Comptroller of Customs Aliyu Mohammed: Smuggler’s Nightmare

Comptroller Aliyu A. Mohammed

By Abdulkadir Ahmed Ibrahim

Nowhere was President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption battle and Nigeria Customs Service Comptroller-General, retired Col. Hamid Ali’s uncompromising stance against sleaze better replicated than in the critical assignments they gave one of Nigeria’s most forthright, passionate and dynamic Customs Officer, Aliyu Alhaji Mohammed,  a Comptroller of Customs.

“I am not here for the money, I am here for the mission; that is the mindset with which I am succeeding in sanitizing the place – no compromise in my duty and responsibilities,” he once said. And truly, it shows!

In May 2019 alone, the Nigeria Customs Service Federal Operations Unit (FOU) Zone ‘A’ headquarters in Ikeja, Lagos,  seized two containers of donkey hides valued at N15 billion, throwing spanners into the well-orchestrated plans of a syndicate said to comprise Chinese and Nigerian ‘businessmen’. Two months earlier, exotic bulletproof vehicles worth N2.2 billion – illegally imported ‘property’ of some highly-connected nouveau riche Nigerian citizens – were intercepted and handed over to the National Security Adviser, Major-General Mohammed Babagana Monguno (rtd)

There were also cases of considerable drug seizures, including Tramadol which only add to the perception of the Nigeria Customs Service Federal Operations Unit (FOU) Zone ‘A’ and its head, Aliyu Alhaji Mohammed, as a terror to the illicit but lucrative business of smuggling.

 Inspired and energized by their boss, Customs Officials in the Zone nabbed a truckload of Codeine syrup worth about N240 million in one day along the Mile 2 – Oshodi Expressway in Lagos.

He recently told an inquisitive Radio journalist that Donkey Hide is on the list of banned items from exportation in Nigeria and Donkey is an endangered species as declared by a United Nations agency. Comptroller Aliyu Mohammed was equally passionate that being the “beast of burden” in many Nigerian communities, Donkey should be protected from extinction.

He lamented that a poor Villager will part with a big donkey at a paltry sum of N40, 000 and the middleman will sell the donkey hide only at a high cost of about N200, 000 to a potential illegal exporter.

Comptroller of Customs Aliyu A. Mohammed, Controller Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Zone ‘A’, Nigeria Customs Service inspects seized Container load of Donkey Hides about to be smuggled out.

Some of those close to him worry that his seizure of drugs and contrabands worth several billions of Naira may have put in the crosshairs of Nigeria’s contraband kingpins and their foreign collaborators but rather than live on the glories of an excellent service record, he has continued to be an uncompromising nightmare for such people.

Amidst concerns that the easy lure of lucre has lured many public officials and private sector figures away from adequately focusing on the public interest, the patriotic zeal and nationalistic focus of few others easily rekindle hopes of a greater Nigeria. Among the latter group is Comptroller Aliyu Alhaji Mohammed, one of the stellar examples of probity and accountability in the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).

Even at great risk to their lives, a few public officials like the Comptroller-General of Customs Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd) who is responsible for the overall management and direction of the NCS, Aliyu Alhaji Mohammed who heads FOU Zone ‘A’ and a few of their highly focused subordinates in various parts of the nation give the nation cause for hope.

“The OC Zone A” as Comptroller Aliyu is affectionately referred to by  his subordinates, once told his friends that he had all along committed himself to serve his fatherland with the best of his ability but he is now inspired to serve more with patriotism by the integrity credentials of President Muhammadu Buhari and motivated to fight the anti-smuggling war by the trustworthiness, humane and administrative competence of the current Controller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd) who appreciates and reward hard work and disdains negligence to official duty.

“The Smuggler’s nightmare”, Aliyu Mohammed, once boasted publicly that  in the history of the 128 year old Nigeria Customs Service, no Controller General generated revenue like the incumbent, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd) who collected more than One Trillion Naira that was properly documented, accounted for and remitted to the Federal Government Treasury.

Recently, the Nigerian media run a story of a Clearing Agent Lady who went to the Office of Comptroller Aliyu to seek favour for the release of a Tramadol worth N1bn loaded Container belonging to an acquaintance, seized by Aliyu’s men and in the process allegedly attempted to bribe him with N50m equivalent of US Dollars.

But the uncompromising anti—smuggling war hero ordered for the arrest of the lady, one of his staff who facilitated her visit and her aide who brought the money. He documented all the exhibits and sent them together with the three suspects to the NCS Headquarters in Abuja for further investigation.  

During a visit to the National Association of Government-Approved Freight Forwarders in Lagos, Aliyu acknowledged the simplistic and unfair discoloration that people sometimes put on the hard work, sacrifice and tenacity of his team, noting that an operation for seizure of an illegitimate consignment of Tramadol got deliberately misinterpreted in negative light.

Contrary to initial reports that the FOU officers were trying to extort the travelers of N5, 0000  when they intercepted the occupants of a bus laden with Tramadol and in an ensuing struggle with the Smugglers who tried to disarm one of the Customs men, the weapon discharged and killed an aide (Godwin Onoja) to the officer.

 Comptroller Aliyu explained: “We just stopped the bus (at the Sagamu end of the Lagos – Ore – Benin Expressway) and people started shouting that we wanted to collect N5,000 bribe, then one of them wanted to disarm the officer and that was why there was an accidental discharge which killed the camp boy”. “That camp boy has served the officer for twenty-five years; the officer was the one paying the school fees for his children and like a breadwinner”.

