Last week, Senator Ade Fadahunsi, a retired Assistant Comptroller -General of the Nigeria Customs Service and the incumbent Senator representing Osun East Senatorial District, threw a bombshell when he pointedly accused Hameed Ali, the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs of paying a whopping sum of N1.6bn to a consultant for the recruitment of 3,200 Nigerians into the service.
This elicited a spontaneous outrage among Nigerians, especially stakeholders in the maritime industry.
The anger of the industry players was so high that some have immediately started to call for the sack of Ali and his prosecution by the anti-graft agencies.
We are no less shocked by this allegation.
Ordinarily, we would have been non-pulsed by the revelation because the service is no stranger to such scandals.
Apart from the mind-blowing corruption cases involving mismanagement of humongous amount of money among officers on diverse ranks which have become a recurring anathema in the Service, recruitment exercises in the Customs, which are seldom held, had over the years been enmeshed in controversies.
The last one conducted by the immediate past CGC, Abdullahi Dikko, was said to have heavily tilted to favour a section of the country.
Just like every industry stakeholder, we feel the present recruitment scandal shouldn’t be treated like the others in the Customs due to its peculiarities.
First, the allegation was made by a former Customs egg head, Senator Fadahunsi, whose exploits as an anti-Smuggling czar in FOU Zone A, Lagos, were yet to be equalled.
This places him in good stead to talk about the happenings in the Service that has given him fame and wealth.
Secondly, Fadahunsi is the Vice-Chairman, Senate Committee on Customs in the ninth Assembly.
These two attributes made his allegation weighty and to resonate across the industry because Fadahunsi is not an ordinary Nigerian.
He made the allegation so pointedly and without mincing words that one who lacks restraint will have crucified Ali before investigations.
In another breath, CGC Ali, who is the subject of Fadahunsi’s allegation, came to the industry with the toga of integrity.
As a matter of fact, he told industry players, including his officers, at his resumption of duties few years ago that part of his mandate was to rid the service of corruption.
He said the stench of the malaise had reached President Muhammadu Buhari who, due to the shared uncompromising stance of the two men on corruption, had asked him to cleanse the rot in the Service.
Since then, Ali’s supposedly hard stance on corruption has awed his officers whose adrenaline is always on the high at the mention of their CGC.
According to Fadahunsi, half of the staff which Ali inherited as CGC have fallen victims to the anti-corruption crusade of the retired Colonel.
We are therefore curious, just like any other Nigerian, to know the true situation of the matter because we believe that Fadahunsi, a distinguished Senator and former top-ranking Customs officer, is not likely to make a wild allegation.
Likewise, we believe that Ali, with his toga of integrity, knows the implications of allowing the strong pull of oddities in customs to get at him.
This is why we call for a thorough forensic probe into the whole recruitment exercise.
Even though the Customs service, through its spokesman, DC Attah, had tried to clarify the position of the customs authority on the vexed issue, we still believe all the humongous figures being bandied in the recruitment exercise contract should be verified by independent auditors.
The probe, we hope, will unearth the hidden truth in the whole exercise because both the customs and Fadahunsi, who we believe, spoke in his capacity as the Vice-Chairman of Senate Committee on Customs, are maintaining different positions on the N1.6bn recruitment budget.
While Fadahunsi alleged that the amount was paid to a consultant to help recruit 3,200 candidates from the 162,399 currently shortlisted from the 828,333 that applied, the Customs said the correct amount which is N1.570bn was not only for recruitment but covers other logistics like feeding, training kits, allowances and other logistics.
In the face of these claims and counterclaims, we urge CGC Ali to voluntarily submit the whole recruitment exercise to forensic probe.
It is through this process he can redeem his image as an anti-corruption crusader, a toga that is currently undergoing a public trial.\
We equally advise the Senate to take more than a passing interest on this matter by empanelling an ad-hoc committee to take a holistic look at the issue.
We recommend an independent probe panel not by the Senate Committee on Customs because it can’t be an accuser and the judge in its own case.
The investigation should determine if Customs is justified in spending such a huge amount to recruit and train 3,200 intakes into the service.
Couldn’t there have been better alternatives that will produce quality and transparent recruitment and training exercise without reckless spending of taxpayers money?
Just as Senator Fadahunsi asked, do other security and paramilitary organisations spend as much?
The outcome of an inquest into the Customs recruitment exercise will reveal how sincere and credible Ali’s anti-corruption crusade is, in Customs.
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