Ex-Customs Boss, Ali In N300billion Transfer Saga To Guinea Bissau

The axiom, never vouch for a man’s character until you have given him money and power seems to have strongly reestablished itself in Nigeria Customs Service(NCS) as Time and Chance may have conspired to change the former Comptroller General of Customs(CGC),Col Hammed Ali(rtd) from an overtly incorruptible and frugally- minded man to a recklessly extravagant and fortuitous billionaire in a space of eight years as the head of NCS.

Ali who assumed the headship of NCS from an humble retirement life-style dotted with 504 Peugeot Saloon car now has a fleet of cars, the latest in the fold just acquired is 2023 model of Rolls-Royce Cullinan with a market value of between $348,500(N244million) and $401,500(281million).

The former CGC drove himself in the white Rolls-Royce Cullinan to visit the Ag. CGC Adewale Adeniyi in Abuja shortly after the latter was announced as his successor. This has drawn reactions from the maritime stakeholders who have become dazed with the sudden change of the once anti- corruption czar, who rode on the slogan of fighting corruption to introduce the 3Rs of Reform,Restructure and Raise revenue upon which attitudinal change was key.

With a litany of allegations trailing Ali already, the mother of all the surprises is the alleged transfer of N300 billion into a dedicated account domiciled in Guinea Bissau provided by a crony who has been inflicted with madness by his spiritualist-accomplices for divulging the secret and agreement made on oath.

Guinea Bissau, a West African country of 2million people, is fast becoming a new destination and financial hub for corrupt Nigerian politicians who have made “Swiss Bank” out of the banks in the Country.

MMS Plus gathered that the N300billion was part of the returns of funds generated by special units and taskforce set up under the CGC’s office by Ali and his Principal Staff Officer, Brigadier –General Isah Buhari.

While stakeholders are now calling on President Bola Tinubu to investigate the Customs service under Col Ali and his new found financial opulence which perhaps has given him to try to upturn the established protocol on promotion of senior military personnel, through a letter filled with misleading claims, which sought and obtained former President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval for his PSO to be made a two-star general (Major General) of Nigerian Army, without undergoing any promotion training or interview as it is the tradition in the military.

MMS Plus got copies of the letter dated March 15, 2023 addressed to President Buhari and another dated June 15 addressed President Tinubu in which Ali praised and enumerated the achievements of his PSO in Customs and demanded his promotion to the rank of Major-General.

The former Customs CG described Isah Buhari as a man of integrity who had exhibited highest form of professionalism in the discharge of his duties and all assigned tasks. He said Isah Buhari achieved so much in trade facilitation, intelligence gathering and anti-smuggling among other things. The letter reads:

“The above-named senior officer was seconded on National Assignment to the Nigeria Customs Service as the Principal Staff Officer to the Comptroller-General and was taken on Strength on 11 Sep 2015. Since his resumption, the officer has exhibited highest form of professionalism in the discharge of his duties and all assigned tasks. Brig, Gen Buhari has been loyal, honest and hardworking whose integrity is beyond reproach. He has always operated over and above the standard expected of him.

According to him, he has been at the “Center of the current reforms going on in the Nigeria Customs Service which has improved the services personnel performance and capacity in all facets. He has distinguished himself in intelligence gathering and relationship with other agencies which has helped immensely in the suppression of smuggling and also leading to several seizure of arms, narcotics and other prohibited goods. The officer has devoted his time and energy in ensuring the facilitation of legitimate trade in accordance with the laid down rules which resulted in the timely clearance of goods and generation of revenue for the Federal Government.

Some of the schedules of the officer include the supervision of the Nigeria Customs Intelligence Unit (CIU) and Customs Police Unit (CPU), a Unit which he masterminded its establishment. He is also in charge of coordinating the distribution of relief materials to IDPs as well as the Disposal of Seized and Condemned/Overtime Cargo. In the execution of all these tasks I have never found the officer wanting. Your Excellency, the modest achievements I have recorded so far would not have been possible without the solid and unflinching support and assistance of the officer in all respects.

The officer, however, was due for promotion on 4July 2021 but was passed over despite excellent Performance Evaluation Report that I gave the officer. The officer was presented for promotion in 2022 again but was passed over.

“I wish to draw the attention of Your Excellency that a non-compromising enforcement officer is bound to have a lot of adversaries to ensure his downfall. If this is allowed it will dampen the moral (sic) of the officer and prevent others from doing the right thing.

Consequently, Your Excellency is requested to please approve the following:

a. Special Promotion for Brig Gen I BUHARI (N/9862) to the rank of Major-General wef 04 Jul 2021 which is the due date for promotion.

b. Direct HMOD to promulgate the promotion in the next sitting of the Army Council scheduled for April 2023.”

Buhari did not waste time in approving the promotion request on March 21, 2023. The approval was conveyed to Ali by Buhari’s Chief of Staff (COS), Prof. Ibrahim Gambari the same day in a letter dated March 21, 2023.

Unfortunately for Ali, the Ministry of Defence and Army high command could not act on former President Buhari’s approval before the May 29 terminal date of the administration. Undeterred, Ali dusted the letter and sent to President Bola Tinubu.

The letter sighted by our reporter, dated June 15 rehashed the same words he wrote to former President Buhari, praising Isah Buhari’s good conduct, professionalism and great achievements in Customs. He also informed Tinubu in the letter of his predecessor’s approval for Isah Buhari’s special promotion to Major-General, without undergoing pre-promotion training and exams.

