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Billions lost as top Customs officers abandon duty posts

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Comptroller General of The Nigerian Customs Service, Hameed Ali
Comptroller General of The Nigerian Customs Service, Hameed Ali

The nation’s No. 2 cash cow, the Nigeria Customs Service, is hemorrhaging; this time not from the multifarious cases of corruption, but from the technical shutdown of the revenue agency each time a family member of a top-ranking officer is getting married.

Frustrated importers and clearing agents told SATELLITE TIMES that billions of naira is lost each time a top customs officer is hosting a wedding ceremony for his son or daughter.

“Each time these weddings happen, we the clearing agents are the worst hit as everything comes to a standstill because not only is one Oga (boss) staying away from work to be at his child’s wedding, all his senior colleagues go with him beginning from Thursday for a wedding that will take place on a Saturday,” said a clearing agent at Maersk Line Apapa who wouldn’t want his name in print.

It was further gathered that not only do these top customs officers abandon duty post for wedding ceremonies, they rarely delegate functions to subordinates especially where their signatures need to be appended before an import document can move to the next desk or before a container is released.

Explaining the reluctance of top officers to delegate functions to the next most senior officers in his unit, another clearing agent at Tin Can Island port said the signature of a top customs officer in strategic position “is worth hundreds of thousands of naira, sometimes millions; that is why no such officer can permit someone else to do his work even if for one day; so everyone has to wait meaning that importers incur more cost while the nation losses billions”.

Satellite Times gathered that between April and July 2018, port activities slowed down considerably because of these constant weddings which resulted in loss of revenue in the affected Commands.

On 14th April Aisha, daughter of an Assistant Comptroller of Customs Chiroma Z. wedded Hammed Mohammed in Borno State on a Saturday. However, from the preceeding Thursday activities at the whole Customs Commands in Tin-Can, Apapa, Badagry and Seme Border were paralysed. The result was that you could not process anything at that time because all the officers were preparing for the wedding and some did not return to their duty post until the following Tuesday.

Also, in May, Deputy Comptroller Mohammed Gaya, the ASYCUDA Project Manager in Apapa Command gave out his daughter in marriage in Kano. He is the Revenue Officer of the Command.

Deputy Comptroller of Customs, DC Mohammed Gaya, of Apapa Command gave out his daughter in marriage May in Kano.

Deputy Comptroller of Customs, DC Mohammed Gaya, of Apapa Command gave out his daughter in marriage May in Kano.

Like Gaya, other senior officers that have had such weddings between May and July were Comptroller Mira of Tin-Can Command, Deputy Comptroller Abdullahi Kirawa , the OC Task force Tin-Can, and the Area Comptroller Kebbi who oversees the Maritime Command Coconut Apapa. Sadly, these are the most strategic offices that generate revenue for the ministry of finance.

From Apapa to Tin Can to Lily Field Bonded Terminal, all the importers and clearing agents spoken to expressed helplessness when this newspaper sought their reactions in respect of senior officers abandoning their duty posts for social engagements.

Mr. Joel Ugbokoh, a former customs officer who is now a clearing agent lamented the development saying that years back officers did attend social functions but always left someone behind to act in their place.

“Today we are left with no option but to wait for them to arrive from their trips or holidays, which sometimes result to delay in taking delivery and also excessive demurrage incurred in the process,” Ugbokoh said.

The retired officer added: “This needs to be checkmated. The government is losing money; the importers are made to incur higher costs which of course they must pass on to the ordinary Nigerians; customs officers are public servants but every day here they use every opportunity to play God, so you find clearing agents sometimes going on their knees before an officer can be persuaded to do his work”.

Telephone calls and SMS enquiries sent to the official number of the PRO of Customs in the Abuja headquarters were not responded to before the commencement of the Sallah holiday.

Human Rights

Amnesty confirms 60 killed by Boko Haram in Rann

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The false-colour image above highlights the near-infrared band. Healthy vegetation appears red while unhealthy, or burned, areas appear black or brown. On 30 January 2019, hundreds of structures appear heavily burned. Environmental sensors remotely detected fires in the area on 28 and 29 January 2019.

At least 60 people were killed following the 28 January devastating Boko Haram attack on Rann, a border town in Borno state, northeast Nigeria, Amnesty International has confirmed.

The organization also analyzed satellite imagery which shows hundreds of burned structures in the town. Many of the destroyed structures only date back to 2017, suggesting they were shelters for internally displaced people who came to Rann seeking protection.

“We have now confirmed that this week’s attack on Rann was the deadliest yet by Boko Haram, killing at least 60 people. Using satellite imagery we have also been able to confirm the mass burning of structures as Boko Haram unleashed a massive assault on Rann, most of which is now destroyed,” said Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria.

