The heads of two key federal agencies who are also close allies of President Muhammadu Buhari have been sparring over allegations and counter allegations of unprofessionalism and illegality.
The disagreement by the two officials appear to confirm insinuations of division among some leading lights of the Buhari administration.
The turf war stems from a letter written by the Director-General of the State Security Service (SSS), Lawal Daura, to Mr. Buhari on September 8.
In the letter, the security chief accused the Nigerian Customs Service, (NCS), of introducing a $25,000 as new Temporary Import Permit (TIP), levy on each vessel that berths to discharge petroleum products in Nigeria.
PREMIUM TIMES sighted correspondences revealing wrangling between Mr. Daura, a kinsman of the President, and the Director-General of NCS, Hameed Ali, a retired colonel and ally of Mr. Buhari.
The said levy, as Mr. Daura reported to the President, was illegal as it was not provided for on the PPRA template, not receipted, and could increase the cost of petrol by 56 kobo per litre.
In international trade circle, TIP is a customs’ procedure under which certain goods can be brought into a country without payment of duties or taxes and without import prohibition and restriction.
Ports insiders further explained that it is a condition that the goods will be issued for certain period of time and exported back at the expiration of TIP.
But before it is issued, those knowledgeable about NCS operations regarding the issuance said an applicant must post a bond to cover the import duty and other charges inclusive of the 25 per cent penalty in case of violation of the terms.
In Mr. Daura’s memo, he further reported that the alleged introduction of $25,000 TIP levy followed the detention of a vessel, MT Histria Ivory, at Apapa by NCS operatives.
He reported to the President that Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) made the complaint that formed the basis of his memo.
A week after receiving the memo, Mr. Buhari forwarded it to Mr. Ali, demanding his “summary report of your considered view”.
In his response, Mr. Ali told the President that the SSS under Mr. Daura appeared to be more interested in smear campaign and personal vendetta than in thorough investigation and anti-corruption efforts of the administration.
He explained that the said vessel, MT Histria Ivory, was truly detained but that was after it was sighted discharging cargo at Apapa Jetty.
He said the detention was to ascertain whether it had TIP or liable for payment of duty.
While the investigation was ongoing, before Mr. Daura’s memo to the President, MOMAN alleged imposition of $25,000 TIP levy per vessel by the NCS via a letter copied to the Minister for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu; Minister for Finance, Kemi Adeosun; the SSS and the Customs chief.
MOMAN, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, wrote the complaint letter one week before Mr. Daura sent the memo to the president.
Mr. Ali told the President: “It was this letter copied to the DSS that the Department relied on without any investigation and reported to Mr. President that NCS is collecting $25 thousand TIP levy without issuing receipt any receipt.
“The DSS copied all the allegations of MOMAN almost verbatim without any input from them. The Department should have investigated the matter with a view to bringing the perpetrators of the alleged dastardly act to justice.
“This would have been in line with the Federal Government’s efforts of stamping out corruption in the country. It seems however that the DSS is more interested in smear campaign than doing what is right.”
Mr. Ali insisted that the issuance of TIP does not involve payment of money and that the NCS had stopped conducting cash transactions since 2001.
He further reported to the President that MOMAN which made the original complaint was invited by the NCS to bring evidence its members were being charged TIP levy.
In the MOMAN statement understood to have been attached to Mr. Ali’s reply to the President, the body reportedly said the payment which increased from $5,000 to $25,000 was made through shipping agents.
Mr. Ali said the NCS further pressed MOMAN to help identify culpable Customs officials involved in such shady deals.
However, up to the time of writing the letter no response was received from MOMAN despite numerous follow-up telephone calls, the retired colonel said.
He added that the agent of the detained ship, Integrated Shipping Service Limited, was also interviewed, and that stated “no Customs officer demanded for an unreceipted payment of $25 thousand from us or our client…”
The agent’s statement was attached to the NCS’ reply to the President, PREMIUM TIMES understands.
“Proper investigation should always be carried out on complaints such as this which casts serious doubt on the integrity of services and organisations with a view to ascertaining the truth or otherwise of such allegations before reporting such to the Mr. President.
“The DGSS should therefore be advised to approach issues professionally and not allow sentiments or personal vendetta to drive his actions,” Mr. Ali told the President and copied Mr. Daura, saying “above for your information please.”
The disagreement between the officials came to light weeks after Mr. Daura was caught in another controversy after he levelled allegations against the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, to frustrate the confirmation of his appointment by the Senate.
A fact-check by this newspaper showed that the allegations made by the SSS were substantially false.