By Stephen Ubanna
Wale Adiniyi, acting Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, had promised to strengthen the operations of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, across the country through the deployment of technology with a control centre to monitor the movement of goods and services across the t Border areas and use of intelligence to achieve its maximum enforcement potentials.
The Customs acting Comptroller General, who has seen it all had said that the current strategy of enforcement where the FOUs operations across the country is not result oriented. He may have alluded to the rival Headquarters’ Strike Force Team and Border Frills, also doing the same enforcement work as the FOUs, described in maritime circles as a duplication of enforcement operations.
Maritime analysts had said that Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and the immediate past Customs boss and Isah Buhari, an Army Brigadier General and Personal Assistant, not a elation of former President Muhammadu Buhari had used the rival interventionist units to the FOUs, particular, the notorious Headquarters’ Strike Force to usurp the core functions of the service FOUs.
The struggle for supremacy for enforcement operations by the rival interventionist units to the duly established FOUs, going by the Customs Act of 1954, across the country was said to have to have not ended with stopping exited Containers from the Lagos port of Apapa, Port Terminal Services Multi-services Limited, PTML, Kirikiri Lighter Terminal , KLT,phases I and II and the south eastern ports of Onne and Rivers port on the roads but extended to blocking clearance procedures for alleged extortion purposes.
Importers with their agents may not have found this funny but there was nothing they could do about as neither retired Col. Ali, the former Comptroller nor General Brig. Gen. Buhari, would not give them ear to lodge their complaints, thus leading to high cost of clearing at the nation’s ports compared to the neighbouring port of Benin Republic and other countries in the West African sub-region.
It was not surprising why the Custom new helman, Adeniyi, had ordered the dissolution of the much hated Headquarters Strike Force and Collapsed its operations to the FOUs, in their respective zones . This was said to have been contained in a circular with No. EII/203/ /Circular No.2004 and duly signed by DCG Mohammed Abba –Kura, the Deputy Comptroller General, DCG, overseeing the service Enforcement, Investigation and Inspection Department, EI&I.
The Customs DCG, at the instance of the acting Comptroller General was said to have directed the Strike Force Coordinators in their respective Zonal offices in Lagos, for Team A,PortHarcourt, Team C and Kaduna, Team B, and the Customs Headquarters to ensure that ‘’all arms and ammunition signed for use by their team members are to be properly handed over to the respective Area Commands /Units.This is good news for the Area Controllers of the FOUs across the country whose men have been working under with insufficient operational tolls over the years.
DCG Abba-Kurra, was said to have directed the Strike Coordinators to hand ‘’all operational vehicles to respective Area Controllers of FOU and returns forwarded to the Headquarters for documentation.
The Coordinator, Headquarters Strike Force Team was said to have been asked by the DCG, to retire the Team operational vehicles to Comptroller, Transport and Logistics. Many believe that the acting Comptroller General’s decision to collapse the operations of the at the FOUs , Headquarters Strike and other adhoc Team interventionist units to the FOUs in their respective Zones would strengthen their anti-smuggling operations to make spectacular Contraband seizures.
In spite of the fact that the operational changes in Customs have not been effected across the country as directed by the Customs boss, DC. Hussain Khinde Ejibuno, led FOU, Zone A, has continued to give smugglers operating at the Lagos eaports and land border areas within thin the six south western states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti sleepless night.
The Customs Comptroller General, may have taken advantage of his familiarization tour of the Lagos Zonal office and the Formations under the Zone to showcase the arms and ammunition impounded by the FOU, Zone a, to the public. In showcasing the spectacular arms seizure to the press, the Customs Comptroller General who is used to seeing such seized arms at Tincan Island in the past had said that it originated from the North American country of the United States, US.
Given an insider information, DC.Ejibuno, none new millennium pistol the no nonsense anti-smuggling Czar of FOU, Zone A, had said that acting on intelligence on Saturday , July 5, 2023, a joint operation of the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, under the close watch of Kayode Egbetokun, Department of State Security, DSS, National Drug Law Enforcement and Administration, NDLEA and the Customs Intelligence Unit, CIU, personnel at the PTML, had carried out a thorough physical examination of a 40 ft Container and found the firearms.
