By Stephen Ubanna
President Muhammadu Buhari, who incidentally is a retired Army General, appears to have known that Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, and his men cannot effectively supervise the border areas across the Country with the land-locked Niger Republic, that he had said that only ‘ the ’Almighty God could do so’’. He has reason.
He has attributed it to the large expanse of land which the two West African countries share, which is put at more than 1,400 Kilometers going by the report of the Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS. This may have informed why the Smugglers operating between the two WEest African countries were said to have taken advantage of the porous border routes to carry out their nefarious activities
Investigations by The Value News shows that of the 1, 499 unapproved border routes and the 84 , legal routes across the country,, over 60 percent of it are in the north alone between Nigeria and Niger. The border routes between the two countries , using the country’s geographical map, which is a guide to the NIS and the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, anti-smuggling personnel stretches between the north western states of Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, to the north central states of Kwara, Niger, Kogi and Benue including the north eastern states of Yobe state.
The dare-devil smugglers may have found it easy to do their illegal business because most of these border routes between the two countries are either mountainous or a jungle, which makes it very porous. The report making the rounds is that over 70% of about 10 million small and light weapons in the West African sub-region are smuggled into the Nigerian market through Niger. The proliferation of these weapons in the north, particular, Katsina and Zamfara states in the north west and the intermittent seizure of such weapons by Customs personnel gives an insight to the trading of small and light weapons in the region.
Only recently, the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone B, Patrol team , in Kebbi , one of the states in the north west, that shares border routes with Niger, either through the land , river or creeks had impounded 73 locally made guns and 891 imported Cartridges Concealed in a truck conveying locally produced rice.
The locally manufactured guns and imported Cateridges were said to have been seized by the FOU, Zone B, anti-smuggling officers on Patrol along Yauri, Zamare waterside , described as a notorious smugglers route in the state. There may have been several of such concealed locally made guns, small and light weapons including imported Cartridges that had been smuggled into the Nigerian market through the state that had escaped the eagle eyed Ali’s Patrol officers on the road.
The bad news is that these illegal weapons may have fallen into the waiting hands of the Bandits and other Criminals operating in the north west that have been terrorising the people over the years. This may have why the Nigerian President had said that the two countries will do everything within their capacity to help stabilize the sahel region in order to forestall the activities of the dare-devil smugglers.
Namadi Sambo, a one-time Nigerian Vice President who heads an Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Election Mission to the neighbouring West African country was said to have driven from Niamy, the country’s Capital to Daura f to brief President Muhammudu Buhari on their assignment in Niger. The Katsina state born Nigerian President had told Sambo, that Daura is a a few kilometers to the Republic of Niger which could not have given any stress. It is not surprising why Foreign rice , vehicle, small and light weapons smugglers and Bandits are having a field day in the north, particular, Katsina and Zamfara states.
While smugglers and Bandits in the north west , have taken advantage of the more than 1,400 Km border stretch between Nigeria and Niger to carry out their Criminal activities, the smugglers and gun runners in the south west , were said to have also taken advantage of the773Km, border routes shared between Nigeria and Benin Republic to smuggle the Asian country of Thailand Par boiled rice, including small and light weapons into the Nigerian market.
For much of last year and now, Usman Yahaya led FOU, Zone A, Operations Swift Response, popular, Border Drills, Lagos Zonal office and the Comptroller General of Customs, CGC, Strike Force, Team A, led by Ahmadu Shuaibu, a Deputy Comptroller have intensified their anti-smuggling efforts at Ogun, Seme, Idiroko, Oyo/Osun and Ekiti/Ondo axis.
Many believe that without their interventionist efforts , the south west based smugglers who are said to have very powerful people behind them could have flooded the Nigerian market with smuggled Foreign rice and other Contraband including fairly used vehicles imported through Bollore and Cotonou ports, both in Benin Republic.
In spite of the interventionist efforts of the Yahaya and Shuaibu’s men including the Border Drills personnel at the notorious land border areas in the south west st of Ogun and Oyo, the smuggler maritime analysts said s are still not scared of Customs Patrol teams.
. Going by the NIS, records, there are over 80 illegal routes between Nigeria and Benin Republic , within Ogun state alone used by amugglers to carry out their nefarious activities. Informed sources told The Magazine that the Ayetoro Operation was masterminded by Yahaya, the FOU, Zone A, acting Comptroller. The Magazine gathered that when the Customs acting Comptroller got information from a credible source about some smugglers coming into the country with six uses loaded with ForeIgn rice from Benin Republic,, he kept it a closed guided secret .
He was said to to have let the cat out of the bag sometimes on Monday, December 21, 2020, around 12 mid night, when he alerted Jack, the Head of the Command’s Operations and Lagos Roving to mobilise his men and block the smugglers at Ayetoro. the Customs Assistant Comptroller was said to have been given a mandate to ensure that the buses load of ice were intercepted from the smugglers and transferred to the Government warehouse, Ikeja.
Jack knew that he could not afford to fail with his boys that they were said to have moved into action at the risk of their live. tThey were said to have laid ambush on the alleged six buses at Ayetoro and succeeded in getting it from the smugglers with some arrests being made. The smugglers and the Ayetoro Youths, according to an Eyewitness account were said to have resisted the FOU, Zone A , team, from taking away the buses. They were said to have attacked the Customs Team with dangerous weapons including Bottles filled with kerosene and fuel, pump action and ratchets.
The smugglers may have realised that the FOU , Zone A , team , were prepared for them and determined to transfer the six buses loaded with the Foreign rice to their premises at Ikeja that they called for supoort from IgunKuto Obada, Olorunda and other neighbouring Communities to resist the FOU Zone A , team from taking away the buses to their Ikeja premises. They may have got it wrong as Jack and his men , according to the source, were able to outmaneuver their way to beat them to it.
In anger , they were said to have opened fire on the Customs Patrol team and Vandalised their official vehicle, forcing them to fire back. There are indications that one Customs officer fell to the smugglers bullet but four of then were killed. Abimbola Oyeyemi, a Deputy Superintendent and the Ogun Command spokesperson had said that four persons including a Customs officer on his legitimate duties sustained injuries during the shoot-out with the smugglers.
The renewed smuggling activities at Ayetoro area of the Idiroko area, may have informed why Edward Awolowo Ajogun, the Ogun state Commissioner of Police, has deployed more policemen to the strategic locations in the affected areas of the smugglers attack to maintain Law and Order at Ayetoro
.Recall that some years back , a one -time Comptroller of the FOU, Zone A, had vowed that he would no longer take it for Customs officers carrying out their Legitimate duties to be killed by smugglers.
He has advised the Patrol team leaders that anytime a member of their team is killed for doing their job by smugglers, the team should not hesitate to kill two or more of the smugglers. The good news was that Jack and his men succ eeded in taking the intercepted six buses loaded with Foreign rice to the Command premises at Ikeja.
The buses were found to have been loaded with over 800 bags of 50kg each of Foreign par boiled rice loaded from Benin republic into Nigeria. The interception of the six buses load of foreign rice at Ayetotoro bear eloquent testimony to what is happening in the south west border Communities.
A visitor to the FOU, Zone A, premises on Wednesday, December 23, 2020, would find the six buses intercepted by Jack Coordinated team of FOU, Zone A, strategically parked in the command’s Compound awaiting for Court Condemnation for seizure.