Customs boss mess splits Presidency

Nigeria’s Seat of political power the presidential villa, Asokoro Abuja, has been torn apart by the controversy precipitated by the certificate forgery allegation against the Comptroller-General of Customs, Alhaji Abdullahi Inde Dikko.

There appear to be no consensus yet between the pro-Dikko government officials and those who are infuriated by the scandal surrounding his appointment and academic credentials. 

National Daily reports that President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is worried by the Dikko gate scandal but is said to be confused about how to break the ludicrous smoke created by the spiral scandal. 

“The Abdullahi Dikko matter has caused division among Yar’Adua’s kitchen cabinet and Aso Rock staff. There are those who want the president to clean up the mess by sacking the Comptroller-General while some disagree and instead advise the President to allow the court to resolve the matter.” An informed source said. 

Informed sources disclosed that the pro Dikko officials, on the one hand, are being influenced by the first lady, Hajia Turai Umaru Yar’Adua, while on the other hand the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Alhaji Mahmud Ahmed Yayale is said to be at the head of the puritans who are clamouring for Dikko to be booted out of office. 

“I can tell you that right now, Aso Rock is split from top to bottom because of the divergent views expressed by government officials and staff. Some people who are saying that Dikko should remain in office are doing so to please Turai who is the Comptroller General’s Godmother and sister in law but Yayale and his supporters disagree with the pro-Dikko people on moral grounds.” 

National Daily sources disclosed that things are no longer at ease between Turai and Yayale because of their uncompromising stance on the Dikko affair. Their relationship, sources said, worsened last week when the SGF pressured the president for the umpteenth time since the scandal was unearthed to take proactive position on the Customs boss alleged scandal. 

“Turai and Yayale are merely tolerating each other now. Though, they have never really had a cordial relationship because of what insiders complained to be Turai’s domineering attitude and intrusion into matters on the exclusive list, the situation now is worst,” a knowledgeable source said.

It was further revealed that some members of the Federal Executive Council are unhappy about the alleged involvement of the Comptroller-General in certificate forgery. 

Some ministers and governors according to sources, have advised the president to remove Dikko from office so as to save the image of his Administration and the credibility of his war on corruption that has come under severe international condemnation in recent weeks. 

One of National Daily’s highly placed sources said that some members of the National Council of State, including a former vice president was particularly enraged by Dikko’s alleged sleazy past and the president’s unwillingness to order an investigation into the veracity or otherwise of the allegation. 

“I am aware that Yar’Adua is under intense pressure from his kitchen cabinet, Federal Executive Council and some elder statesmen over the Dikko scandal. They want the president to act decisively because of Dikko’s sensitive position and the dent on the country’s image.” Our source said. 

National Daily learned that at a point Yar’Adua made up his mind to sack the scandal soaked Comptroller-General of Customs from office, but was restrained by Turai who said that such an action will not only tarnish the image of Abdullahi Dikko but end his career with ignominy. Turai was said to have pulled the sucker punch: “Why should you disgrace my brother-in-law from office, don’t you know the consequences.” 

Our source who is a close friend of one of Turai’s favourite staff further revealed that “President Yar’Adua is disarmed by Turai’s resistance and reference to the brother-in-law relationship between his wife and Dikko. He has been brooding and remonstrating on the issue since his wife’s combative intervention in the Dikko scandal.” 
However, the last certainly has not been heard on the raging controversy caused by the appointment of Alhaji Abdullahi Dikko as Comptroller-General of Customs and the uncovering of his alleged fraudulent background. 
National Daily sources disclosed that Yar’Adua initially did not want to appoint Dikko as the Customs boss because of his alleged questionable background. The President was to be more inclined towards Dikko’s two other colleagues based on their impressive record of service and decent Academic qualification. But he finally succumbed to pressures from Turai and his inlaws in Katsina State and approved the announcement of Dikko as the new Comptroller-General of Customs. 

