Maritime industry stakeholders have expressed mixed feelings over the appointment of a retired Nigerian Army colonel as the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
Special Adviser to the President (Media & Publicity), Femi Adeshina had on Thursday announced the appointment of Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd) as the new Customs boss replacing Dikko Abdullahi who resigned voluntarily on August 18.
Some of the stakeholders who spoke with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY on Friday described Ali’s appointment as a welcome development while others expressed disappointment over the President’s choice
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.
He advised that the new Customs boss to be concerned about facilitating trade without laying too much emphasis on revenue generation while also focusing on improving Customs processes with regard to information technology.
“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.
On his part, President of Shippers Association of Lagos State, Jonathan Nicol said the Buhari’s choice should be respected as he has the rights to appoint whom he deems fit as Customs Comptroller-General 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 CG 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.
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?
“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.”
The new Customs Comptroller-General was born on January 15, 1955. He holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in Criminology.
He was Military Administrator of Kaduna State, Nigeria (August 1996 – August 1998) during the military regime of late General Sani Abacha. He is married to a wife and has four children.
As Military Administrator, he sacked about 30,000 striking civil servants in Kaduna State in October 1997 and ordered the detention of 18 local government chairmen. A journalist who reported the sackings was allegedly arrested, severely beaten, then taken to the Government House and further tortured. The story published in Tempo Magazine was entitled “Goodbye Justice”. The story was later discredited and proven to be false.
After retirement, he became Secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), a northerm lobbying group, and a supporter of Major General Muhammadu Buhari in his bid to run for president.
In June 2006, Ali stated that the North would regain the presidency in 2007. He supported Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s comments to the effect that President Olusegun Obasanjo would honour his pledge to vacate office in 2007. He was the Chief of Staff to Buhari before Buhari’s emergence as Nigeria’s President.
See more industry reactions on the new Customs CG’s appointment below
What is your view on the appointment of Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd) as Customs Comptroller-General?
I actually believe that the job of a Comptroller General of Customs is technical and before he (the new CG) can get hold of it, it will be about six months or thereabout. So I don’t really support the appointment of an ex-Military Administrator but what can we do? We voted for change and that is part of the change the government promised and maybe the change we are all yearning for will start from there.
I support the appointment of the new Comptroller General of Customs, Hameed Alli. First of all, Nigerians need to know the stuff the new CG is made of because most Nigerians did not know his antecedent was the major reason why people are making all sort of statement about the appointment.
The truth of the matter is that he is a person of high repute, a former governor and again we need to let the public know that you don’t need to be a customs officer before you become CG of Customs and this is not the first time that government is appointing a military man to head Customs. In the mid 90s, we use to have a military Brigadier General as the CG of customs and that is when officers of the service ever enjoyed the service. That position is political and you don’t need to be a Customs officer to be the CG. You only need to be a good administrator to lead Customs because you only need to give directions. I believe this is an era Nigeria Customs will know the best and this is an era stakeholders will enjoy the system.
Considering the situation, I don’t see need for the appointment because we are talking about an era of Information Technolocy compliance but this is someone that has left active service over 20 years ago. Also, we should think about what transpired that allowed President Muhammadu Buhari bring an outsider to head the service. If we look at the Nigeria Customs Service, we will see that there is indiscipline in the service and corruption has eaten deep into the system. We must tell ourselves the truth but if this kind of person can handle our problem and bring sanity to the system then that will be good. Everyone in Customs is not corrupt, there are so many officers that are not corrupt and have set standard for themselves.
The person they are bringing is trained to secure territorial integrity of the nation but now he is being brought to a revenue generating agency. I don’t think he is the best man for the job because he has to start learning how to generate revenue, classification and security of borders and what have you.
I believe there are officers in the service that understand revenue generation of Customs and can do more for the service.
The President has his reason for doing what he did but on a personal level, I believe it is wrong. Of course, legally, it is within his constitutional rights but he should have looked at it from an equity point of view, from the wider picture of how this will affect Customs because this will demoralize the officers. 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? 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.
With this appointment, we are going 1,000 steps backward. Are they saying that there are no officers that are capable of being appointed as Customs CG even among the Deputy Comptroller Generals or Controllers? If you look at the profile of this man, he looks like a sadist to me. This is a man that sacked over 30, 000 workers as an administrator in Kaduna. So whoever must have advised the President has not helped us at all. Don’t be surprised that there are some people who are working at bringing back the erstwhile service providers, so with the appointment of this man, we don’t know what will happen. This development is a minus for the industry and it is most unfortunate that they are taking us back to the military era. How will the international community see us? What do we tell the World Customs Organization? I am not saying Dikko is a saint but the level at which we have moved in the industry particularly in Customs operation has improved. This man does not know anything about trade facilitation or Customs operation. He has been appointed and they are now saying he will go for three month training. Is that the right thing to do? What he knows is war and use of force but he cannot come to the industry now and say he wants to use force, there will be resistant.
I will feel that the Buhari administration is on course. It must have an agenda to get certain results and if you are talking of change, most are usually driven by outsiders. So if he appoints a Customs officer to be a Comptroller General, fine and good because that has been the tradition. But then, appointing a non-customs officer to be a CG will actually drive some change in the system. However, there might be some problem of insubordination because a lot of the officers are not been happy about this development. If you look at the rank of a colonel in the army, it is only equivalent to the rank of an Assistant controller in Customs so for the new CG coming to head those who are Controllers, Assistant Comptroller Generals and Deputy Comptroller Generals who are also equivalent to Generals in the Army might bring some problem and they won’t take it so lightly. He may not also be able to master some nitty-gritty of customs operation but I believe such a man can drive some change like attitude to work, transparency and bureaucracy in the system. I believe what will help this country is change in the way people have been doing things and I know the military does not espouse a lot of bureaucracy so his coming in I think will facilitate clearance of goods.
I think it is a development in the right direction. We should be looking at situations where appointments in this country are given based on merit. One of the things I noticed in the new customs CG is that he is somebody the President has known for a long time. So that gives me the impression that he is somebody he can vouch for. The problem we have in the country is that most times, people just spring out from nowhere and assume positions lacking merits and before you know it, they just mess up the whole place. Of course I won’t say there is nobody in Customs nobody that has the capability to take Customs to the next level but the President has his internal mechanism of getting the best and the best is what Nigerian needs.
Without doubt, Customs officers have done very well in various fields but the truth is that in all these achievements, Nigeria is not better off, we still have areas that we have not made the best use of. We still talk about corruption in the Customs and maladministration in Customs. So somebody coming to head Customs must be exemplary and I know the President must have done his own internal investigation before arriving at this choice.
Copyright Ships & Ports Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit given to www.shipsandports.com.ng as the source.