The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), last week lost one of its best officers in a questionable and politically motivated retirement, driven by institutional intrigues, convoluted conspiracy and treacherous power play.
An Assistant Comptroller General, Bashir Abubakar, immediate past Zonal Coordinator, North West, bowed out of service, rattled but not defeated. Despite the controversial circumstances and harrowing manner he was eased out, he sent words of felicitation to friends, admirers and those he had just left behind in customs, as he tactically appealed for calm and understanding, and thanked the generality of Nigerians for the opportunity to serve fatherland.
He has put in a total of thirty two and half years before the forces of sordid power play acting through odious script sucked him in through the quicksand of terrifying plot. From all available evidences, he did no wrong but was nevertheless charged with a hideous official negligence, which at the approach of the outpost of his meritorious career, must sound as rather preposterous to any discerning mind.
A man of peace and unquestionable faith in God, even though Bashir saw through the machinations and veiled pavilion of faces, as much the desperation to get him out of the way, he resigned himself to the plot as part of the vicissitude of life, unperturbed with the veiled smiles of temporary victory on the faces of the plotters.
His post retirement private message perhaps clearly manifests the strong personality he is made of. A perfect gentleman officer, shortly after the Customs Board formally announced his retirement, Bashir sent a soul lifting private message to all those who have associated with him in one way or the other, during his sojourn in the customs service, apparently, to assure them that no one should shed tears on his behalf; since he left unsullied, with his integrity intact.
A fervent Muslim and respect of plural society, his believe in God is unshakable, as can be deduced from his message even at a time of silent struggle and inner turmoil.
ALHAMDU LILLAH, ALHAMDU LILLAH, ALHAMDU LILLAH
This is to inform you that my thirty two and a half year career with the NCS has come to an end effectively from today 21/07/2020 through compulsory retirement.
I wish to sincerely appreciate all my colleagues, serving and retired, especially our elders as well as all family members, friends and well wishers who have fervently been with me physically, in spirit, called, text to appreciate my little contribution to our father land.
Thank you very much indeed. I also seek for the forgiveness of those I offended by commission, omission, or otherwise as I forgive all. May our lives after death be more worthy than our present. To those still in the service, I wish you happy exit at your most appropriate time AMEEN.
During his interrogation and probe, he must have seen through the hollow, finer but ugly thoughts of men and how dubious and twisted it is. It must have been with great forbearance that he endured the kangaroo probe, apparently oppressed by the stench of deceit that debased the human essence. He must have been all too eager to go, to walk away into the fresh air offered outside the confines of the nauseating probe arena; where men and supposed fellow gentlemen officers took turn to betray one of their own.
As he exited the service, Bashir left no one in doubt that he left a free man, having forgiven those who coordinated the plot, even as he sought for the forgiveness of anyone, he might have offended in the course of his career.
While the story of Abubakar Bashir cannot be told in one day, attempt will be made to tell it slowly, segment by segment, beginning with his exploits in the past fifteen years, through his rise to limelight, and his recent passage through the dark official tunnel, leading to his unceremonious exit.
Those in the know inform that manifold has been the plots and orchestrations to get him out of the way, over suspicion that he was getting too famous and too politically exposed; including getting recognitions from far and near, the latest one having come from President Muhammadu Buhari.
His rise in the Nigeria Customs Service was routine, gradual, uninfluenced but consistent; and no doubt based on merit, hard work, competence and performance.Nor was he the type to chase after promotion, posting or appointment into positions of responsibility. But let us save these aspects for subsequent narrative and return to events preceding his ouster.
The rumor of his ordeal started late last year after operatives of the North West Joint Border Drill carried out a botched raid of a rice warehouse in Fegi Quarters, Daura, Katsina State.The controversial warehouse is believed to belong to Alhaji Habu Sarkin-Fulani, a friend of President Muhammadu Buhari.
A cynosure of official admiration by all account, Bashir has been the face of the customs anti-corruption crusade, and has radiating leadership amiability, any less he is considered an epitome of professionalism, competence and glowing stewardship appeal.
He bagged two merit awards from the Customs Comptroller General, Col. Hameed Ali, as Customs Area Controller Onne and Apapa, respectively. The second award was for rejecting a princely bribe of about N151million to release a consignment of Tramadol.He later received the World Customs Organisation, WCO, Award for Exemplary Performance; while his latest and last award was the Presidential Award of Integrity conferred on him by the President and Commander-in-Chief, Muhammadu Buhari; last year.
Before his last posting as Coordinator, Customs Zone ‘B’ Kaduna, he was the Secretary Customs Board. A diligent, crack officer with uncommon managerial personality, Bashir was last year queried for reportedly ‘missing in action’ and for purportedly allowing the Joint Border Drill Team under his jurisdiction to execute a controversial headquarters directive that led to the aforesaid botched raid.
According to grapevine, Sarkin-Fulani had written to the customs headquarters to apply for a ‘permit’ granting him permission to move his consignment of local rice sourced from farms in neighbouring Sokoto and Kebbi states to the southern part of the country for sale. Upon receipt of the said application, customs headquarters reportedly dispatched a signal to the Border Drill Team in North West sector, through the Katsina Customs Command, with instruction to go to the warehouse, inspect the rice and report finding to headquarters, to enable it act appropriately on the trader’s request.
Those in the know of customs inside business said that after failed efforts by officials of the Katsina Customs Command to contact Bashir, who the signal was actually addressed to, they passed the signal to the border drill team operatives. Sadly, the border drill team reportedly without further ado, and apparently without understanding the directive conveyed in the letter, mobilized and raided the said warehouse in tell tale fashion, which left town folks commenting freely on reported contraband rice found in the warehouse.