National Daily sources said some influential members of Yar’Adua’s cabinet are insisting that “Dikko must go” based on the moral and economic implication of his continued stay in office. 
They make reference to the dent on Nigeria’s image and the need to sustain the viability of Customs as an alternate source of huge internal revenue. 

With the price of crude oil crashing in the international market, bearing in mind the fact that Nigeria appears to now rely so much on Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) which the customs play a critical role. But with the crisis of integrity rocking the customs today, some government officials and Economic Analysts submit that the customs may not be able to meet their target. 

Informed sources said that even a segment of the top hierarchy of customs are praying for Dikko to be eased out of office but other staff and business men who see Dikko as their benefactor want him to remain in office. 
A senior Customs Officer who pleaded anonymity confided in National Daily that the Dikko saga has created unease in the customs service. 

The source stressed that the apprehension arising from the whole story has killed the zeal to work among many staff. 
Indeed this is not the best of times in Aso Rock, Nigeria’s seat of power. In spite of the administration’s spirited efforts to re-brand and position itself in positive light with regards to the critical issues of corruption and due process, some highly-placed presidential aides and allies have continued to enmesh the presidency in somewhat embarrassing situations. And this, National Daily gathered has become a source of pain for Mr. President.

Only a few weeks ago, in far away United Kingdom, the administration was confronted by some Nigerians abroad under the aegis of Nigeria Liberation Forum who could not understand why the Yar’Adua-led government appears all out to defend former Delta State governor Chief James Ibori, his wife, Nkoyo and alleged mistress, Amaka Onuigbo-Okoronkwo indicted in a serial matter bordering on money laundering. The administration had been accused of dispatching the Attorney General, Michael Aandoaka to UK to furnish the court with documents that would facilitate the acquittal of the accused. The move had precipitated a protest done via phone calls and voice messages to Michael Aandoaka’s hotel room, a situation that forced the AGF to scamper back to Nigeria. 

While the Ibori matter seems to have been subdued by the Niger Delta Amnesty issue, National Daily sources said that the issue confronting President Yar’Adua at the moment is that of the Comptroller General of Customs, who is fighting the battle of his life in a certificate forgery scam, blown open in the Nigerian media recently. What makes the matter worse, National Daily gathered, is the role of the First Lady, trying to get the customs boss, the leverage he desires. The stance, according to the source has left the president irked and sore. 

National Daily gathered that the President is worried that the issue is coming at a time when there are series of other matters confronting his administration. 

‘The situation has left the president worried. And this is because the appointment of Abdullahi Dikko was primarily facilitated by the First Lady, whose younger sister Dikko is married to. The general impression which the president is worried about is the fact that he made a wrong appointment in the person of Abdullahi Dikko. A lot is being done to handle the situation, but the matter seems like cancer, the more you try to treat it, the worse it seems to be getting’, an informed source said. 

Dikko’s scandal is indeed hydra-headed. Aside climbing the ladder of leadership in Customs in a very rapid manner which questions due process, he is also alleged to have forged some of his academic credentials. This came to the fore when one Olajide Oyewole Ibrahim, through his lawyer, Festus Keyamo, swore to an affidavit at a Lagos High Court. 

National Daily learned that Olajide Ibrahim in the affidavit sworn in September 2009 disclosed that he knew Dikko since 1995, while he (Olajide) was undergoing the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, scheme with the Nigerian Institute of Management, NIM (as the officer in charge of Training and Courses Department), on Plot 22, Idowu Taylor Street, Victoria Island, Lagos. 

That same year, the Customs boss was serving as a Superintendent of Customs and had his official quarters at Block 18, Flat ‘F’, Eric Moore Towers, Surulere, Lagos. 

Dikko, according to Olajide, had approached him to “sneak out blank programme certificates on Finance and Accounts for him, which he intended to fill himself and present as authentic certificates because ‘he needed these certificates and many others to get rapid promotion’. 