“The first bag we dragged out was having 3,000 packs of Tramadol, the second bag we dragged out had 2,000 Machetes,” he said.

During a subsequent visit to the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Aliyu gave further insight into the risks and painstaking efforts that he and his men take to mitigate such, adding that some people had wrongfully alleged that FOU officials were carrying out illegal operations around Ondo axis.

“When last did you see me in the public? When I leave my house, I only go to the office and the airport, if I dare travel out of Lagos on my own, I will be killed because I am fighting these drug traffickers”.

“So when you see officers on the road, they are not on their own, they know what they are doing; I strategize my operations, I don’t allow my officers to go to the villages to start killing innocent people because of one bag of rice”.

“The villagers will not consume such rice, definitely, it would come to the road and we will pick them (smugglers) up”.

“If you see the way we battle car dealers, you will be surprised; we currently have about twelve (illegally imported) bulletproof cars. Do you know how we got them? We cannot get it all at once, we wait for them to display them in their car stands and we pick them up”.

“All Nigerians need to assist us, our being on the road is to help you, help our economy; Customs do not have any friend, they only have enemies. If three Customs officers are killed today, you will not hear the news until three days’ time but if one villager is mistakenly shot, the whole village would be on fire,” he said.

At the Seme border area where Mohammed Aliyu once served as Controller, he combined an uncompromising stance against corrupt practices with a human face approach that ensured a huge increase in the seizure of contraband while enhancing the relationship between his men and people in surrounding communities.

The ISFOP-Benin University, a bilingual institution founded in 1997 and domiciled in Cotonou, Benin republic, appreciated Aliyu Mohammed’s success in clearing the once-volatile border area of touts and ushering in peace.

In place of the mess he inherited there, Aliyu reorganized things, insisting that only the approved checkpoints be allowed to function while patrol teams along the international route became more mobile and dynamic.

Discipline, proper dressing, aggressively improved anti-smuggling operations, prompt and effective management of potential crisis and a hugely improved data for the year 2017 key performance indices, along with very healthy symbiotic relationship with the host community put the NCS and the nation in good light at the Seme border area under the watch of a committed officer.

Efficient scanners to facilitate trade, security and legal compliances, in compliance with the World Customs Organization (WCO) recommendations, all made for success. The 2017 end of year report shows that the Seme border area brought N6. 3 billion into the Federal Government coffers, its Enforcement Unit made 529 seizures with Duty Paid Value of N639. 5 million and N10 billion was generated as revenue through the NCS ASYCUDA platform.

Smuggled fuel was regularly seized and smuggled rice too, with 12, 051 bags being handed over to internally-displaced persons in some of Nigeria’s troubled areas through the Nigerian army on May 7, 2018, alone.

A capacity for effecting bold decisions, including the posting of entrenched subordinates who had unduly spent some fifteen, twenty questionable years rooted in one border post are part of what Comptroller Aliyu Alhaji Mohammed is known and respected for.

Born in Birnin-Kebbi in Birnin Local Government Area of Kebbi State on March 2, 1961, Comptroller Aliyu Alhaji Mohammed attended Town Primary School, Birnin Kebbi and in 1974, gained admission into Government Secondary School, Birnin Kebbi, where he obtained his West African Senior School Certificate.  

He proceeded to Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto, did the mandatory one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Abuja in 1986/1987 and enlisted into the Superintendent Cadre of the Nigeria Customs Service in 1987.

In 2015, he rose to the rank of Comptroller of Customs, sustaining his cordial relationship with officers and men of the Nigeria Customs Service as well as a knack for hard work, prudence and transparency for which he was well known in all places where he has worked.

Before rising to the rank of Comptroller in 2015, he has worked in various NCS formations and in different capacities and these include the Kano/Jigawa Command, PTML, Port Harcourt II, Enforcement‚ Investigation and Inspection (E,l&l) Headquarters, KLT and 2ic Valuation at Seme Command

At the Seme Command of the NCS, he was the pioneer Officer-in-Charge of ACTU (Anti-Corruption and Transparency Unit) where he served meritoriously before getting redeployed to Inspection and investigation Unit in Abuja.    

He has also worked at Federal Operations, Zone ‘D’ Minna before being posted to Tin Can Island port where he got his Comptroller rank.

He was Comptroller Budget before his deployment as Customs Area Controller Seme where his giant stride speaks volume from March 2017 August 16, 2018, and now Controller, Federal Operations Unit ‘A’, from August 17, 2018, till date.

Aliyu Alhaji Mohammed attended many courses and represented the Nigeria Customs Service both locally and internationally.

These include the Valuation Quest Course in Canada, Anti-Dumping Course in China, Leadership Development Workshop, Modernization Course, World Trade Organization (WTO) Valuation Agreement Course, among others.

He has also won several awards in recognition of outstanding performance and achievements including the Comptroller-General of Customs’ Commendation for Sanitizing the Lagos-Abidjan Corridor 2017, Commendation from Cote d’Ivoire Customs Administration for collaboration with the Nigeria Customs Service towards Border Security, Certificate of African Peace Ambassador from Alvin Youth Assembly for Peace, Benin Republic.

He is a Fellow of the Institute of Transport and Management Technology (ITMT). Comptroller (Dr) Aliyu A. Mohammed bagged an Honorary Doctorate Degree from lSFOP-Benin University, Cotonou, in 2018.

 He is a member of Abuja Bikers ’Association. Aliyu Mohammed enjoys Biking and family’s profession of Farming. He is happily married with four children.

Abdulkadir Ahmed Ibrahim a Public Commentator and Analyst writes from Kano.