When the news came 8 years ago after the swearing in on 29th May 2015 that a retired army colonel would be in charge of the affairs of the Nigeria Customs service (NCS), many people expressed deep fears and questions were asked like “how will an army colonel understand customs work? What does he know about duty and exercise? How will he understand how Nigeria customs service operates?” among other intriguing questions.
But today, he has shut the mouths of many critics with the way he demystified all those questions and even surpassed them which goes to say that leadership is more about the kind of heart a leader has than the kind of head he has.
Immediately after resumption, he got to work focusing on the three-point agenda from the former President which were to Reform Customs, Restructure Customs and Raise Revenue. By leaps and bounds, the mandate given has been achieved and surpassed by him.
I am sure many people are still wondering till today how he was able to do it. You came with humility to learn, compassion and passion to work, lovely and loving hearts to address the sufferings of the officers/men.
Other tools that have helped him achieve these legacies in Nigeria Customs Service are integrity, equity and fairness to all irrespective of tribe and religion. These are uncommon qualities in an average Nigerian leader.
The legacies you will be leaving behind for us from your three-point agenda
Col Ali fought smuggling to a standstill with the adoption of technology. Through this, he has saved many Nigerian lives through his anti-smuggling stance. It is not an exaggeration that those confiscated guns and military camouflage uniforms illegally brought into the country could have made Nigerians fatherless, motherless and childless. Not to talk about kidnapping, banditry and insurgency they would have fueled at expense of our national security, peace and life.
The World Customs Organization has now come to accord the Nigeria Customs Service more international respect under your watch. This in addition to awards, scholarships and training this recognition has brought to the service.
His capacity building programme for officers is second to none as I am personally a beneficiary of this. Your administration sent me on a postgraduate study fully sponsored until I graduated as a medical consultant.
Another feat was the harmonization of cadres/ranks which boosted the morale of so many men and officers leading to more productivity with many now having more pride in the service.
In addition, he has succeeded in stilling discipline in officers and men of the Nigeria Customs Service as officers are now respectful to their seniors and colleagues. Your administration succeeded in removing many stubborn and unrepentant bad eggs from the service.
The age-long lying about retirement age is now feared among officers/men because they know you will find out through your eagle eyes. Officers now have more integrity and are more sincere.
What about the proper placement of officers and men that were not promoted in the past years before you took over which demoralized their morale? Your administration has rectified it and put smiles on the faces of so many officers.
The welfare of officers is so paramount that you ensured all officers and men of NCS got a 100% increase in salary. This is in addition to other allowances that boosted the morale of officers and men. The level of happiness of all customs officers and men and mental health have never been this high.
Your tenure has witnessed easy granting of affordable loans with little or no interest spread over a very good time for officers to pay back. Through this scheme, many officers/men are now proud car owners.
What about his transportation drive for officers/men? Today, many officers/men enjoy fully air conditioner staff buses to and back from work, courtesy of your visionary leadership and fatherly heart for the officers and men, all of us you regard as your children.
Promotion is now driven by meritocracy. All an officer needs to do is pass his promotional exams. Once 50% and above are scored, the next task for the officer is to await decoration. This is the first time I will see this in my 12 years of being an officer.
Col Ali ensured equity, fairness and gender balance in recruitment of officers which has now become a regular exercise in NCS.
There is a prompt and regular posting of officers/men for proper exposure to the job in various environments with regular payment of movement order allowances. When I received my 28 days allowance after my last transfer, I had to call my friend in the account section to ask if they had not made a mistake. They said no, it is a new era.
The accommodation and welfare drive for officers/men from renovation of many barracks to building new ones all over the country is worth mentioning, confirming that the well-being of your officers/men has been his priority.
A lot of senior officers today never believed they could smell management seats in the service but based on your meritocracy policies, you ensured many of them got to the top. On this you have also been gender friendly.
He has modernised the auction of cars and other forfeited seizures. This singular act has restored the public confidence and removed long held belief that the officers/men of the service and their families are the ones sharing the forfeited seizures.
The newly approved modernization which is the e-customs project for the service is another positive change that will bring development not only to NCS but to Nigeria as whole, including revenue generation and economic growth.
The new NCS HQ completed is a state of the art. This was an abandoned project before your appointment and which was commissioned for the use of humanity and Nigerians by former President Buhari.
It is also on record that international and local, short- and long-term training of officers and men have now become a normal day to day occurrence in NCS.
Col Ali paid attention to the health of all officers/men by building more hospitals and medical centres for the service and equipping them to take care of officers/men and the host communities. Not only that, he ensured all officers/men of NCS have access to cheap quality health care through enrollment into the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).
The capacity building for medical corps has improved through both local and international training and re-training programmes. Many were sent to the best hospitals all over the world for world standard training.
The yearly medical corps annual retreat that started during your tenure has led to improved capacity for medical corps and medical outreaches to the host communities from which many lives were saved from many deadly diseases and untimely deaths.
Compro exams in public service rules and financial regulations were unpopular in NCS before you took the mantle of leadership but today, based on your insistence and even payment for the compro exams for all officers/men, many officers/men are now grounded in public service rules and financial regulations which have boosted our operational abilities as officers/men.
NCS now boasts of improved revenue collection which enabled him to improve the welfare of officers/men.
Collaboration with other agencies to achieve more feats for the service and the whole country has become a norm in NCS. Officers/men do not only collaborate with civilian and paramilitary agencies, the camaraderie has been extended to the Nigerian navy, army and airforce. The collaboration has yielded enormous results.
Weapon training for all officers including support/professional officers/men has been unprecedented in the history of NCS as professional officers/ men are now more gallant.
He also extended welfare drives to officers/men that died during the course of discharging their duty to the nation, by creating a good insurance package for their families, wives and children. Col Ali ensured prompt payment of their gratuities so that their families will not suffer.
No comptroller general of customs has ever achieved the feat you achieved in revenue generation. You broke that one trillion-naira revenue generation jinx and even surpassed it. You achieved this laudable feat by blocking revenue leakages through numerous reforms.
You have changed the organogram of the Nigeria Customs Service by creating a new department and new commands such as the Nigeria Customs Police unit.
Nigeria Customs Service has become the envy of other paramilitary agencies, even as I love this P- CAP we now wear regularly that makes us look gallant. The reformed dressing code for officers and men is highly commendable. The white uniform and tie are also beautiful to behold.
The new CEMA:
The most outstanding of all the reforms, revenue and restructuring projects you achieved was the new Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) recently assented to by the former president. It emphasizes high commitment to the career progression of officers in the service. This new law will bring NCS to speed in the comity of nations worldwide and also positively impact on the welfare of all officers and men of the service.
This tribute was written by Adewunmi Adesida (Dr), Assistant Comptroller of Customs, Officer In Charge Of the Medical Unit, Kano/Jigawa Area Command, Kano.