Recent events have drawn comments about officers of the Nigeria Customs Service. Though change of leadership in any setting brings about alignments and realignment, it has been observed that typical of Africans and Nigerians in particular, attention quickly shifts towards the new power bloc as no one wants to be left out in the scheme of things.
When Alhaji Dikko Inde Abdullahi, from Katsina State was appointed as the Comptroller-General of Nigeria’s Customs Service in 2009 by Late President Yar’Adua, things obviously changed in the NCS. A lot of officers also had no choice than to align with the new leadership, even if they had reservations.
Dikko joined the service in 1988 and has served in various places including the Tin Can Island Port, Apapa Port, Badagry, Seme Border as well as Kaduna Command. Over the years, one thing comes to the mind of the average Nigerian whenever the Customs Service is mentioned, and that is corruption. Incidentally, it transcends the borders of Nigeria. According to the Global Corruption Barometer published by the Transparency International in 2010, more than half of the households that took part in the survey disclosed that they paid bribes to Nigerian Customs officials in 2009. There have also been allegations that the service has increased sufferings of Nigerians.
Dikko who heads one of the agencies tagged as the most corrupt in Nigeria is not without his own share of scandals. Not a few people still remember that the CG was at the centre of an alleged certificate forgery scandal some years ago. Though the case was thrown out by the High Court, it has since revived and found its way to the appeal court. The thrust of the allegation was that the CG forged certificates of the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM) and the West African Examinations Council (WAEC).
He was also named in an alleged container sale scam in which containers that were impounded. A certain businessman, Omelu Charles Chinweuba alleged that the CG collected about N 7 million from him by proxy for impounded containers that were about to be auctioned by the Customs Service. A lawyer, Barrister Amobi Nzelu was named as the person who collected the funds from the businessman.
In commemoration of his third year in office, congratulatory messages flooded the pages of newspapers. The fact that most of the messages came from serving customs officers has started generating comments, causing comparisons to be drawn between the Customs Service and other agencies.
People who believe the Customs Service is corrupt have questioned the rationale behind the advertorials especially from the many Comptrollers of Customs across the country. In some quarters it is being insinuated that those who placed adverts might have benefitted in one way or the other. On the other hand, some others feel they are people looking for one way or the other.
The question on most lips is “who picks the bills for the advertorials sponsored by serving customs officers”?
Describing it as the height of absurdity, Wale Akinola, a civil servant told Street Journal that “those praising him must be those who are benefitting from him and his policies. Unfortunately, they don’t know that they are sending wrong signals. I have lived in Europe for years, I have never seen anything like this. We all know how much it costs to place a full page advert in the papers and these ones have been running theirs for more than a week now, just to congratulate someone for spending three years in office. Meanwhile some civil servants are in office for 35 years and no one ever congratulates them. At least we have had Inspectors General of Police, we have had Defence Chiefs, so why would a Comptroller General be different?”. Insinuations are also rife that they might have been compelled by a higher authority to honour their boss with newspaper adverts.