President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, Barrister Fred Akokhia also expressed reservations about the appointment.

He said: “How will a military man who has left the service for over 20 years be asked to come and head a paramilitary agency like Customs?”, he queried 

He said: “They have appointed a military officer sometimes ago but it did not work so to me I don’t think this decision was well thought out.”

Director of Publicity of the International Freight Forwarders Association of Nigeria (IFFAN), Mr. Ossy Ezeweiyinya condemned the appointment of Col. Hameed Alli, lamenting that it portends great danger for the revenue collection drive of the customs service.

The appointment according to IFFAN is taking the service five steps backwards.

“The position of my association is that we have been taken five steps backwards now, we need a professional as CG. If you want to fight corruption, you cannot use an outsider who knows nothing about revenue collection, I don’t know what a retired army officer can do here, if it is discipline I can say its okay, but we are talking about revenue collection,” Ezeweiyinya said.

The licensed clearing agents called on President Muhammadu Buhari to re-think the decision, even though they agreed that Col. Hameed has good credentials in fighting corruption.