Strong revelations emerged last week as to why the House of Representatives would still go ahead with the much-awaited probe into the activities of the Nigeria Customs Service between 1999 and 2009.
The probe is expected to drag the newly-seelcted Gbon Gwon Jos and former Com[patroller General, Customs, Jacob Gyang Buba as well as the Crown Prince of Adamawa in Adamawa state, Alhaji Ahmed Aliyu Mustapha to the National Assembly to face the law makers.
Although, chairman of the House committee on Customs, Mr Yakubu Dogara disclosed last week in Abuja that the law makers had fixed April 22 for the commencement of the probe, our correspondent was told that some members of the committee had wanted to abort the exercise.
A source that is very close to the committee confirmed that at a point, the committee was divided as to whether to stop the probe or not and how to go about executing the mandate which the House in plenary gave to the committee last year.
“The committee didn’t receive the cooperation of some individuals who had worked in the capacity of Customs bosses in the past; it received serious opposition from within the Nigeria Customs itself, but at a recent meeting of the committee, it was decided that the probe must be conducted”, the source informed.
“The committee was shocked that vital documents which were within the reach of certain retired and serving officers were difficult to access and even when letter and reminders were sent, they were not taken very seriously”, our source added.
He also confirmed that the petitions that were received dated back to 1999 when Alhaji Ahmed Aliyu Mustapha was the Comptroller General, but added that majority of the issues raised had to do with the tenure of the Gbon Gwon Jos who was the Customs boss between March, 2004 and May, 2008.
One of the petitions dated October 16, 2008 and addressed to the chairman, House of Representatives committee on the Nigeria Customs Service advanced four reasons why the legislature must investigate the four- year tenure of Jacob Buba.
According to the seven-page petition which was sighted by our correspondent, the legislature needed to beam its search light on the activities of the Customs; being the second highest revenue earner for the government, because of the security implications of its statutory functions among other strategic things.
Specifically, the petitioners who also sent a copy to the Senate accused Buba of alleged contract award fraud, presenting bloated nominal roll of Customs to the government, auction sales fraud and a host of other allegations, even as they acknowledged that the responsibility rests on the shoulders of members of the House of Representatives to probe the Nigeria Customs Service under Buba since the Senate is already probing the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
According to the petitioners, the ex-CG of Customs allegedly inflated the nominal roll of customs personnel which is supposed to be about 10,000. They claimed that while Buba held sway as the service’s boss, he was collecting money for 21,000 employees.
“Government had been allocating funds for salaries and other social services to take care of 21,000 officers. Up till late 2007, the regime still continued to enjoy funds to take acre of the same figure form the government while the population went below 10,000 officers and men due to deaths, disciplinary actions and down- sizing exercise”, the petitioners alleged and pointed out that there was no way that the staff strength of Customs could be 21,000 when no one has been employed since.
They also accused the former Customs boss of inflation of contract and appointing cronies to execute contracts in deviance of extant Federal Government guidelines.
Directing the lawmakers to a report by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other offences Commission (ICPC),the petitioners at least 13 of such instances of alleged abuse of due process.
According to them, these include: the construction of Customs aircraft hanger at the Nnamdi Azikiwe airport, Abuja at the cost of =N=768Million, construction of Customs airbase in Zaria at the cost of =N=480Million maintenance of the Customs 13-seater Dornier aircraft and award for another contract for the purchase of two helicopters for the Customs at about =N=1.68Billion, allegedly through an associate of the Chief of Staff to the former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo through a third party.
Other allegations were that the former customs boss spent about =N=480Million on the construction of the Federal Capital command headquarters as well as officers’ barracks, construction of Customs Academy at Gwagwalada, Abuja at =N=780Million.
Similarly, another petition dwelt on the controversial promotion exercises in the Customs which has elevated some officers astronomically while some have reportedly stagnated on one rank for too long.
An aide to the committee told Shipping Position Weekly that all the ex- Comptrollers General have been served notice to appear at the probe and also to send memorandum to the committee ahead of the commencement of sitting.
According to him, in spite of the fact that the letters were sent to them several weeks ago, none of them have deemed it fit to furnish the committee with relevant information.
The committee had last week warned that if the memoranda were not submitted by April 16, it would invoke Section 89 (I) C of the 1999 Constitution and Section 4 (a) (b) of the Legislative Houses (powers and Privileges) Act against them.