Men and officers of the Nigeria Customs Service are now living in a morbid fear of the new helmsman, Col.(retd) Hameed Ali.
Like a Daniel who has come to judgment, the new Customs boss has not hidden his intention from the first day he resumed duties that he would not tolerate corruption, indolence, indiscipline and other forms of indecent acts which had given the Service a sobriquet of being a cesspool of corruption.
Since the surprise appointment of the retired army colonel, the mood in the Customs has drastically changed from the hitherto flamboyant, arrogant and laissez faire attitude of the officers to that of caution, trepidation and uncertainty.
At the maiden meeting the new Customs boss had with the top echelon of the Service in Abuja a few weeks ago, Col. Ali told them in an unmistakable tone of his intention to rid the service of corruption.
“The mandate he (the President) has given me are three basic things: go to customs, reform customs, restructure customs and increase the revenue generation, simple. I don’t think that is ambiguous, I don’t think that is cumbersome. It is precise and I believe that is what all of you are here to do,” he told the senior officers.
To match his words with action, Col. Ali, known for been a strict disciplinarian, consequently placed all the officers, especially those known to be living ostentatious lives, under watch. This is with assistance from the Directorate of State Services. He was also said to have called for the files of officers from the cadre of superintendent and above.
This move was said to have sent jitters down the spines of most officers, especially those who were accused of living above their means.
However, the Customs boss further confirmed his no-nonsense stance during his week-long familiarisation tour of Customs formations in Lagos.
At all the Customs commands in Apapa port, Tin Can port, PTML, Western marine, Lagos FOU, MMIA Command and Seme, it was the same massage to the officers.
He told them of the far-reaching reforms he intends to carry out and warned them of the need to either conform or be thrown out.
He told the officers that whoever is caught in the act of corruption in terms of taking bribes, document falsification and undervaluation will be prosecuted and risks going to jail for ten years on conviction.
“The days of corruption are gone. Anybody caught shall not be left to go scot-free. I am a stickler for the enforcement of the law.
“There is need for law and order, and it is important to follow the rules as they are so that we all do not have problems,” he said.
He also told the sober-looking officer that no officer will stay for more than three years in a command as postings will now be done on regular basis.
“As long as I remain in this service, nobody can remain in a place for more than three years. That is the maximum. We can move you after six months if the exigencies require that but we cannot keep you in a place more than three years. The era of staying in a place for 10 years has come to a stop”, he declared.
Ali also warned that the era of rejecting postings or moving from one desk to another within the same command with the assistance of those he called ‘godfathers’ at the headquarters would no longer be tolerated.
“To say that you are posted and you do not want to move, that has come to a stop. We cannot have a Service like that. There are no longer going to be godfathers and I have also told my ACGs and DCGs that nobody should get involved in the posting of anybody. Henceforth, every posting will be maximum three years.
“We will introduce a maximum age that you will spend on a rank and if you did not get promoted until you get to that age, the simple answer is that you are out,” he said.
The Customs boss also added that officers will not be promoted if they fail to attend required training courses noting that he had received report of some officers who shy away from attending training courses but warned that his administration would not condone that except on health grounds.
He urged the officers to be versatile in all areas of customs operation and not restrict themselves to a particular area of discipline.
“If you do not attend any of these courses, know that your chances of being promoted are very slim. You need to attend courses to be efficient enough to work and if you fail to attend courses, how are you going to perform?” he queried.
While urging the officers to imbibe honesty, integrity and transparency in carrying out their duties, Ali warned that he will not tolerate indiscipline among officers.
He said he would hold area controllers responsible if any officer who fails to conduct himself in a proper manner is not made to face the consequence of his wrong course.
“In the past, these consequences were not applied or you don’t feel them, this time around, I will make sure that those consequences are brought to bear because they are written in the customs law to be applied and the only way you can run away from those consequences is to make sure that you conform to the positions as set up. I will hold area controllers responsible for breach of this law,” he said.
He added that any seizure made at the hinterland would be traced back to the port where the consignment was cleared and officers involve in the clearance of such goods will face prosecution
The coming of the retired army colonel is expected to engender a new phase of discipline value-addition and almost corrupt-free customs administration and goods clearance at the port.