Observers believe that the development reportedly exposed President Buhari and customs leadership to embarrassment. Bashir was subsequently accused of negligence for making himself unavailable, thus hanging the botched operation on his neck.
The headquarters was said to have petitioned the presidency, alleging official negligence on the part of Bashir, despite that Customs Headquarters routed the letter through a third party which failed to deliver same, and despite that the office of the coordinator situated in Kaduna is accessible to correspondence, either direct or through third party, making the choice of routing the said letter to Katsina, overtly suspicious.
The presidency reportedly directed a presidential probe panel set up earlier to investigate a case of official compromise in the smuggling of 295 trucks of petroleum products outside the country through North West fringe, to also probe Bashir’s alleged negligence.Thus a case of crime and civil case was assigned to the same jury, irrespective of the obvious dissimilarities.
Sources close to the probe panel revealed that whereas Bashir denied complicity in the operation and denied charge of official negligence leveled against him, he was said to have tendered his telephone call log chart to indicate there was no phone call made to him from Katsina on the day the signal was received by the Katsina Customs Command. His spirited defence was said to have failed to make any impression on members of the presidential probe panel, who reportedly declared him complicit in the raid of the warehouse.
It will be recalled that aftermath of the raid and the media reports that attended it, the customs headquarters had reportedly directed the unsealing of the warehouse, with a further directive that the 5000 bags of rice taken away from it be returned, a directive that was reportedly complied with.
That should have assuaged the feelings of Mr. President and his friend. But that was not to be as Bashir was subsequently summoned to the headquarters where he was reportedly benched for about two weeks before being allowed to return to his base.
Analysts and industry observers have expressed utter shock over the unwarranted official reaction to the mistaken raid of the president’s friend rice warehouse, taking notice of the number of bigger warehouses and even open major markets raided by the customs from time to time in other parts of the country.
Those who express disgust at the seemingly preposterous witch trial consistent with the middle age say this government has set a dangerous precedence and reduced the high office of customs mandate to sordid theatrics and affinity of accountability.
Observers think that even if Bashir had approved the said raid as the zonal coordinator, his action is within the limit of the law, especially on the backdrop of regular raid on warehouses in other locations of the country; especially since the president’s immunity is not transferable and cannot be said to have covered the owner of the questionable warehouse.
The Customs and Excise Management Act 2004, gives the customs power to enter and search any premises, at any time, and make arrest and seizures, without search warrant.Some Nigerians following the case have suggested that there is a grand plot to rubbish the career of Bashir and that his travail and forced exit was a manifest case of witch hunt and official oppression. They further note that the matter smacks of official double standard and of victimization; which may be challenged at the appropriate time.
Even though the present customs management is said to comprise of very capable hands, Bashir is on record as having a unique profile and engaging credential which sets him apart as a leadership succession material.
A poster boy of the customs service by all account, Bashir has been the face of the customs anti-corruption crusade; and has radiating leadership amiability, any less he is considered an epitome of professionalism and competence. He bagged two merit awards from Col. Hameed Ali, as Customs Area Controller Onne and Apapa, respectively. The second award was linked to the rejection of a princely bribe of about N145million to release a consignment of Tramadol.
He later received the World Customs Organisation, WCO, Award for Exemplary Performance; while his last was thatof the Presidential Award on Integrity given to him by President Muhammadu Buhari; last year.
He dedicated the first award to officers of the Customs Intelligence Unit (CIU), for their vital role in crashing the efforts of the importer of the Tramadol to have it released. Before his current posting as Coordinator, Customs Zone ‘B’ Kaduna, he was the Secretary Customs Board.
There are those who have argued that Bashir may have become a issue of fear by political elements in the customs, who were afraid of his rising profile, and who may have colluded with like minds to have Bashir removed out of the way; willy-nilly.
While the probe lasted, those supporting President Buhari’s anti-corruption posture, urged him not to cave in to narrow suggestions regarding the fate of the customs, and to allow for fair hearing and aproper probe of those involved in one case or the other at the presidential probe panel; in addition to making the report of the panel public.
Speaking on the development, Chairman of Ijaw Media Forum, Elder Asu Beks said, “The customs service is a critical agency of government, the institution must be protected from falling into disrepute.”
On his part, the National president of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, Hon. Uju Nwabuinike said, “ANLCA is both a friend and partner, so we believe that if customs gets it right, customs agents will also get it right. The last time we witness serious infighting was during Buba Gyang’s tenure, where some ACGs went to court.
“We hope that whatever issues are at stake will be properly looked into and resolved, so that we do not have a repeat of 2004 to 2008 when the customs was at war with itself.”
Also reacting, President of the Maritime League of Editors, Mr. Kingsley Anaroke expressed disappointment that ACG Abubakar Bashir’s case have been allowed to degenerate into politics.
“If what we are hearing is anything to go by, then it is an irony. ACG Bashir raided warehouses in Lagos and Ogun states and became award winning best officer. To link him with a botched warehouse raid in Daura just in order to get rid of him leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
“It smacks of unbridled mischief and executive rascality.To reward highly committed and competent officers like Bashir in the way he has been treated is killing the morals of those still serving. Trump up charges of either unauthorized operation or official negligence where there none was in reality, is not the way to go.”
The outcome of the investigation manifested in the various penalties taken against those accused, including Bashir. Despite been hounded, it is said he held his head high all through the trial, believing in the ultimate victory of truth over evil, beyond material humanity.
Those who know him closely say he is a believer in destiny, and a staunch believer in the knowledge that what will be, will be. With his future stretched ahead of him, he has garnered sufficient public service experience and has the competence and capability to fill any position, political or otherwise that posterity may thrust on his path. With eternal gratitude to God for bringing him this far, he remains a free man and it is morning yet.