The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has reproached the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarder (NAGAFF) over its claims to possession of evidence on corrupt practices of certain serving customs officers and consequent planned public hearing.
This was contained in a letter signed by the Ag. Assistant Comptroller General of Customs Sanusi A. U. for the Comptroller General of Customs (CGC) Hameed Ali and addressed to the President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Chief Eugene Nweke. He stated that officers of Customs are subject to the authority of the Federal Government and not to a private association and therefore, the prerogative of the government to carry out such hearing on any officer.
Sanusi further said, “In view of the change mantra and zero tolerance for corruption by the CG and his repeated resolve to deal decisively with any officer found to have compromised the trust reposed in him while discharging his duties, in the spirit of collaboration the CG requests to be furnished through my office with all the facts available to NAGAFF that indicates indiscretions of all the officers the association has discovered to be corrupt.”
Responding to the letter, NAGAFF pointed out that the emergence of a non technical officer on Customs related matters as CG of Customs, in a democracy, is hinged on the belief that Ali will help to stem the tide of corruption in the ports.
Describing the tone of letter as intimidating and coercive, NAGAFF expressed suspicion that the letter may be serving the purpose of shielding DC Saidu and Zarma from the alleged accusation of corrupt practices by freight agents and cited the omission of the names of Deputy Comptroller Aliu Saidu and Asst. Comptroller Zarma from the said letter as a major reason for suspecting that the letter was not representing the mindset of the CGC.
NAGAFF further questioned the intent of the signatory to the letter in asking that facts and evidence in its possession be forwarded through his office to the CGC. “This to us runs contrary to the normal procedure for sending information to the heads of public government agencies in accordance with civil/public service mode of communication.
“This kind of letter of enquiry is expected to emanate from the Anti-Corruption Unit of the Nigeria Customs Service and/or the Investigation Unit of the Service rather than ACG Headquarters Office which is administrative.” NAGAFF said.
NAGAFF explained that the use of the word public hearing is not to indicate that it has the powers to compel any government agent or agents to appear before it. “The context in which we used public hearing was because of incessant complaints from our members, which led to the decision to invite all of them. The agents of the government were advised to come on their own volition, to ensure fair hearing. We do have the powers to invite our members to hear their complaints over a particular person or persons.”
NAGAFF further expressed disappointment that letters from the Customs which should spur the conclusion of the public hearing report for use by appropriate government authorities including ICPC, was capable of dampening the morale and enthusiasm of any Nigerian or body with the intention of supporting the CGC’s mandate.
The group appealed to the CGC to take note of the following facts, “Corruption in the ports is on the increase. Areas of concern should include but are not limited to the non compliant attitude at the trader’s zone, improper Customs examination, frivolous value assessment questions, the inherent abuse of the T&T Headquarters and local alerts of the ASYCUDA Project Managers. Others are stoppage of released and exited containers at the Exit Gate, inherent abuse in the licensing and operations of customs licenses, lack of transparency in revenue assessment matters and so many other vices that encourage corrupt practices.”
Meanwhile, the National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Mr. Olayiwola Shittu has accused NAGAFF of seeking unnecessary attention after it chickened out of its proposed public hearing where names of customs officials were publicly mentioned.
According to him, “The group mentioned names of corrupt customs officers publicly but failed to follow it up with necessary action due to some external pressure. If indeed they have proof as they claim and if their intentions were right from the beginning, they ought not to have made a turn-around at the last minute with the claim that they have been pleaded with to drop the matter, because I think that their action or inaction is a setback for this noble profession.”
By Ifeoma Oguamanam