‘Ethnic cleansing’ at Nigeria Customs?
RETIRED Col Hamid Ibrahim Ali, who took over as Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in a very controversial circumstance, is progressing in error. The anomalies his policies are perpetrating in the Nigeria Customs are unhealthy. Col Ali was once a military administrator of Kaduna State (August 1996 to August 1998). Since his retirement, he has been politically active and fought to return Muhammadu Buhari as President. He was in charge of the President’s recent presidential campaign funds and later became his Chief of Staff before his appointment as head of the Nigeria Customs. No doubt, he is the President’s confidant.
The criminologist and poultry farmer was also the Secretary of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) in which capacity he represented the Arewa Consultative Forum at the Oputa Panel and was its presenter-in-chief when the Ohanaeze Ndigbo made its case against the Nigerian Civil War. Col. Ali’s appointment as Comptroller-General of Customs was greeted with controversy. It was about the first time a non-career officer is heading the Customs Service. Of greater concern is his approach to issues, which led to the mass resignation of all the Deputy Comptrollers General (DCGs) in one day. This, too, was as unprecedented as it was controversial.
The appointments and promotions he made following the said mass resignation are controversial, prompting many to ask if his mission to the Customs Service is to see the South East officers out of the Service; as the slots traditionally reserved for the South East zone were shared out to other zones – a critical social injustice. There is an exclusion and marginalisation of the South East in the 2015 Nigeria Customs Service appointments/promotions for the management cadre. Unlike what obtained in the past, each zone gets, on the average, four slots for Assistant Comptroller General (ACG) cadre and one DCG. In the present promotions/appointments, while the other five zones in the country retained their number of slots or got more, South East got nothing save one DCG, whereas the zone got four ACGs in the 2014 appointments/promotions and something similar in the previous ones. The distribution of the 2014 appointments/promotions reflected the tradition and adherence to Federal Character at Customs but now thrown overboard.
The distribution in the Comptrollers’ cadre is pathetic, as the South East was nearly completely left out also. North West alone got 25 slots as against four by the South East. Other zones also got relatively the lion’s share compared to the South East. Question is: on what basis were these promotions done and what is the justification for the bizarre disparity between the other zones and South East, to the point where a zone would get 25 Comptrollers and South East only four? For the avoidance of doubt, here it is: SE 4, SS 11, SW 10, NC 18, NE 26 and NW 25.
Nigeria Customs Service is vital to revenue generation in Nigeria. And in this era where the revenue of the country is fast dwindling, it is only necessary that the service be allowed to enjoy the requisite peace and cooperation. A situation where one zone is feeling that they are being deliberately excluded from the management cadre can only breed angst and frustration.
Injustice to one is an injustice to all. Social justice has to be given its due premium in Nigeria if the country will gain the needed unity and make progress at development. Social psychological researches on work and wellbeing of workers have clearly shown that the surest way to destroying any organisation is to have different sets of rules/rewards for the different workers in the same organisation. The arbitrariness obtainable in the military era hardly suffices in a democratic dispensation. If the strange policy of exclusion introduced in the Customs is allowed to stand, Customs officers of South East extraction are being told in no uncertain terms that they cannot aspire to certain ranks or become the Comptroller General of that Service. This is wrong.
The President needs to get the Customs boss to respect and restore the rights of the excluded South East zone and work for greater harmony with the officers and men of the Service, whose confidence he needs in order to succeed. President Muhammadu Buhari has himself demonstrated great commitment to rule of law and constitutionalism, and against his wishes and beliefs, extended cabinet ranks to all the 37 ministers. Buhari, too, is a retired military officer and could have insisted on having ministers without portfolios and reap the acrimony it would generate. Col. Ali needs to emulate President Buhari. In the realm of psychology, perception is everything. The nation has to manage the growing feeling of alienation both in the North and South Nigeria. Deliberate efforts must be made to address the sources of such alienations and not stoking them, as is now happening in the Customs. And only inclusive policies can promote amity and progress of Nigeria, not exclusionism.
• Mefor is an Abuja-based forensic psychologist and journalist