Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Dikko Abdullahi, is pragmatic and frank to a fault.
When he visited the Tin Can Island Port Command of NCS late last year in preparation for roll-out of the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR), he did not hide his disdain at the way and manner officers of the Command performed their assignments. There and then, he threatened to redeploy most of them and less than a week later, he made good the threat.
But the mass redeployment notwithstanding, the decay continued unabated at the command. Some of the officers were said to wield more powers than even the Area Controller. Many of them had become criminally rich and lived practically above the law.
I heard several unsavory reports were frequently sent to the Customs High Command in Abuja. Such reports were typically dismissed by the affected officers as being sponsored by their detractors – clearing agents who did not want to pay appropriate duties into government coffers.
It is a known fact that the command had become a haven of sort for the passage of several illegal consignments. The largest cache of drugs seized in this country passed through there in 2010. Several shady deals have also been reported in connection with the port over the years.
The human traffic at Tin Can is unmatched by any other port in Nigeria. You see large number of people trooping in and out of the port without any definite aim or mission. Many of them who hide under the guise of clearing agents are nothing more than touts notoriously called camp boys or kelebe. They act as fronts for customs officers collecting bribe money for their masters. They are like the agbero on the road or truck park.
Truth is, Tin Can command stinks!
The command had become a source of embarrassment to Customs and some drastic measure had to be taken to clean the augean stable.
One would therefore understand why the Customs Comptroller General decided to get first-hand information about the ugly happenings at the command.
When he left his office last Monday, Dikko was said to have informed his aides that they were going to Port Harcourt. He would not leave anything to chance. Not until they got the airport and all mobile phones had been switched off did he reveal their actual destination and when the team landed in Lagos, he instructed against the use of sirens and his usual security escorts.
He was in mufti and was playing the undercover boss role to the hilt. He arrived Tin Can Island Customs Command unannounced and quietly moved from one terminal to the other to really understand why there have been so much complaints about his field officers at the nation’s second largest seaport.
Dikko was stunned. He did not believe what he saw. He became so angry at the conduct of some of his men that he blew his cover. But he achieved the purpose of his visit. He got the message loud and clear. His officers were irredeemably corrupt.
It was a bitter pill to swallow. Those were the same men he fought for and defended passionately at every fora. He fought for their welfare, he increased their salaries, built schools and hospitals for their children but alas, they were far from being contented.
He caught some of them with their hands in the till. He was said to have removed the rank of one of the officers on the spot and ordered the arrest of others.
The Customs boss has done well in this regard and I think he should embark on more of such undercover operations. He should visit Seme border and go through the check points manned by his men. I hope he will be able to withstand the shock.
Most of these field officers are believed to make returns to some godfathers somewhere in Abuja to retain their juicy postings at the command and shield them from disciplinary measures. It is these Abuja godfathers, domiciled in Customs Headquarters that give these unrepentant corrupt officers the impetus to disrespect their seniors and Area Controllers and engage in unbridled corruption. They shield them.
Alhaji Abdullahi should therefore go a step further by fishing out those godfathers for serious disciplinary measures. This will be a good way to repudiate corruption in the Nigeria Customs Service. And it will be a major legacy of Hurricane Dikko.