WHEN President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Col. Hameed Ali (retd) the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), eyebrows were raised as to the unprecedented choice of a former soldier, a non-Customs career ex-military officer, to head the critical institution. Predictable questions were asked as regards his pedigree, competency and capacity to navigate the hitherto murky terrains of an agency largely reputed for cancerous corruption that defied governmental and institutional redemption over the years.
Nobody can declare today that the historical ogre of corruption debility has been decimated in the Customs, but it is incontrovertible and unassailable that the organizational disease has been clinically managed to a healthful and optimal minima ever in the history of the agency under the astute and occasionally controversial-–but therapeutic— leadership of Col. Ali. Issuing from the above, the government of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan may have left national sour grapes, but nobody can dismiss the irrefutable point that he had a quintessential ministerial team and seasoned heads of agencies and departments. In fact, on a reflective note, there is no basis for any comparison between the present and immediate-past ministers and allied office holders. As a preface, let us take just two ministers. We may return to other members of the ministerial tribe, if not constrained by space here. The Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, was squared in a round hole simply because he was the chief propagandist of the All Progressives Congress (APC) before the last general election. His only qualification for his current assignation is that he viciously and unrelentingly harangued the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in his abrasive oppositional communication. A lawyer without any professional information management pedigree from the blues becomes an Information Minister! Must he be rewarded with such a sensitive portfolio?
Adversarial communication which is a component of propaganda dissemination is the antithesis of information management. The man should have been offered something else that does not require interface with multifarious publics. I have a feeling that Lai Mohammed’s poverty of information management and propagandistic inclination is symptomatic of the afflictions of the President’s media clan who seem not to be on top of presidential information handling at every turn.
In all honesty, for me, the choice of Mr. Dele Alake, Mr. Segun Ayobolu or Mr. Debo Adesina or Mr. Simon Kolawole as Information Minister would have made a lot of difference because of their summit professionalism and variegated experiences in core information management—in addition to their scholarly disposition and youthfulness. Any of these four gentlemen would have put President Buhari on an excellent stead far different from the current dysfunctional information regime.
Take the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, as another barometer of President Buhari’s team. From being a commissioner in Ogun State, she is catapulted to head the Federal Finance Ministry. Mrs. Adeosun does not have any sub-regional, regional or global antecedent or local occupational clout which would have equipped her for the onerous task she has been saddled with. This partly explains why the present administration’s economic model cannot work. This recessionary climate needs someone of the calibre of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who had managed national economies and their fiscal policies at international levels while on the staff of the World Bank. Messrs Babatunde Fashola and Kayode Fayemi got appointed ministers for “silently” falling apart with the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. The bigger picture was to spite Tinubu, according to grapevine! Forget all the pretensions from the key players under reference. Fashola, after ruining Lagos—going by his successor’s initial revelations abruptly discontinued—gets rewarded with juicy triple ministries! I learned that Fashola played a significant role in the emergence of “Candidate Buhari” in 2015. After all, one good turn deserves another.
If I continue with the ministerial malaise, I will not have time and space for our exemplar today. Since the curious appointment of Col. Ali as the CG of the NCS, I have been monitoring his activities in multifarious ways, particularly dispassionate interactive sessions with a few key stakeholders in Customs operations, maritime editors and a senior Customs friend of mine (name withheld for obvious reasons). Of course, I equally synthesized most publications concerning the sub-sector. To avoid subjectivity, I deliberately never interfaced in any way with the agency officially or unofficially.
Human capital in any organizational set-up matters most because the employ constitute the first public of the institution. This, perhaps, explains why on assumption of office, Col. Ali promoted more than 300 officers and men in an on-going exercise—an epochal development that is unprecedented in the history of the establishment. The next port of call for the CG was the sanitization of the service through the cleansing of the Augean stables. He may not have exterminated corruption from the system, but he has reduced the threshold significantly in a manner never recorded in the annals of the institution. Now, there is so much transparency and almost zero-tolerance for the tragedy that gives the NCS the worst tag. I understand that this was a presidential mandate and possibly one of the pre-conditions and assurances that guaranteed his appointment.
In accomplishing the foregoing directive, Col. Ali began redeployment of officers and men of the agency most of who had become Lords unto themselves and so enriched themselves that they almost became uncontrollable on account of the volume of their ill-gotten wealth. The movement does not ensure good behaviour, but it sends a signal that everyone is under close watch—this consciousness will, at least, minimize—not stop—the tendency to be corrupt. Successive governments had toyed with the idea of ban on rice importation. Nothing much was achieved until the advent of Col Ali. Today, it can safely be said that the enforcement of the ban has drastically reduced the frequency of foreign rice importation so much that vistas and opportunities have been opened for some states like Anambra and Kebbi which have taken the opportunity of the ban to grow their own local variety that is even better than foreign rice in terms of employment windows, nutritional quality, pricing and economic regeneration for farmers, states and the country.
The bags of foreign rice still dominant in the market are those smuggled in by unpatriotic businessmen in collusion with the remaining few bad eggs in the Customs. This dimension is almost irredeemable because of the porous nature of our borders manned by rotten (bad) eggs in the NCS. When the NCS introduced vehicle duty payment, the Nigeria Labour Congress, the House of Representatives and others with vested interest in the matter raised the alarm over what they considered callous, unrealistic and unpopular! Col. Ali stuck to his guns because some selfish lawmakers and a few other Nigerians used the old order to commit all manner of economic and financial atrocities to the detriment of the country in complicity with erring Customs personnel. Most other helmsmen would have succumbed to such jaundiced public outcry.
I take off my hat to Col. Ali for re-engineering the capacity of his officers and men, modernization of operational channels, employment of technology to diminish multiple certification, endless verification, voluminously burdensome documentation generally, giving the Customs workforce a novel lease of life through inspirational tendencies and enthronement of personnel welfare packages that espouse incentives which never existed. Of course, Col. Ali’s overall near-extirpation of corruption in the system continues to draw accolades even from his detractors and those who futilely disagree with him interminably amid juvenility. Another novelty of Col. Ali is the well-publicized online auctioning of seized items like vehicles, food consumables and fabrics. The highest bidder gets the product from any part of the country amid transparency without insider mediation, as much as possible. It is a system open to everyone for participation and scrutiny. The perishable items are sent to the IDPs.
For the above and other copious reasons unmentioned here because of space constraint, I declare, with all sense of responsibility and candour, that Col. Ali is the best appointment that President Buhari made. I stand challenged and welcome constructive reactions, doubtfully if any! On Senate’s uniform clownishness—instead of focusing on Col. Ali’s diligence, holistic performance and extermination of endemic corruption in the Customs—I leave the senatorial theatricals for another day.
Having distinguished himself in the NCS, President Buhari should consider giving Col. Ali, a rare species, a higher responsibility.
his successful tenure.