Nigeria Customs, Madmen and Specialists

Customs to commerce electronic cargo tracking in 2019- Ali

Hameed Ali, Comptroller-General, Nigeria Customs Service.

 

“Madmen and Specialists” is the title of one of the popular plays of Nigeria’s Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka. It is a pessimistic satire that deals with “pervasive corruption in structures of power.” Though the plot and the action of the play do not have direct resemblance with the topic under discussion, the title is very apt for what has been going on in the Nigeria Customs Service for some time now, especially as it concerns recruitment of personnel into the Service since 2015 the present leadership took control of customs headquarters.

On April 17, 2019, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) opened its portal for the recruitment of 3,200 officers and men of the Service. Nearly one year after, the exercise has not been concluded. Amidst frustrations of both the applicants and the Service, Nigerians have been told that a consultant, a “specialist” has been contracted and paid a whopping N1.6 billion to conclude the recruitment exercise.

Regrettably, the attempt by Customs at massive recruitment of personnel into the Service has been an abysmal failure under the present leadership of Hameed Ali, a retired army colonel. The recruitment witnessed a lot of false starts and stoppages amid allegations of corruption in the recruitment process, and alarms of fake recruitments by fraudsters.

All the allegations were denied by Customs. But now, the exercise has been handed over to a consultant with the Customs CG, Ali, inadvertently admitting that the Customs recruitment was marred by corruption by his officers. In an attempt to justify the hiring of a consultant to do a job the Nigeria Customs Service has been doing over the years, Ali told the Senate Committee on Customs that Customs officers were corrupt, hence he has to hire a consultant to do the job.

Obviously, Ali, believes that a “specialist” will cure the corruption madness in Customs. But this is unprecedented in the history of the Nigeria Customs Service. Many Nigerians see this as mismanagement of funds, if not outright fraud. Observers and stakeholders are asking questions? Will this be the trend in Customs recruitment? Is the consultant a specialist in recruiting and training Customs officers? Does the consultant know what the Customs want in their men more than the Customs? Since training is said to be part of the N1.6 billion, will the consultant conduct all the drills and physical exercises while the Customs men look on?

To maritime observers, what is going on is an aberration, a desecration of the values and integrity on which the Customs service stands as a professional organization that is highly technical in nature. Retired Customs officers find it shocking and disturbing, and have been expressing their displeasure.

A former Comptroller-General of the Service, commenting on the hiring of a consultant for recruitment into the Customs said that there was a fully automated training facility with full accommodation for officers in Ikeja, and an advanced training college in Karu built to university standard for the training of senior officers, and headed by a Deputy Comptroller General, a well-trained officer. His former colleague, Ade Fadahunsi, now a senator, also pointed out this in his encounter with the CGC Ali. Both former top customs officers are at a loss as to why Ali would seek external training at such a huge cost to the nation with all these facilities in place.

Piqued by Ali’s outsourcing of customs recruitment and training to a consultant, Fadahunsi, a former Assistant Comptroller-General of Customs (ACG) confronted Ali on the floors of the Senate chamber, asking him whether the army had at any time used a consultant for recruitment – a question the CGC answered in the negative.

“I asked him if the Nigerian Army ever used consultants to recruit personnel and he said no. He said Customs officers are corrupt and he is bringing in a consultant to recruit 3,200 persons and he will pay the firm N1.6 billion,” Fadahunsi, who is the Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Customs, said. He also accused Ali of whittling down the labour force of Customs, throwing out well-trained and experienced personnel.

“This man met more than 30,000 personnel in the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and today they are not more than 15,000 left; he has sacked all of them,” he lamented.

According to Fadahunsi, corruption has reached alarming level in the Nigeria Customs Service. “If you see the fraud in the Customs now, you will be shocked, but nobody must talk. They make noise to cover this up, but if you go into their books, you will be surprised,” he alleged.

The recruitment exercise and the engagement of a consultant to complete the assignment at the cost of N1.6 billion continue to bug the minds of industry stakeholders. Despite the explanation by the Customs spokesman, Joseph Attah that the contract sum was for both recruitment and training, and giving details of how the money will be spent, some stakeholders have called for probe of the exercise based on the allegations by Senator Fadahunsi.

Former National President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, said the allegation of Fadahunsi against the Customs CG is so weighty to be swept under the carpet.

“This is an allegation coming from the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Customs, who retired as a Deputy Comptroller-General (DCG) from NCS, so this kind of allegation should not be thrown under the carpet.

“When people that ought to know about issues speak out on fraudulent activities, then the authorities need to do the needful and investigate it properly. We cannot say because the Customs CG is always harping on the fight against corruption, so such allegation should not be investigated. We are talking about activities of Customs which always involve huge sums of public funds,” he said.

He urged government agencies with forensic capabilities like the EFCC, ICPC to wade in and investigate the matter.

In the same vein, the Vice President of ANLCA, Mr. Kayode Farinto, said the allegation was too serious to be ignored, expressing surprise that no government agency is looking at the allegation, let alone investigate it.

“The person that made that allegation is not an ordinary Nigerian. He is a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who retired as a DCG from NCS. Currently, he is the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Customs,” he remarked.

“So I don’t want to believe that he will just open his mouth to speak on such sensitive issues when there is nothing. The allegation should be investigated, and if found to be untrue, then the Senator should be made to face the consequences of his action.”

Meanwhile, based on these and other alleged breaches, the Senate may be getting ready for a major probe of the customs. According to a National Assembly source, the senate wants to probe the activities of the Customs to stem further embarrassment.

While the nation awaits this, the decision of Customs Comptroller-General, Hameed Ali, to spend the sum of N1.6 billion on a consultant for a recruitment exercise it started last year continues to irritate observers. To them, this is quite unprecedented, and an aberration in a professional organization they had known over the years.

Undoubtedly for some years now things “are no longer at ease” at the Nigeria Customs Service, but of particular concern to observers is the gradual de-professionalization of Customs. Several attempts are being made to hand over the functions and responsibilities of Customs to private individuals – the ‘specialists’ –all because it is a retired army officer calling the shots at the Customs headquarters.