Olajide said that he, obliged Dikko and secured on his behalf the 1995 and 1996 course participant certificates which the Customs boss allegedly filled “himself and forged the signatures on them”. When Olajide completed his national service the following year, he revealed that his name was withdrawn from the list of corps members to be considered for employment because the Institute found out those missing certificates from the booklet of certificates in his custody. He was unable to account for them and that cost him his placement at the organization. As he could not be retained, he had told Dikko of his predicament, but he promised he would get him into Dangote Group through one of his friends, Alhaji Idris Shuaib Mikati. But in the meantime, he became an errand boy to him. 

Olajide Ibrahim also disclosed that Dikko approached him again in 1999, confessing that his West African Examination Certificate, WAEC, result was defective. He said in the affidavit that ‘he implored me to assist him get another result. In that same year i.e. 1999, I assisted Alhaji Abdullahi Dikko through the help of a staff of WAEC, to get him a fake WAEC result bearing the name of Government College, Kaduna and with the date of issuance as 1980’. 

The final lap of Olajide’s job for Dikko was in 2000, when the Customs boss wanted to become a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, (ICAN) and they discovered that the WAEC result he presented was fake, a copy of which he had already submitted to the Customs authorities where it was difficult to withdraw. 
When he hit a brick wall, Dikko was alleged to have evolved another tactic by abandoning his ambition of becoming a fellow of ICAN and opting for the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN). 

“With the assistance of two members of staff of ANAN, one Mr. Bello who was then in charge of examinations and one Mr. Ojelade in charge of registration at the Institute, Alhaji Dikko was admitted as a fellow of ANAN,” Olajide’s affidavit claimed. But rather than go for outright forgery, Bello allegedly suggested that somebody should write the ANAN examination on behalf of Dikko. 

Therefore, as Olajide said, “that suggestion warranted my contracting one Mr. Ganiu Memudu to write the ANAN examination on behalf of Alhaji Abdullahi Dikko.” Although Memudu was reluctant, he played ball after much pressure from the two and wrote the ANAN examination sometime in March 2000 at the auditorium of the University of Lagos. 

But sometime in 2005 when Dikko was promoted to the rank of Comptroller of Customs in charge of Investigations, Olajide approached him through his wife, Hajia Shadiat Abdullahi, for assistance in securing a job. But her response, as Olajide explained, was that “I was trying to reveal the confidentialities between myself and her husband. That response made me to leave their residence on the said date.” 

That was the sore point in their relationship indeed. In one of Dikko’s moves to suppress the scandal, Olajide claimed that sometime in February 2006, on arriving from a religious vigil with his wife, he was informed by his landlady that some persons came in a Toyota Corolla car looking for him with the aim of offering him a job as a clearing agent at the ports. 

This information, he said, had scared the daylight out of him, especially when the men did not leave any contact address or phone numbers. Olajide said he had to relocate his wife and kids. He, thereafter, met one retired Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mr. E.O. Abai, who promised to plead with Dikko, who, as he said, vowed “to deal with me”. 

Abai, however advised Olajide to enforce his rights in a law court, a step which he took on April 24, 2006 at a Lagos High Court sitting in Igbosere. The court granted his plea that he should not be intimidated or harassed by Dikko or any of his agents. 

In spite of the injunction, Olajide said, Dikko was alleged to have acted swiftly on January 12, 2007, during the hearing of the criminal matter. Olajide was picked up at the premises of the Magistrate’s Court by police officers from the Abuja Police Command, based on a petition written by Dikko alleging that some documents, money and computers belonging to him were stolen from his Abuja residence on November 4, 2004 and that Olajide might be responsible. 

This whole scenario, National Daily sources said has left some unanswered questions about Yar’Adua’s government’s bid to redeem her image in the international community. Worse still, the president was carpeted when he also failed to appear before the UN conference which held recently in the United States of America, where he was expected to use the opportunity to address some of the issues plaguing the nation’s diplomacy. 