On June 19, 2023, however, Tinubu struck and swept off Ali with immediate effect, appointing Adewale Bashir Adeniyi, a serving officer, as acting Comptroller General of Customs.

Business and Maritime West Africa, which also got copies of the desperate and controversial letters did further investigations

Ali’s March 15 letter made spurious claims that laid bare the underbelly of his recommendation. Ironically, Ali had claimed that Brigadier General I. Buhari”had been at the centre of current reforms going on in the Customs which have improved the service’s personnel performance and capacity in all facets”.

He further claimed that Isah Buhari had “distinguished himself in intelligence gathering and relationship with other agencies which has help (sic) immensely in the suppression of smuggling and led to several seizures of arms, narcotics and other prohibited goods”. These are indeed reckless and false claims.

“As a military officer, Brig. Gen. I. Buhari was a combatant, who never had basic training in customs operations and processes or anti-smuggling operations. With which knowledge and experience did he record all the achievements Ali attributed to him? In fact, under Ali, Customs had a deplorable record on combating smuggling.

Lacking knowledge of basic customs anti-smuggling techniques and operations, Hameed Ali’s Isah, assembled men and officers whose competence were questionable, to man some of the borders and serve in many Task Forces he established. Under his charge, over 25 million litres of petrol was estimated to have been smuggled out of Nigeria to neighbouring countries daily, leading to unprecedented rise in subsidy payments by the Federal Government,” said a customs clearing agent who did not want his name in print.

The agent said that the smuggling of rice, tin tomatoes, vegetable oils and other prohibited items never abetted under Isa Buhari’s charge.

“The records of imports of rice and other prohibited goods from 2015 to 2022 into Benin Republic which were primarily targeted at the Nigerian market, are in the open. Local farmers had on several occasions raised concerns about the influx of foreign rice into the country

“For instance, data revealed that a combined 1.1 million tons of rice were exported from Thailand and India to the Benin Republic between January and December 2022 and that was almost the trend all throughout Buhari’s tenure.

About 594,439 tons of parboiled rice had already been shipped from India to Cotonou in the Benin Republic as of June 10, 2023.

“The so much touted drastic drop in rice importation into the country was a big fluke. The Central Bank blocked rice importers from assessing foreign exchange, thereby making it impossible for National Bureau of Statistics to capture accurate data on rice imports as the product was majorly imported illegally. A trip to any major market in the country will expose Ali’s lies,” he said.

Business and Maritime West Africa investigation showed that the schedule of duties Ali assigned to Isah Buhari, including the Customs Intelligence Unit, Customs Police Unit which Ali said Isah Buhari masterminded its establishment were actually the instruments that Ali used to destroy customs processes and perpetrate corruption.

Since the establishment of Nigeria Customs Service, these two units had existed. The Customs Intelligent Unit was under the control of Assistant Comptroller-General in charge of Customs Headquarters. But Ali came and handed the unit to an army personnel, who were stark novices in Customs procedures.

Similarly, the Customs Police Unit Isah Buhari was said to have masterminded the establishment had existed as Provost Marshal Unit. The Unit was responsible for maintaining discipline, decorum and orderly behaviour in Customs. It ensured customs officers dressed neatly and properly with the appropriate uniform as the occasion demands. The Unit also ensured proper conduct in the Service, in line with the ethics, rules and regulations of the profession. Any erring customs officer was arrested and disciplined by the provost Marshal.

This was the Unit Ali and Isah Buhari changed to Customs Police Unit. On taking over the unit, they renamed it, and brought military personnel to train the men and officers of the unit at great cost to Customs, as millions of Naira was spent on the said training and procurement of uniforms.

Ali and Isah Buhari used the units and the notorious CG’s Strike Force to usurp the core functions of Enforcement, Investigation and Inspection Department of the Service. The units interference in clearing transactions did not end with stopping containers on the roads and highways, but extended to blocking clearance procedures for extortion purposes.

The influence wielded by Isah Buhari in the power equation at Customs Headquarters, was why Ali, the Comptroller-General, did not have close relationship with men and officers of the Service, including his management team. The source said that even the Deputy Comptrollers-General (DCG) could not near his office, unless summoned by him. This, the Magazine gathered dampened the morale of the officers, affected the respect rank and files had for the officers, thereby rubbishing the regimentation of the Service.

Investigation shows that Area Controllers who were said to have had any information for the Comptroller-General, passed it through the PSO, instead of through appropriate departmental heads, who were DCGs. It is not surprising why the PSO was seen by many as the man with the real power at the Customs Headquarters.

It was also learnt that the PSO, was so powerful that he could influence the CG on any policy matter, award of contracts, promotions, deployment and postings of officers to offices. It was gathered that officers and contractors, who had understood the enormous powers wielded by the PSO, usually sneak into his residence at night to lobby for strategic and lucrative seats and contracts.

Ali also said that Isah Buhari was “in charge of distributing relief materials to IDPs as well as the disposal of seized and condemned/overtime cargoes”. Contrary to Ali’s claim that he always found Isah Buhari not wanting in the execution of these tasks, the process of disposal of overtime imports was embroiled in controversy and allegations of opaqueness, fraud and criminal under-pricing of seized cargoes. There were several complaints by stakeholders and calls for Ali and Isah Buhari to render accounts of their dealings with respect to the nature of cargoes they auctioned, the beneficiaries, and the amount realized from each exercise. These numerous complaints and outcry over Customs disposal of seized and overtime cargoes were obviously ignored by Ali, while giving the man in charge of the disposal a clean bill of health.

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