The FOU, Zone A , Area Controller, who has been on the alert since he assumed duties in the Command on September10, 2021, to monitor the movement of cargoes in and out of the Lagos seaports and the approved and unapproved border Areas in the south west geopolitical , had revealed that the 10 dangerous firearms and other various rounds of Live ammunition were Concealed inside plastic drums.
Giving a breakdown of the arms seizure, he disclosed that it included three new pump action rifles and one new unit of armed rifle, six new different makes of pistols and one new sarsilmaz SAR-9Xpistol. This I is in addition one new Lugger Security -9 pistol, new Tarus Banbridge GBC pistol, one new SCCY CPX-2 pistol , one new Tarus ( 63 pistol, 14 Empty Magazines and 442 Live ammunition.
An elated Ejibunu, had said that within the same period the interventionist unit , also accosted a suspected 40ft Container at Tincan Island , described as a home of illegal arms importers/smugglers, which was said to have been subjected to 100% physical examination by the relevant security agencies personnel at the port. The physical examination was said to have uncovered 18 different firearms, packets of Catridges and rounds of live ammunition also concealed in a plastic drum, meaning that the same importer brought the dangerous weapons into the country and cleared by the same clearing agent.
The breakdown of the uncovered firms in the 40ft Container accosted at the Tincan Island port included two SAR9 Sarsilmaz pistols,one Luggar American pistol and three Tarus G3c. Banbridge pistols. Other 12 different make of rifles found in the examined 40 ft Container were five Rz17hd rifles, one Gamo rifle, five pump action rifles and one Rz Tactical rifle.
Also found in the 40ft examined Container at the Tincan Island port included 10 packets of cartridges, two packets of 9mm ammunition, 100 rounds of 9mm Winchester ammunition, one carton of Frontier cartridges and two packets of Buckshot ammunition.
The arms smugglers appear to have become more desperate as they were said to have devised new strategies to carry out their nefarious trade. The may not have been lucky as DC.Ejibuno’s men on the road are not leaving any to chance. This is evident going by the incident along the Owode/Ajilete axis of Ogun state on Wednesday, July 12, 2023. A joint Patrol Team Sector 2, had intercepted a suspected an unregistered Toyota Camry loaded with six sacks of charcoal, which was said to have been used to conceal three pump action rifles and 74 Live Cartridges. There are indications that the driver of the vehicle to beat the Customs patrol Team officers to it as he jumped into the bush to escape arrest and detention.
There is no gain saying the fact that if the small arms and light ammunitions had entered into the Nigerian market and fallen into the hands of the non-state actors, it would have boosted their operations across the country.
Appealing to importers with their clearing agents to always make genuine declarations and to ensure that they are properly guided by the import/export prohibition lists for placing order for any cargo, imports, DC. Ejibuno, may have sent a message to the arms imports with their agents that ‘’it is no longer to business as usual at the seaports or the land border areas under the jurisdictions of the Command.
He could say that because of the new tactics that have been re-injected into its operations ‘’to tackle the economic and security menace caused by the recalcitrant traders. He was emphatic: The service’s human resources and logistics are collectively harnessed to combat and prevent economic sabotage.He was said to assured compliant traders and importers that ‘’they have nothing fear’’.
In a related development, the 81 Division, the Nigerian Army personnel, Enugu, Enugu state, on July 17, 2023, was said to have busted international ammunition smuggling syndicate who were transporting a truckload of smuggled ammunition to Anambra state. Onyema Nwachukwu, a Brigadier General and Director of Army Public Relations, had said that they uncovered the illegal ammunition in a truck with registration No. ENU XY, loaded with 720 packets of Red Star cartridges of 12 calibre, containing 25 cartridges each, totaling 18, cartridges.
The Army Director of Public Relations had said that there was also additional 250 packets of live Cartridges containing 10 packets each, totaling 2,500 cartridges of same caliber.
The seizure of the truck load of arms and ammunition have put the NCS, personnel and other security agencies personnel in the state on the red alert to forestall a repeat occurrence in the future.