By Stephen Ubanna
Between December 22, 2020 , when Jack Okpabi , an Assistant Comptroller, and Head of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, operations and Lagos Roving , led the team members and some soldiers, to raid Ayetoro Community, hide out for foreign rice smugglers and carted away 800 bags of 50 Kg each, loaded into six buses, which were transferred to the Command premises, the receivers, described in Customs circles as safe haven in Lagos and Ogun states are no longer finding it funny.
This is because the FOU, Zone A, Assistant Comptroller and his boys have succeeded in cutting off the sources of supply of foreign rice to these receivers in their warehouses which has become empty in the recent time.
The Ayetoro incident may have exposed the various tactics used by the foreign rice smugglers to deliver to the dealers’ warehouse in Lagos and Ogun stes. Prior to the Ayetoro raid, there had been rumours making the rounds which had filtered out to the Customs Headquarters, Abuja, that foreign rice had flooded the major markets in the south west , thus forcing down the price of foreign parboiled in the Nigerian market as the demand for locally produced rice drop.
. The situation was so worrisome that Usman Yahaya, the FOU, Zone A, Area Comptroller, was said to have repeatedly used the weekly meetings of the Command to give targets to the various Patrol and Surveillance Teams including those at the approved Checkpoints to go out and make foreign rice and vehicle seizures from the smugglers.
Jack and his team members , who appear to have understood the body language of the Customs Area Comptroller and his demands , were said to have gone back to the drawing board to restrategise on how to block the source of foreign rice supplies to the receivers in their various locations in Lagos and Ogun states .
The Value News learnt that between Monday 18, 2021 and Tuesday, January 26, 2021, the Jack led Operations and Lagos Roving team, alone, have intercepted over 2,000 bags , 50Kg each of the Asian country of Thailand parboiled rice from different locations in Lagos, Oyo and Ogun states. The foreign rice seizures, according to a source were said to have come in tranches of 170 bags,900 bags,190 bags and so on .
The latest of the foreign rice seizures by the Jack led team was the interception of over 370 bags of rice of 50 Kg each , which were said to have been loaded into two hired trucks and transferred to the Command, Ikeja premises. The over 370 b 50 Kg each , were said to have been intercepted in the night of Tuesday, 2021 in an undisclosed warehouse in Lagos, the nation’s Commercial nerve centre. This may have sent jitters to other foreign receivers in the City that the game is up.
The team may have succeeded in making the massive foreign rice seizures from the rice receivers in less than one week because it had succeeded in knowing the operational time of the smugglers , and how they usually delivered their smuggled product to the receivers’ warehouses .
Informed sources told The Magazine hat the major means of Conveyance used by the smugglers to carry out their nefarious activities from the Creeks where smuggled foreign rice dropped with the use of local Boats thousands of bags of ‘’50’’ each, are mostly motorcyles, popular, ‘’Okada, which could carry at least 10 to 15 bags of rice, of50Kg each at a go . The Magazine findings shows that some of the Okada riders could make such a trip two to three times daily , which had informed why there are always foreign bags of rice to sell in the Nigerian markets, particular, in the south west and the north west stats.
Investigations by The Magazine shows that some of the FOU, Zone A, Patrol teams and the officers at Che checkpoints, particular, Ajillete, in Ogun state Agabara and Gbaji, along the Lagos – Seme, a order Community between Nigeria and Benin Republic, may not have been doing much in making foreign rice or vehicle seizues from the smugglers operating around the areas because of the involvement of security agencies personnel in the smuggling business.
There is no gainsaying the fact that most of the security agencies personnel , who are benefitting financially from the smugglers may have turned themselves into informant and thus, helping to sabotage the economy including ambitious Customs personnel jostling for position at the FOU , Zone A, using their contacts at the Customs Headquarters to water the ground for them.
Perhaps, Jack and his team members may have gotten their first baptism of fire in one of their operations in the south west state of Oyo state in the past that they may have decided to keep it as a closely guided secret whenever they are going out on any operation and only let out the cat out of the bag to other security operatives co-opted to be in the team and his own men when the Area Comptroller gives the green light for the operation. It is surprising why the team, has been making spectacular foreign rice seizures in the recent time.
The team may have broken into the smugglers syndicate that uses the creeks around the Alaba International market to supply thousands of bags of foreign rice of 50Kg each to the receivers at the various warehouses around the market. Acting on information, the FOU Zone A, Operations and Lagos Roving team, under the close watch of Jack, were said to have driven the foreign rice receivers at the Alaba market underground by take over the creeks through which foreign rice are smuggled into the market from the neighbouring Benin Republic.
The Magazine visited some of the foreign rice warehouses at the market which used to be a beehive of activities on Wednesday, January 27, 2021, but found that it has become a shadow of itself. A dealer confirmed that since the FOU Zone A, team , struck at the market early this year, they have been forced to go underground, because of the millions of naira that had been lost due to the Operations.
Another foreign rice dealer who spoke The Magazine, disclosed that he could not understand how the information on how they were receiving their deliveries through the creeks around the market and which was secretly handled had filtered out to Yahaya’s men because of the clinical way the team carried out the Operations.
The success by the Jack team in making seizures of foreign rice Contraband and vehicles for the Command may have exposed him to envy from other officers who are jostling for his position. Many of them were said to have resorted to damaging write ups against him to project him in bad light. A senior officer who spoke to the Magazine disclosed Jack remained undeterred by the reports as he and his team members have continued to make more s Contraband seizures for the Command. And the Command Comptroller is not Complaining about him but satisfied with his performance.
The good news is that Hameed Ali, a retired army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, is in the picture of the daily, weekly and monthly activities of the Command. This is evident going by the Command incident, weekly and monthly reports that are regularly sent to the Comptroller General’s office and the Enforcement, Inspection and Investigation Department.
This may have informed why the Customs Comptroller General is very much happy with Yahaya and his men , and thus, has not found it necessary to replace him, even when there are many idle Comptrollers at the Zonal and Customs Headquarters without office.
Many believe that Yahaya and his officers may have cue into the Comptroller General Presidential mandate of ensuring that nothing enters or leaves the country through the land borders. Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari had baned the importation of foreign rice and vehicles , through the land border on January Ist, 2017 and the policy has not been changed four years after.
Many believe that Ahmadu Shuaibu, a Deputy Comptroller and a one- time , Head of the FOU Zone A, Admin, Depatment . had inculcated the habit of ensuring that the Command daily incident, weekly and monthy reports are ready as at when do. This may have informed why the Customs Comptroller had impressed it on his successor to follow the same foot step .
Note that Shuaibu, who is now the Coordinator of the Comptroller General’s Strike Force, Team A, Lagos, has sustained the track record by continuing what he knows best in Administrative parlance by regularly sending the Team incidents, daily, weekly and monthly reports to the Headquarters as at when do.
This may have put the Team CGC Strike Force,Team A, ahead of other Teams in the heart of the Customs Comptroller General who has seen the Lagos Team A, as working according to the mandate given to the Team to block areas of revenue leakages using Intelligence gathering to do so instead of mounting road blocks.
In the area of anti-smuggling operations, it has also given the rice smugglers a run for their money as the Team Operational base at the Ikeja Training College are always filled with seized thousands of bags of foreign parboiled rice of 50Kg each , were said to have been transferrred to the Ikorodu Lighter Terminal , ILT, used for warehousing overtime cargoes, in ‘’40’’ Containers to prevent weevil from entering into the bags to spoil the foreign rice.