By Dan Onwe
The Comptroller-General (CG) Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd) is a public figure, whose name does not reverberate like his peers in such sensitive leadership positions. Ordinarily, a Customs CG is a powerful personality. His office is strategic to government because of its revenue generation strength and protection of Nigerians from prohibited goods.
But not much of Hameed Ali was in public domain until the Senate provoked his office into an altercation. He audaciously impounded a N298 million bulletproof Range Rover Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) reportedly imported into the country by President of the Senate of Nigeria, Sen. Bukola Saraki.
What irked the Customs boss was the flagrant flouting of laws by the alleged evasion of Customs duties and faking of documents. Feeling bruised by the CG’s effrontery, the Senate moved against him, in an intimidating style, but he never bulged. The fury ebbed out with passage of time.
However, Hameed Ali reputed as a no-nonsense retired military officer and public servant has taken the NCS on silent reforms. The Nigeria customs was a cesspool of corruption and an agency of government which could not effectively execute its mandate because leeches infiltrated it.
When Hameed Ali was appointed three years ago by President Muhammadu Buhari to preside over the affairs of the Nigerian Customs, the President handed down a three-pronged assignment to him.
President Buhari was unambiguous that the CG of Customs should transform the NCS, eliminate corruption and ensure transparency and efficiency in service delivery. Three years down the lane, Hameed Ali can look at today, with a great sense of fulfillment, as there is admirable improvements in the operations of the NCS.
In compliance with the Presidential directive, the Comptroller-General restructured the NCS for better efficiency and service delivery. The Customs management under Hameed Ali first embarked on reposting of senior officers and men of the Service who manned or remained in commands for upwards of 10 years. It eliminated significantly the chances of compromise and generated revenues began to gain momentum.
The re- training of officers operatives of Customs Intelligence Unit, (CIU) was prioritized. On the field, the management of the NCS under Hameed Ali ensured hard work was adequately rewarded. He e set an eagle eye on officers in the line of duty and those who erred were also penalized to serve as deterrence to others. These measures set the tone for the new face of the NCS which has continued to surpass its yearly revenue targets and operational efficiency.
And in tackling the cankerworm of corruption in the Nigeria Customs, procedures for monitoring of services such as tracking infractions, blocking and recovering of lost revenues from deliberate underpayment of charges were automated. It became easy to trace and recover lost revenues. He has implemented trade facilitation measures and strengthened anti-smuggling capacity of the NCS.
These efforts resulted in the NCS’s posting of the highest revenue figures ever generated in the history of the Service in 2017. Over N1.37trillion was generated, which exceeded its projected target of N770.57billion for 2017, far in excess by more than N241.68billion. In the preceding fiscal year 2016, the NCS under Hameed Ali also netted a cumulative total of N898.67billion as revenue to the Federal Government.
The management of NCS under the incumbent CG discovered that smuggling of both legal and contraband goods account for much of loss of revenue to government. It foisted on the Service the stigma of poor performance and inefficiency.
However, Hameed Ali beefed- up the NCS’s anti-smuggling operations and it turned in amazing results. A record breaking seizures of over 4,000 have occurred within his period in office, which monetary value is placed at over N11billion.
These covered a range of products such as 2,671 pump action rifles, pharmaceutical products, hard drugs (Cannabis Sativa), foreign rice, textile materials, vehicles and even petroleum products. And leading the NCS with integrity, transparency and accountability, no Nigerian no matter highly placed is spared the anger of Hameed Ali if he smuggles into the country any prohibited product. The products are confiscated and treated as prescribed by law.
What has been the greatest setback for the operations of the NCS has been its auctioning of impounded items. It created platforms for shortchanging government of deserved revenues as well as duping of prospective bidders.
But to solve the problem, Hameed Ali launched the e-auction platform in 2017, and discarded the old manual process of auction. It has erased these abnormalities and conferred dignity and trust on the operations of the Service.
The incumbent management of the NCS has also introduced bonded vehicle terminals. The initiative was adopted at the beginning of 2017 after the ban on vehicles importation through land borders was enforced. It was another decision to facilitate ease of business, to lighten the burden of motor dealers in the country converging on one terminal for clearance.
Operators who secured a license to operate bonded vehicle terminals only paid duty for imported vehicles after 28 days at such terminal. Thereafter, dealers were empowered to apply to the Area Comptroller via the Area Command of their desired destination for processing of the documents. It has assisted greatly in decongesting terminals.
Quite remarkably, the NCS’s seizure of 460 sacks of pangolin scales weighing 12, 264 kg and 218 elephant tusks by the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) Zone “A” was recognized by the United Nations Charter on CITES as a rare seizure of impressive magnitude. And two Chinese suspects were arrested in connection with the illegal trade.
The Minister of State for Environment, Mallam Ibrahim Usman led a delegation of the Chief Legal Affairs officer of CITES, Mr. Juan Carlos on a solidarity visit and inspection of the seized items. The team applauded the management of the NCS under Hameed Ali for the marvelous outing. It promised to make necessary recommendations to its headquarters in Geneva, as well as cause support for training of officers of the Service in combating illicit trade on endangered species, to protect harmless animals.
Through Hameed Ali’s sterling leadership at the NCS, there is a high possibility that in the next one or two years, the Service would have been completely cleansed of the filth which characterized its operations.
It is a widely held notion among officers and men of the NCS now and even businessmen that the last three years of operations in the NCS have seen more sanity in the system more than ever before. The CG has been a nightmare to dubious businessmen and they vainly wish his tenure ends tomorrow.
Onwe wrote from Badagry, Lagos State.