By Remi Adebayo
President Muhammadu Buhari rode to power on the strength of his integrity. What many may not have known then is that, among his other qualities as a leader, he is also tenacious.
There have been many examples of this doggedness one of which is his quest for the number one office in the nation. He did not stop until he won the big pie to occupy Aso Villa. Another such example was when he called Hameed Ibrahim Ali out of retirement to turn things around at the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS; perhaps the number one revenue generator for the country outside of crude oil. There was a great hue and cry over the appointment but Buhari, himself a retired general, knew what he wanted and did not relent.
Those Nigerians who put pressure on the President to rescind his decision to hire Ali, a retired army colonel, if they are true to themselves, will agree today that they were wrong; that indeed, the ‘old man’ has more than added value to not just the NCS but also to Buhari’s government.
Ali’s appointment as Comptroller-General of the NCS provoked some murmurs from different quarters.
No sooner had he assumed duties that impediments were thrown in his path; not as a result of incompetence, but by critics who insisted that he must be seen to dress ‘appropriately,’ which is wearing Customs uniform with Comptroller-General insignia since the position is ranked.
Senators on the Committee of Customs and Excise had a heated debate with Ali over his refusal to wear the uniform of the Service. Specifically, Senator Obinna Ogba challenged Ali on the matter, saying the act was “highly demoralizing” to officers and men of the front-line revenue generating agency.
Ali had responded with candor. Being a former military officer, the statute of the military does not permit him to wear any other uniform. While appearing on a television programme, he was emphatic in telling Nigerians why the uniform’s debate should take a backseat.
“I was not appointed the Comptroller General to wear uniform. Does the uniform work or the person behind the uniform? Am I doing my job or not? I think that’s what should interest the National Assembly,” he had argued.
A few days ago, Customs spokesman, Joseph Attah, a deputy Comptroller, announced that the Ali-led Service attained an unprecedented over revenue in excess of N1 trillion; as against the N770 billion target for 2017. With dogged implementation of the Presidential mandate to Restructure, Reform and Raise revenue (3Rs), Nigeria Customs Service has recorded the highest revenue collection of N1,012,259,006,779.74 in 2017.
This spectacular performance in revenue collection shows N241.68 billion over the N770.5 billion target for the year and well above the N898.6 billion collected in 2016.
The Customs spokesperson explained that the feat was in spite of the economic recession experienced earlier in the year with low volume of imports, occasioned by restriction from accessing foreign exchange placed on 41 items; and more especially the ban on smuggled rice and automobiles.
Ali’s secret was simple. He undertook some strategic measures in restructuring and repositioning the Customs for efficient service delivery. Attah listed them as strategic redeployment of officers and men; overhaul and re-training of the operatives of the intelligence unit; maximizing the potentials of automation through monitoring, tracking infractions, blocking and recovering lost revenues.
The CG reinvigorated anti-smuggling operations, setting up a compliance team while ensuring prompt reward for hard work, punishment for wrongdoing, a transparent promotion process strictly based on merit, deliberate and sustained sensitisation as well as engagements with all stakeholders.
No fewer than 4,000 seizures of contraband with over N11 billion also helped to increase level of compliance. Importers were willing to embrace honest declaration and correct payment of duties to avoid loss of their goods and possible jail term. These seizures include the spectacular 2,671 pump action rifles, dangerous drugs, rice and vehicles.
This comes as no surprise as the former military administrator of Kaduna State has a knack for riding on the tough turf and one with sparkling integrity and ability to take tough decisions as long as it aligns with his conscience.