Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd.)
By John Iwori
The war of attrition between the Comptroller-General of Customs (CGC), Colonel Hameed Ibrahim Ali (retired) and the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun has deepened with the duo taking different positions on the revenue accruing into the money spinning para-military government agency.
Signs that all was not well in the relationship between the duo was initially under wraps as no one was willing to speak publicly about it.
The rift came to public awareness when Ali promoted and demoted some men and officers of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) recently without recourse to Adeosun.
By the provisions of the CEMA Act, the NCS as one of the government agencies, under the supervision of the Minister of Finance, who is Chairman of the Board.
As a parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Finance, Ali is answerable to Adeosun, but that has not been the case since the appointment of Ali by President Muhammadu Buhari. He succeeded the former CGC, Alhaji Inde Dikko Abdullahi last year.
Since Ali’s appointment, the board has not met as the retired military officer carries on his functions as the CGC without recourse to Adeosun or the ministry.
Ali was said to have told Adeosun that he was not answerable to her but President Buhari.
Matters came to a head in the National Assembly when the duo appeared to defend their 2016 budget before the Senate Committee on Finance last week.
The rift was obvious when Ali and Adeosun gave divergent figures and positions on items and figures in their budgets.
Among other issues, the sacking of top NCS officials including Deputy Comptroller Generals (DCGs) and Assistant Comptroller Generals (ACGs) without seeking the approval of the Minister of Finance or the board remain a main area of contention.
Ali, who was the former Military Administrator of Kaduna State during General Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration also allegedly appointed those to succeed those he dismissed from office without getting the minister’s approval.
Impeccable sources at NCS Headquarters, Abuja said things were not at ease between the Minister and the CGC with respect to the controversial retirements and promotions of the senior NCS officers who have already petitioned the National Assembly to call Ali to order.
The source said the CGC is running NCS as a sole administrator as the ministry has no input in the running of the service as provided in the Act establishing it.
Besides, by civil service designation, the CGC is the equivalent of a Director in the Ministry and there is no way a Director will act without recourse to his superior officers.
According to a source at the Federal Ministry of Finance, from the retirement of the DCGs, ACGs and others, the minister was already sidelined in the scheme of things in NCS since the appointment of Ali as the CGC. For instance, the retirement of DCG and ACGs’ by the CGC are the prerogative of the Customs Board. The Customs CG cannot unilaterally retire or promote any officer to the rank of ACG. It is the board that must ratify such actions.
Among other roles and responsibilities, NCS Board is charged with the prerogative to promote, transfer and confirm appointments and dismiss persons and exercise other disciplinary actions over persons so appointed. The CEMA stipulates that the board shall be subject to the control of the Minister of Finance in the exercise of powers and duties.
Following Ali’s resolve to ignore the ministry in the running of NCS, the newly appointed DCG and ACGs are not known to the law because the board neither approved the retirement or promotion of any of them as provided in the CEMA Act.
The CEMA Act provides that the Minister of Finance chairs the board of NCS. Other members of the board include the CGC; DCG; a representative of the Ministry of Transport; representative of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry; Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS); Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).
Many stakeholders in the maritime industry, who spoke to THISDAY expressed worries that the CGC openly engaged the minister in a war of words at the National Assembly, even as they urged Buhari to call him to order.
“At the budget screening, he called the bluff of the Minister, saying that he reports only to the President. So, is the Customs now an agency in the Presidency? Buhari should intervene before it degenerates to a big mess. Authority must be respected. The Customs boss cannot be bigger than the Finance Minister,” the source added.