The cold war between the Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali and the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun came to its climax last week as the public spat between the two at the budget defence session before the Senate Committee on Finance confirmed report of unease between the duo.
The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) is a parastatal under the Federal ministry of Finance and the CG is answerable to the Finance Minister.
But, in the case of the present CG of customs, he allegedly told the Finance Minister brazenly that he was not answerable to her but President Muhammadu Buhari.
Also, the CGC allegedly sacked Senior Customs officers from the rank of Deputy Comptroller-General to Assistant Comptroller-General without seeking the approval of the Minister in appointing acting officers to stand in for the retired and sacked officers and later ratifying their appointment.
A top senior official at the finance ministry said last week that things were not at ease between the Minister and the CGC with respect to the controversial retirements and promotions of senior officers.
A source at the Ministry said that from the retirement of the Deputy Comptrollers General to unilateral decision by the CGC, the Minister was already sidelined in the running of affairs in the service.
He said, “For instance, the retirement of DCG and ACGs’ by the CGC are the prerogative of the Customs Board, the Customs CG cannot unilaterally retire or promote any officer to the rank of ACG (Assistant Comptroller General), it is the board that must ratify such actions.”
The Customs board is charged with the prerogative to promote, transfer and confirm appointments and dismiss persons and exercise other disciplinary actions over persons so appointed. The CEMA stipulates that the board shall be subject to the control of the Minister of Finance in the exercise of powers and duties.
The source however stated that the newly appointed DCG and ACGs’ are not known to the law because the board neither approved the retirement or promotion of any of them.
According to him, CEMA is clear about who chairs the Customs Board.
The Minister of Finance chairs the board of the Nigeria Customs Service, other members of the board include Customs CG, Deputy Comptrollers-General, a representative of the Ministry of Transport, representative of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), among others.
The source added that by civil service designation, the CG of Customs is the equivalent of a Director in the Ministry
The source who frowned at the way the CGC engaged the Finance Minister in a shouting match at the National Assembly asked the President to mandate Ali to follow protocol.
“At the budget screening, he called the bluff of the Minister, saying that he reports only to the President. So, is the Customs now an agency in the Presidency? Buhari should intervene before it degenerates to a big mess. Authority must be respected. The Customs boss can’t be bigger than the Finance Minister,” the source said.
Another source who craved anonymity wondered why the CGC would unilaterally lift ban on importation of rice through the land borders without clearance from his supervising Ministry.
It will be recalled that Ali in October 2015 unilaterally lifted the ban on importation of rice to the country through the land borders. The administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan had in 2011 placed the ban and Senators noted that the action was beyond the brief of Ali, because the order restricting rice importation through land borders was a Presidential one, issued in 2011.
But Ali like the military man he is allegedly refused to rescind his decision saying he acted in the best interest of the NCS and country.
President National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA) Lucky Amiwero berated the CGC for the decision saying the action was not within his power.
“The reversal of the ban on rice through land borders is not within the purview of the CGC. It is a policy statement and only the Presidency can give that directive not the CG of Customs,” he said.
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