Satellite imagery which shows hundreds of burned structures in the town

“This attack on civilians who have already been displaced by the bloody conflict may amount to possible war crime, and those responsible must be brought to justice. Disturbingly, witnesses told us that Nigerian soldiers abandoned their posts the day before the attack, demonstrating the authorities’ utter failure to protect civilians.”

Inadequate security

Alleged withdrawal of troops, triggered a massive exodus of civilians to Cameroon, as fear spread that Boko Haram would take advantage and attack the town. At around 9am on 28 January, a group of Boko Haram fighters arrived on motorcycles. They set houses ablaze and killed those left behind. They also chased after those who attempted to escape and killed some people outside the town.  Eleven bodies were found within Rann town, and 49 bodies were found outside.

The false-colour image above highlights the near-infrared band. Healthy vegetation appears red while unhealthy, or burned, areas appear black or brown. A closer look at one burned area on 30 January 2019 shows the severity of the damage. Many of the structures are new since 2017 suggesting they are shelters for IDPs living in the town.

The false-colour image above highlights the near-infrared band. Healthy vegetation appears red while unhealthy, or burned, areas appear black or brown. A closer look at one burned area on 30 January 2019 shows the severity of the damage. Many of the structures are new since 2017 suggesting they are shelters for IDPs living in the town.

Amnesty International was informed that about 50 people have not been accounted for. Those who took part in the burial explained what they saw.

According to an eyewitness: “Ten of us [Civilian Joint Task Force] came from Cameroon to Rann for the burial. When we arrived, we found and buried 11 corpses within the town, but the soldiers told us that they buried several others yesterday [30 January] who had decayed. Outside the town, we recovered and buried 49 dead bodies all with gunshot wounds.”

Aid agencies have reported that some 30,000 civilians have fled for the border with Cameroon in recent days, joining a further 9,000 who fled Boko Haram’s previous attack on Rann on 14 January.

Satellite evidence of mass burning

Amnesty International analyzed satellite images from 30 January 2019 showing hundreds of structures burned in the east, south and southeast of Rann. Environmental sensors detected fires in the area on 28 and 29 January.

The false-colour image above highlights the near-infrared band. Healthy vegetation appears red while unhealthy, or burned, areas appear black or brown. On 30 January 2019, hundreds of structures appear heavily burned. Environmental sensors remotely detected fires in the area on 28 and 29 January 2019.

In the 14 January attack, Boko Haram burned well over 100 structures in other areas of Rann. These two recent attacks have left most of the town heavily damaged or destroyed.

Amnesty International is calling on Nigerian authorities to investigate the alleged withdrawal of security forces of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) from Rann, which may have left tens of thousands of civilians exposed to this latest deadly attack.

“Boko Haram has consistently and deliberately targeted civilians in Rann, which makes the Nigerian authorities failure to protect people all the more unacceptable,” said Osai Ojigho.

“The authorities on both sides of the border must provide the supplies and safety that these people require. The Cameroonian authorities must also desist from forcing people to return until conditions are safe and they choose to do so voluntarily.”

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Media groups mourn slain Ghanaian Journalist in Nigeria

– March to Ghana High Commission, open a condolence register in Abuja

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The group holding a banner in solidarity with slain Ghanaian journalist, Ahmed Hussein-Suale

Journalists from SATELLITE TIMES newsroom, Safer Media Initiative (SMI) and colleagues from the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Thursday in solidarity mourned the death of Ghanaian Journalist, Ahmed Hussein-Suale who was assassinated in his country on Wednesday, January 16.

Hussein-Suale, an undercover journalist with Tiger Eye, an investigative reporting project founded by Anas Aremeyaw Anas was shot three times by gunmen on a motor bike who eventually drove off without carting away with any valuables from his vehicle.

In solidarity to the fallen hero, journalists from SATELLITE TIMES, Safer Media Initiative and colleagues from the Nigeria Union of Journalist (NUJ) came out, dressed in black to mourn and also condemn the gruesome killing of Hussein-Suale. The ceremony is in continuation of a week-long activity in Abuja and Lagos by investigative reporters bent on seeking justice for their slain colleague in Ghana as well as upholding the ideals for which he gave his life.

Two days earlier, members of Safer Media Initiative took their solidarity march to the Ghana High Commission in Abuja where they called on the Ghanaian government to take action and further justice for the slain journalist.

Reacting to the murder, publisher of SATELLITE TIMES newspaper and multiple award-winning investigative journalist, Emmanuel Mayah, in strong terms condemned the act, adding that it is one too many on African journalists.

