NAGAFF disappointed over CGC’s response on 'Public Hearing' issue

NAGAFF President, Chief Eugene Nweke

CGC, Col. Hammed Ali(Rtd.)

The National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) has expressed disappointment over the response of the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd.,) referring to his correspondence as ‘ most disheartening.’

“We had expected that letters or correspondences from the Customs should be the tonic NAGAFF needed to support Mr President, the CGC and to conclude the public hearing report for the use of the appropriate Government authority including ICPC.
“However, to our surprise, the above referenced letter from Ag. ACG Sanusi A. U. was capable of dampening the morale and enthusiasm of any Nigerian or body with the intention of supporting the CGC’s mandate. 

“The CGC should take note of the following facts that corruption in the ports is on the increase because it is mostly systemic,” it said.

The NAGAFF letter to the CGC, signed by its Secretary General, Mr Arthur Igwilo, referred that the association was only interested in ensuring a worthy fight against corruption in any form at the ports and not to undermine the authority of the customs.

It also noted that it was the same national anti-corruption efforts that may have informed Retire Col. Ali’s appointment in a democracy, to stem corruption in the customs and at the ports.

NAGAFF, however, said that the CGC’s correspondence may have been done to shield the accused officers from answering to the corruption allegations.

“The mood of the nation at the moment on matters of corruption engendered the doctrine of necessity that may have brought about the emergence of a non-technical officer on Customs related matters to be appointed as the Comptroller-General of Customs in the person of Rtd. Col. Hameed Ali in a democracy.  The belief of NAGAFF and other critical stakeholders is that Col. Hameed Ali will help to stem the tide of corruption in the Customs ports.
“We suspect this letter may be inadvertently serving a purpose of shielding DC Saidu and Zarma from the alleged accusation of corrupt practices by the Freight agents which runs contrary to the message being passed consistently by the CGC as to his zero tolerance for corruption,” the letter read in part.

NAGAFF said it suspected the motive of the CGC’s letter, because the association did not mention the names of the accused officers in its own correspondence while proposing the public hearing.

“The names of the officers allegedly involved in this matter were not mentioned in the said letter – Deputy Comptroller Aliu Saidu and Asst. Comptroller Zarma refer.

“The fact that the signatory to the letter is asking us to forward the facts and evidence we might have through his office to the CGC.  This to us runs contrary to the normal procedure for sending information to the heads of public government agencies in accordance with civil/public service mode of communication.

The way the letter in question was ended, no courtesy, considering the fact that this is a formal letter and not an internal memo; this kind of letter of inquiry is expected to emanate from the Anti-Corruption Unit of the Nigeria Customs Service and/or the Investigation Unit of the Service rather than ACG Headquarters Office which is administrative.”

NAGAFF explained that it only used the word ‘Public Hearing’ in a restrictive manner for its members and how it was misunderstood, stating that “We are not a court or National Assembly or an arm of the Government for that matter and we are very much aware that we do not have the powers to compel any Government agent or agents to appear before us in that regard. 

“The context in which we used public hearing was because the plethora of complaints from our members, were so much that we decided to invite all of them.  The agents of the Government were advised to come on their own volition, to ensure fair hearing. We do have the powers to invite our members to hear their complaints over a particular person or persons,” it said.

It recalled that the association and the CGC had been working to break the impunity, monopoly and corruption at the Jibiya border of Katsina state, which it claimed had recorded remarkable progress. 

It said it had resolve to play its role in the anti-corruption crusade in spite of the ongoing event playing out, which it said could be a form of distraction.
It called the CGC’s attention to what it considers areas of concern and how the issues could be addressed.

“Areas of concern should include but not limited to the non-compliance attitude at the traders zone, improper Customs examination, value assessment questions that are usually frivolous, the inherent abuse of the T&T Headquarters and local alerts of the ASYCUDA Project Managers.
“Others are stoppage of released and exited containers at the Exit Gate, inherent abuse in the licensing and operations of Customs licenses, lack of transparency in revenue assessment matters and so many other vices that encourage corrupt practices.

“In view of all these contentious issues, we would expect the CGC to call for a town hall meeting with specific stakeholders to forge a way forward in his anti-corruption mandate. 

“We shall in due course make appropriate statement thereafter the committee report of the anti-corruption unit of NAGAFF might have concluded its assignment over the alleged corrupt officers therein mentioned, including the confirmation of the authenticity of this letter from the CGC,” NAGAFF said.