Another source of pain coming at the instance of Dikko, sources said is that of Dahiru Mangal, a businessman and Mr. President’s very close business ally who was accused of masterminding a smuggling ring and also co-facilitated the appointment of Dikko as the helmsman of Customs. According to sources Mangal’s activities were once limited to the north until the ascension of Dikko, who was once the Comptroller at Seme Border. 

Said to be immensely rich and close to the seat of power, Dahiru Mangal was accused of carrying out ‘his alleged nefarious activities with a fleet of 1600 lorries, and sometimes uses airplanes belonging to his younger brother’s airline.’ 

But Abdullahi Dikko is not relenting about redeeming his image. His lawyers have already swung into action, suing Festus Keyamo for defamation. In the suit before Justice Abubakar Talba are: Scroll Publishing Limited (Publishers of Scroll Magazine), Janet Mba-Afolabi (Editor-in-Chief), George Elijah Otumu (Assistant-Editor) and Olajide Ibrahim. 

In the suit entitled; C4/2238/009, which came via writ of summons, the Customs boss pointed out that Keyamo and Olajide Ibrahim “are the authors of the offending and malicious publications in Scroll magazine of September 21 , 2009 in the front headline page and 18 respectively captioned “Certificate Scandal, Customs Comptroller General in trouble, SSS Must Investigate Dikko for Forgery”. 

The plaintiff, through his lawyer, Amobi Nzelu is seeking a perpetual injunction restraining the defendants whether by themselves, assigns, agents, privies or whosoever purporting to act on their behalf from defaming the character of the plaintiff in any way or manner.” 

He is also praying for an order of the court to order Scroll Publishing Limited to publish in its first page an apology retracting the said libellous publications made against him. 
In addition, he prayed the court to order Scroll Publishing Limited to publish the same apology in five other National newspapers. 

The plaintiff also asked the court for a declaration that the said publications were false, malicious, mischievous, unfounded and a calculated attempt to tarnish the image of the plaintiff and a declaration that the plaintiff did not forge any certificate nor procure any certificate from Olajide Ibrahim to enhance his promotion in the Nigeria Customs Service. 

Dikko did not end there. He also petitioned the Inspector General of Police against Keyamo over a letter he wrote to President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua. 

According to the Customs Boss, a lot of scandalous words were made against him in the said letter of Keyamo in which he forwarded an affidavit deposed to by Olajide Oyewole Ibrahim. 

In the petition dated September 28, 2009 and signed by his counsel, Amobi Nzelu, Dikko quoted Keyamo as telling SSS, the police, the National Security Adviser (NSA ), the Minister of Finance , and the Attorney General of the Federation, that they do not need the approval of Mr. President to investigate crimes. 

“Festus Keyamo jumped the gun by first writing to the agencies statutorily charged with the responsibility of investigation and prosecution. To have asked you to commence investigation in the said matter when Mr. President has not so directed is to put you and Mr. President on the path of collision”, the Customs CG further wrote the IGP. “To commence investigation in a matter that is already before a court of law is to knowingly assault the powers of the court to adjudicate on issues before her by parties’.

According to the spokesman for the Nigeria Customs Service, Mr. Wale Adeniyi, an Assistant Comptroller (AC), it is a very straight forward matter. Enough has been said and I will not want to comment further on it.

But another senior customs top official who did not give his name said: “This is not about the NCS but about an individual who happens to occupy the office of the CG. The CG sees the whole controversy and the heat it is generating as an unnecessary distraction. His position is the fact that enough has been said.” Adding, “the presidency which appointed the CG has sufficient information both from Dikko and the accuser through the affidavit sworn to in the High Court, and are at liberty to believe whatever they deem fit to be the truth.

However, Nigerians may likely not have seen the end of the matter as a lot of issues are expected to pop up in the following weeks on the issue, dominating the front burners now.