Col. Umar Accuses Senator of Abetting Smuggling, Corrupt Practices

Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar
  •  Uzodinma: Accusation is unfounded

John Shiklam in Kaduna

Former military governor of Kaduna State Col. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, has accused the chairman of the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff, Senator Hope Uzodinma, of abetting smuggling and corrupt practices through his committee’s oversight functions in Nigeria Customs Service and Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).

In a statement issued on Saturday, Umar called on Nigerians to rise against corrupt lawmakers who are frustrating public officers in fight against corruption adding that Nigerians must not leave the likes of Comptroller General of Customs, Hamid Ali; EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu; NPA Managing Director, Hadiza Bala-Usman; former Director General of the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP), Emeka Nzeh; and others “at the mercy of these strange lawmakers and politicians that have demonstrated time and again that they are in politics to serve themselves and themselves alone.”

Though he did not mention Uzodinma by name, Col. Umar cited instances where the head of the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff – a position which Uzodinma holds – tried to influence the direction of corruption related cases in federal agencies using his committee’s oversight functions.

But Uzodinma has disputed Umar claims alleging that the retired governor made the allegations because of his close ties to the managing director of NPA. He said it was unfair to him and the committee to be berated for acting on the mandate given by the Senate in plenary.

Buttressing his point, however, Umar recalled two recent incidents. Umar said: “Sometime in October/November, 2016, a rice trading company, Master Energy Commodities Trading Ltd, imported into Nigeria, 1,200 metric tons of rice in thirty, 40-foot containers. In their attempt to evade paying the correct custom duties, they declared the ‘rice’ consignment as ‘yeast’. “The goods were later intercepted and seized on the orders of the Controller-General of customs CGC, Col. Hamid Ali (rtd). Unfortunately, this seemingly patriotic action by a public officer was seen as an affront to one senior member of the National Assembly.

“A Senator, the leader of the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise & Tariff, wrote the CGC demanding that the consignment be released forthwith, on the dubious claim that he had investigated the matter and had found the importer blameless. His findings?

“That it was the clearing Agent not the importer that called the goods ‘yeast’ instead of ‘rice’!
The CGC brushed aside this incredible story; as any right thinking person would do. But to the shock of all Nigerians, all hell broke loose.

“The Senate Committee then summoned him to appear before them in uniform- seeing that as a retired army colonel, the CGC had refrained from wearing the customs uniform. He was also directed to answer a long list of queries by this same angry panel.

“In the end, he was dragged before the Senate at plenary, put through a cruel inquisition, publicly humiliated and dismissed as ‘not fit to hold public office’.

“Fast-forward to last week. This time, a dubious scheme was uncovered in which a subsidiary company of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, went into a joint venture with a private company to manage the Calabar Port.

“Both the NPA subsidiary, called Calabar Channel Management, CCM and the private company, Niger Global Engineering & Technical Co. Ltd, were incorporated together in 2014, just for this deal. The purported JV partner was then awarded a contract to dredge the Calabar Channel; a contract the Bureau of Public Procurement was to condemn as violating all due processes. This did not discourage them from demanding and getting a whopping 12.5million dollars upfront payment from the NPA or asking for a purported balance of 22million dollars.

“In the meantime, a rash of petitions and reports had inundated the NPA against this contract, with many alleging it to be a bogus scam to siphon public funds.

“The Bureau of Public Procurement was the first to cry out, saying both the award of the dredging contract and the initial payment of over N4billion to Messrs Niger Global Engineering & Technical Co. Ltd, were done in violation of the law. Even worse, all efforts of the new management of the NPA under Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman, to find evidence of the dredging work purported to have been done in the Calabar Channel at the time the company claimed to have done so, was unsuccessful.

“That is not all. There was also the report by a consultant that advised against a joint venture partnership for the purpose of managing the Calabar port. Their reason was simply that maritime activities in the Calabar port was too low, that a joint venture scheme as obtained in Lagos and Bonny was unsustainable.”

He said, faced with these negative outcomes, the NPA management under Ms. Bala Usman decided that national interest would be better served if the JV scheme as well as the dredging project were terminated. He added that EFCC had moved in with a mission to recover public funds collected for job not done.

“Now, the name of the person driving this scheme is quite instructive going by the very loud and sustained counter attacks being mounted against the public officers; officers that insist that right things are done.

“He is the leader of the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff. He is the owner of both the Niger Global & Engineering Co. Technical Ltd; as well as the rice smuggling giant, Master Energy Commodities Trading Ltd”, Umar said.

Decrying the activities of some of the lawmakers who he said hide under their oversight function to indulge in corrupt activities, Umar noted that the experience of NPA managing director, Bala-Usman, was particularly sad. “The more she tries to fight, to reduce graft and perfidy, the more determined they seem to mobilise against her, to neutralise her and see her back.

“They want her out because, they now claim, she is ‘too young’ to manage a complex organisation such as NPA – even though she is past 40 years of age. Unashamed, they question the wisdom of appointing a woman to such a post – her training and experience counting for nothing; apparently” he said.

