Tension as disengagement rumour of top chiefs hit customs
BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
Palpable tension has enveloped the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, following the reported compulsory retirement of the Coordinator of Zone B, Assistant Comptroller General Abubakar Bashir, in addition to the speculated dismissal of the immediate past Coordinator, North West Joint Border Drill, Assistant Comptroller General Aminu Dahiru.
While Dahiru is believed to be part of the security operatives running the special task force outfit approved by President Muhammadu Buhari since August 2019, and in March 2020 listed among those recommended for probe over alleged botched smuggling of 178 trucks of petroleum products; Bashir was believed to have been listed to appear before the same probe panel, but in connection with claims of unauthorized operation.
Although sources have debunked the report as containing half truths, our sources confirmed that while Bashir was recommended for compulsory retirement from the service for allegedly raiding a warehouse belonging to the friend of President Muhammadu Buhari in Daura last year without “proper authorization”, Dahiru on the other hand was said to have been recommended for dismissal over allegation of involvement in the botched smuggling of 178 trucks of petroleum products across the Nigerian border, while serving as coordinator of Operation Swift Response in December 2019.
The Operation Swift Response is a joint security border patrol drill approved by President Muhammadu Buhari to tackle issues of cross border smuggling, coordinated by the Office of the National Security Officer, ONSA. When contacted, the Customs National Public Relations Officer, Deputy Comptroller Joseph Attah also denied knowledge of the sanction of any management chief.
Attah who also double as the spokesman of the Joint Security Border Patrol, explained that no such action can take place without the ratification of the Customs Board, which comprised of the minister of finance, the customs comptroller general, representatives of relevant state agencies and departments, including the academia; which composition is deemed to give depth and objective examination to any matter brought to it, such as disciplinary measure relating to the service senior cadre.
While confirming that some officers of the service were listed to appear before the security probe panel set up first quarter this year and under the leadership of the National Security Officer, NSA, he said he is not aware that the customs board has sat to discuss the recommendation of the probe panel.
According to Attah, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I am not aware that any ACG have been sacked, the service procedure does not allow such thing happen when the customs board didn’t discuss or endorse such action.
“Because of the corona virus pandemic and national lockdown, the board has not been able to meet for a long time. Therefore, you people are acting on rumour and this does not serve the country in any positive light”, he lamented.
Similarly, even though other sources confirmed that both Bashir and Dahiru have been recommended for retirement and dismissal, respectively, our sources which collaborated the official position of the customs through its image maker that no definite action can be taken until the customs board sit, discuss and take a position.
Sources close to the embattled former customs chiefs also alleged bias and set-up in the matter leading up to their probes. This is even as news of the development is believed to have sent jitters and apprehension across formations and commands of the service nationwide, in view of the huge respect the two ACGs are believed to command in the service.
There is a reported groundswell of grumbling by the rank and file, who are worried that the current customs administration have fallen into politics promoted by the pecks and glamour of office, a situation some say have resorted to a game of intrigue, power play and witch-hunt to run down officers perceived as threat certain persons currently holding offices, and or threat to the future leadership of the service.
Whereas the present customs management comprise of very capable hands, ACG Abubakar 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 have a 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 for rejecting 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 latest was that of the Presidential Award on Integrity given to him by President Muhammadu Buhari; last year.
Before his current posting as Coordinator, Customs Zone ‘B’ Kaduna, he was the Secretary Customs Board.
Knowledgeable, dignified, meticulous and highly intelligent, Bashir reportedly last year granted approval sought by the Katsina Customs Command to raid a questionable warehouse in Daura.
The action later sparked needless controversy over purported link of President Buhari to the owner of the warehouse.
The customs headquarters had reportedly directed the unsealing of the warehouse, with a further directive that the rice taken away from it be returned, a directive that was reportedly complied with. Hints indicated that Bashir was subsequently summoned to the headquarters where he was reportedly benched for about two weeks before being allowed to return to his base.
His current travail and probe believed to be linked to the Daura warehouse operation, which has been interpreted by analysts, as shocking and reprehensible. Those close to the probe panel say Bashir was recommended for probe for his purported failure to get clearance from Abuja before approving the Daura operation.
Observers say as the zonal coordinator, and given what passes as regular common place routine, it is preposterous to suggest that a zonal commander must seek approval for an action that poses no risk to lives. Others thinks Bashir’s case is one of witch hunt and victimization, noting that it is double standard of the customs administration to praise an officer for carrying out numerous raids on questionable warehouses and private residences in same location of the country; and for the same administration to seek to punish the same officer and or officers for doing same in other parts of the country.
While the raid on the Daura rice warehouse was said to have caused President Buhari embarrassment, the allegation of the smuggling of petroleum products leveled against ACG Aminu Dahiru, have also been loudly noised around as a set up. Dahiru is also considered a high heel gentleman officer with impeccable character and outstanding credentials. Those who spoke on condition of anonymity argue that Dahiru is beyond professional reproach, even as they further argue that Dahiru’s case may have been a twisted, unethical and convoluted set up.
Anxiety that non customs operatives in the joint security border drill have been allowed to go scot free in respect of the said smuggling of 178 trucks petroleum products, has also been addressed, as a dependable insider source informed that the probe was all inclusive and done at the level of the various services.
“After preliminary investigation established the involvement of top echelons of the security agencies in the smuggling of petroleum products, the National Security Adviser and Customs Comptroller General in-council, recommended further in-house investigation and advice.
“So it is not true that officers from the other organizations like army, immigration, police and the rest have been allowed to walk away. They have also undergone in-house trial. Those found wanting will not escape sanction. The ONSA will not be part of anything that is untidy”, our source assured.
While supporting the federal government posture towards the eradication of corruption, industry stakeholders urged President Buhari not to cave in to narrow suggestions regarding the fate of the customs, and to allow for fair hearing and a proper probe of those involved in the current matter; in addition to making the report of the probe 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. The customs board should be allowed to fully exercise its discretion and power at all time, more so, given the exigency of the moment.”
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. He took his gallantry to Daura, where he raided rice warehouses and is right to have expected same intensity of accolades from the CG. Trump up charges of unauthorized operation is not the way to reward him. Same service: different codes of operations shouldn’t be encouraged. I urge the Customs Board to make their investigation public on this case.”