There is nothing like adversity for revealing the stuff of which a man is made. Dan Ugo, the customs area comptroller (CAC) of Onne Port in Rivers State came into national prominence on Monday, July 11 when members of the Onne chapter of the Association of Customs Licensed Agents ANLCA suddenly blocked the port’s gate and paralyzed activities within the port premises. Onne Port, situated in Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State is the busiest among Nigeria’s Eastern sea ports. A few minutes earlier, two leading members of the Onne chapter of the association of licensed customs agents’ namely; the chapter vice-chairman Theodore Ejezie and the chairman of the chapter’s committee on Customs Obi Chima who is also the chairman of Area One ( Port Harcourt wharf) chapter of ANLCA had slipped into the port for a meeting with the CAC. The tension in the port was palpable as the ANLCA leaders went over their demands with the CAC.
Having served at the highest levels, there could be no doubt in the minds of the CAC at that moment that ahead of him lay a serious test. An empty coffin with the CAC’s name on it had been deployed at the entrance gate and the community youths probably instigated by the agents and sensing their opportunity had also joined the fray demanding the sum of fifty million naira from Customs and Excise. Nobody could enter or leave the port except for the ANLCA representatives. This state of affairs lasted for about three hours until the arrival of Nigerian naval troops who then took away the coffin and liberated the gates from the striking agents. The strike action would continue for over a week though the strikers made no further attempt to take over the port’s gate. ‘Our strike means the loss of billions of naira to the Federal Government,’ one clearing agent predicted. ‘Within two weeks the port will be congested and once they begin to move containers to Calabar or Warri, the CAC will have a lot to explain’. But a custom officer saw it differently. ‘These agents will lose business to other agents once containers are diverted to other ports.’
Quite a few people have criticized the agents’ action of placing a coffin with the CAC’s name on it at the gate as unwarranted, crude, devilish, extreme and provocative. Conceding that it was totally unwarranted and unchristian, a member of the association, however described CAC Dan Ugo as calm and handsome in appearance but very unyielding. Many clearing agents had not forgotten what Dan Ugo put them through when he was in charge of a task force which had been set up in the area. Those who had suffered penalties at the hands of the task force under Dan Ugo were invariably agents caught circumventing federal government import regulations.
The ANLCA Onne chapter chairman Ossy Ossy Prestige had travelled out of the country on business and could not attend the meeting with the CAC on the day the strike action began. In a later discussion with Andy Briggs Report publisher, the ANLCA Onne chapter chairman revealed that he was briefed on the outcome of the meeting and was absolutely in support of the strike action, including the demands made on the CAC.
CAC Dan Ugo’s calm-headed handling of the strike action certainly averted an escalation of hostilities. A temperamental comptroller would have lost his head in the face of the provocative measures deployed by the striking agents and probably reacted in a manner which would have escalated the tension or worse still resulted in disastrous consequences. Blocking the gate of the sea-port, one of the nation’s eastern gateway to the outside world was a breach of national security, indeed an aggravation of the security forces stationed in the area. It is to the CAC’s credit that he found a way to get the striking agents to vacate the gate without lethal force. The right to go on strike did not include a license to violate the security of the nation’s sea-port and physically blockade the business of the federal government. Dan Ugo’s ability to rise above the situation which arose at the port was a revelation of the high caliber and resourcefulness of a CAC under the incumbent Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service Abdullahi Dikko Inde.
Born in Benue State in 1958; graduated B.Sc. from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria in 1981 and MPA. from the University of Lagos in 2000, married to Ochanya Dan-Ugo, CAC Dan Ugo is a very experienced area comptroller, having served as CAC in Port Harcourt Area 1, Muritala Muhammed Airport, Apapa Port and as a comptroller in charge of Risk Management and Post Clearance Audit (ERR&P) in the federal capital. He has also headed a task force on 100% examination of goods in Abuja and been a team leader of Joint Special Task Force, Eastern Ports. He is a well decorated customs and excise officer, having garnered such awards as the 1988 Minister of Internal Affairs Commendation for Merit, 2004 Comptroller-General Certificate of Merit and 2010 Best Customs Area Comptroller in Revenue. He was at Apapa Port at the time.
At Onne since January 15th 2011, Dan Ugo has also presided over many achievements in the command. According to a release by Chief Superintendent of Customs (CSC) Inuekim Eyo the public relations officer at the Onne Port command, the port has witnessed a novelty in the clearing process with zero tolerance of violations on ethics. There are also increased port user-friendly measures, trade facilitation innovations, anti-smuggling vigilance, high revenue collection, inter-service cooperation with other government agencies, equal partnership with stake-holders and most importantly capacity building and motivation of officers and men of the command.
Under Dan Ugo, the command has moved into a modern office complex built by the management of the Nigerian Customs Service and undertaken landscaping of the premises as well as the demolition of the old and inconvenient prefab administration building which the command had been using since 1984.
The command has also generated a revenue of about thirty-five billion since January (N34,996,238,568.40). This is up from about twenty four billion in 2010. In conjunction with the task force on hundred percent examination, deployed in December 2010 and headed by Comptroller Eporwei C.B Edike, the Onne command recorded a total of 43 seizures worth N381,461,087.00 and a duty paid value (DPV) of N457,488,151.00. Some of the seizures were as a result of concealment of imported items, false declaration, forgery and outright contraband.