I read with deep concern the death of two personnel of the Nigeria Customs Service attached to the Ports & Terminal Multi-services Limited (PTML) Area Command, Lagos.
The two officers – Adelaju Samuel, Assistant Superintendent of Customs (ASC) II and Awaula Muhammed, a Customs Assistant – died in an accident last month while undertaking a superfluous trip to Abuja by night bus to honour an emergency summon by one Austin Nwosu, an Assistant Comptroller General of Customs in charge of Enforcement and Drugs.
Nwosu had reportedly given the officers less than 24 hours notice to report to Abuja without even providing them the means to do so. The officers, fearing the consequence of not obeying superior order, quickly raised money from their colleagues and took a night bus.
Little did the duo know that they were embarking on a journey of no return as their trip terminated tragically at Sagamu, Ogun State. Five other people died in the accident.
I am yet to see any condolence message from the Customs high command over the unfortunate death of the officers while on official duty; neither has there been any official statement regretting the unfortunate incidence. I have also not heard of any visit to the families of the deceased by the Comptroller General of Customs, Alhaji Dikko Abdullahi or by Mr. Austin Nwosu. I wonder if it were Nwosu or any other Customs top shot that had suffered the same fate, I’m sure the newspapers would have been awash with all manner of messages and obituaries from various Customs commands. Indeed all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.
And to compound the pains of the families of the deceased, Public Relations Officer of PTML Customs Command, Steve Okoma, made a reckless remark less than 48 hours after their deaths. Rather than condole with their families, Okonma went on the offensive almost blaming his late colleagues for their own deaths.
He said the Customs headquarters had the right to summon any officer whenever the need arose.
Okonma, apparently trying to look good before his superiors, said that other officers who had been summoned in similar fashion had also travelled by road and “still got to Abuja safely”.
That was a terrible comment and could only have been made by an untrained image maker. It would have been much better if he had just kept quiet. In a decent environment, Okonma would be out of job by now.
The real issue however is the need to reduce these unending Abuja trips. Several Customs officers, especially those in Lagos, are summoned to Abuja for the minutest reason. Those who are believed to hold ‘lucrative’ postings are particularly targeted for continuous summons by the Abuja lords. Even Area Controllers are not immune to the summons.
I still am not convinced that what Nwosu summoned the officers for could not have been resolved via a conference call or email or even through the zonal coordinator’s office in Harvey Road, Yaba. And if he must summon the officers, why at such a miserably short notice? And why were they not given air tickets to fly to Abuja? I heard the signal was sent on Thursday morning and they were ordered to be in the Assistant Comptroller General’s office the following day without so much as provision for their transportation.
If they erred, couldn’t Nwosu have mailed a query to them and asked them to respond through their Area Controllers? Besides, why would an Assistant Comptroller General summon an ASC II and a Customs Assistant without recourse to the Area Controller?
If the case of the two dead Customs officers required disciplinary action, the various Customs Commands have Provost officers attached to them to implement disciplinary measures.
The tragic end of Adelaju Samuel and Awaula Muhammed again brings to the fore the need to truly decentralize the operation of the Nigeria Customs Service. The zonal and area commands must be given a reasonable measure of autonomy to perform without recourse to Abuja over every little thing.
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