The former governor said incidents such as these were the reasons Nigerians felt let down by their parliament.
He called on the the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, to enforce discipline among his colleagues, saying, “No member of a committee, much less a chairman, should remain in his duty post once credible information about possible crime is received on the person.”

But responding to the allegations by Umar, Senator Uzodinma, in a telephone conversation with THISDAY last night, said: “I have a lot of respect for Col. Umar. He is a man I have always read his views, I see him as a nationalist and statesman. I believe that before he arrived at a position he took today, he should have done some investigations as to the merit of the issues on ground. I am the chairman of the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff.
“The company in question wrote a petition to our committee that they imported rice and they paid the duties, the supposed duties as issued by customs, and yet when the rice came in, the Customs seized the containers and the man is from my constituency, and what I did was that I took the petition and we deliberated at the committee and agreed that it should be forwarded to the customs and I did a forwarding letter.

“If you looked at the letter, what we said was that we received a petition from this company alleging maltreatment, we implore you to look at the merit of their statements or otherwise and deploy your internal mechanisms to resolving issues like this as you deem appropriate. This was just exactly what we wrote in the letter to CG customs. I still have a copy of the letter, I still have a copy of the reply from the Nigerian customs service. I have not seen anywhere in that letter we directed that any cargo be released. I though that a statesman who read what had been happening in the past few days should have at least taken a phone and spoken with any of the committee members or even Col. Hamid Ali. That I am sure was not done.”

On the issue of Calabar Channel, he said “We are not investigating Calabar Channel dredging. Anybody who knows me, knows that I came from the private sector to join politics. An MD of NPA is talking of a dredging concession that happened in 2004. 2004 for Christ sake!. I wasn’t a senator, I was only chairman of Niger Global. 2004 to today is 13 years. We are not even investigating NPA on Calabar dredging, we are investigating infractions in the import-export cycle, where vessels are coming into Nigeria and government is not collecting money and the vessels are going back after they have offloaded the vessels. “We have identified some vessels with some identification numbers confirmed to have come into Nigeria and left without paying customs duties, without paying terminal charges; all the funds that were supposed to accrue to the federal government were not collected. We simply forwarded these particulars to the managing director of NPA to come and tell us what happened.

“We have invited her four times. The first time she did not come, the second time she sent ED to represent her. We delivered the documents to the ED, we delivered to document to the Shippers’ Council, the Council has worked on the documents and came back to us with some confirmation. What is wrong in inviting the managing director of NPA to appear before Senate committee to explain why revenues that were supposed to accrue to government did not accrue?

  • American

    It is clear that you are speaking for your recalcitrant brother at the helm of customs service against the backdrop of the senate summons on him. Foolish umar.

  • josvinco

    Senator Hope Uzodinma antecedent should be investigated. How did this man got to be a senator? When you allow dubious and men of questionable characters usurp power of authority that is what a society get. How can our country move forward ? In a civilized society, he risks jail term for doing what he has done. He is using his position to defraud the State of Nigeria. If we must see any change these uncharitable politicians must be shown their way out and prosecuted.

  • Saydo Shan

    This will only come as a surprise to those who have no knowledge of the pedigree and antecedents of Hope Uzodinma. All the allegations against him are things you cannot put past him.. There is nothing to write of both his pedigree and antecedents. If anything, they are just gory.

  • chyke

    Senator Hope Uzodinma is definitely compromising his position in the senate for personal gains. If Saraki is patriotic which I doubt, he should remove Uzodinma from that position.

    • The Rt. or Lft. Hon NinjaK

      One sided view – typical Nigerian!
      You are reading newspaper and you are already taking a conclusive position?
      Do you know whether Umar had or knew all of the details?
      Do you know whether Hadiza herself told Umar the full truth or if she has something to hide – eg wanting to give the dredging job to hausafulani?
      Do you know if Uzondinma’s story is true – or false?
      What exactly do you know b4 jumping into the river to kill a fish?!

      • Pot and kettle

        You’re correct, but there’s absolutely no need to input tribal sentiments into your comment. Especially since you have no evidence.

        • Andrew Akinloye

          Even when we drink water we bring tribalism into it.

      • OB Basco

        But fact remains that Uzodimma was or still is the chairman of the rice & dredging companies mentioned in the story while at same time, the chairman of Senate Committee on Custom, Exercise & Tariffs which adjudicates on Ports activities. Does it not take common sense for anyone to see there’s a conflict of interest here. In civilised world public officers declare their ownership interests so that they don’t get appointed to positions where they can use their official positions in public posts to influence their own personal interests. In our Nigeria, most Senators are chairman of many ubiquitous companies. TheseSenators inflate public contracts and award same to themselves via their various companies, making our Senate “Corruption Incorporated”. What a shame!!!!!

        • The Rt. or Lft. Hon NinjaK

          Can you show me where Uzodinma confirmed that he was the chairman of those companies? I dont think you get it at all – look nigerian politicians may be crooks, thieves, et al but one thing is they are very very smart. So, proof will always be an issue. What I find funny & curious is how Col Umar came into the whole matter – if Hadiza or Customs CG have issues with Uzo, they know what to do and where to lodge their complaints – but for Umar to be complaining on their behalf???? I dont get it at all…..