 Publisher of SATELLITE TIMES newspaper and multiple award-winning investigative journalist, Emmanuel Mayah

Publisher of SATELLITE TIMES newspaper and multiple award-winning investigative journalist, Emmanuel Mayah

Mayah used the medium to also encourage journalists not to fret or be discouraged by the attack on their colleague. Though he recognized the fact that the work of journalists in Africa is becoming increasingly difficult, he charged them to keep shinning light on the truth as they remain the defenders of the social contract, ridding the continent of corruption, bad governance and inequality.

In an earlier statement condemning the murder, Mayah said “We at SATELLITE TIMES newsroom join our colleagues in the global investigative journalism community in condemning the cowardly killing of this young journalist in Ghana. To Anas: we stand by you and share in your grief in this dark moment. To Ahmed’s family: the pain never goes away. To the government of Ghana we say: Journalists are not public enemy, rather they are protectors of the public interest; the defenders of the social contract between the citizens and the state.”

Journalists from SATELLITE TIMES newsroom took turns to sign a condolence register in memory and honour of Hussein-Suale.

Journalists from SATELLITE TIMES newsroom signing condolence register

Journalists from SATELLITE TIMES newsroom signing condolence register

Tony Icheku, a member of the NUJ in his condolence message said, “A threat to one is a threat to all. Ahmed Hussein-Suale’s death must not be in vain. RIP brother man!”

In his remark, the Executive Director of Safer Media Initiative, Peter Iorter said “it is unfortunate and worrisome that this has happened in Ghana, a country regarded as one of the most democratic countries in Africa and also ranking better than any other African country on the World Press Freedom index.”

Hussein-Suale was a member of the undercover team that exposed football corruption in Ghana and his last work, an investigation into ritual killings in Malawi published by the BBC.

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Satellite Times condemn the assassination of investigative journalist

-calls on journalists in Nigeria to wear black

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Ahmed Hussein-Suale, the Tiger Eye the investigative journalist who was killed by gunmen [Photo credit: Quartz Africa]
Ahmed Hussein-Suale, the Tiger Eye investigative journalist who was killed by gunmen [Photo credit: Quartz Africa]

Nigeria’s frontline investigative newspaper, Satellite Times, has condemned in strong terms the assassination in Ghana of investigative journalist Ahmed Hussein-Suale.

Ahmed was killed in a hail of bullets from gunmen on motorbike who aimed at his chest and neck, eventually speeding off without taking any valuables from his car which they had trailed till the attack. The slain journalist was one of the reporters at Tiger Eye, an investigative reporting project founded by ace Ghanaian journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas.

Reacting to the murder, Satellite Times’ publisher and multiple award-winning investigative journalist, Emmanuel Mayah, said in a statement that the shooting dead of Ahmed Hussein-Suale is one gruesome attack too many on African journalists doing the difficult work of ridding the continent of corruption, bad governance and political capture.

In the press statement Mayah said:

“I am reeling in shock as I write this. What happened in Ghana is too close to home that it is producing a petrifying aftershock here in Nigeria. Over the years I have received with angst news of killings of journalists across the world but none was as jolting as the slaying of Ahmed Hussein-Suale; maybe because I knew him in person.

“We at Satellite Times newsroom, join our colleagues in the global investigative journalism community in condemning the cowardly killing of this young journalist in Ghana. To Anas: we stand by you and share in your grief in this dark moment. To Ahmed’s family: the pain never goes away. To the government of Ghana we say: Journalists are not public enemy, rather they are protectors of the public interest; the defenders of the social contract between the citizens and the state.

We ask the government of Ghana and indeed those of the other member states of the African Union to recall Article 13 of the United Nations Convention against corruption, which provides that each state party shall take measures to protect “the freedom to seek, receive, publish and disseminate information concerning corruption”. In the spirit of this statute, we call on the government of Ghana to fish out and bring to justice the killers of Ahmed; be they in government or friends of the government.

“Death is everyone’s destiny but death for the investigative journalist is a choice. Journalists fought for the independence of nations of Africa. They fought against colonialism, apartheid, military dictatorship and now even in a democracy, they are fighting against bad governance, human rights violations and official brigandage, the last obstacles to the total emancipation of the African continent.

“We ask the African community that we serve to see investigative journalists as freedom fighters in the mould of Steve Biko, Martin Luther King, Patrice Mulumba, Thomas Sankara, Che Guevera, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Ken Saro-Wiwa; and of course, Dele Giwa, Norbert Zongo and Anna Politkovskaya.

“Journalists in Satellite Times newsroom will begin today (Friday) to wear black for seven days as we mourn our departed colleague in Ghana.”

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