By Stephen Ubanna
Dare devil smugglers operating between Benin Republic and Nigeria, who had escaped the eagle eyes of Customs anti-smuggling personnel in the south west geopolitical region, to enter the south east jurisdiction of the Federal Operations , Zone C, owerri, Imo state, and those operating between Cameron, and Nigeria , who thinks that the deployment of Kayode Oluseimere, the former Area Comptroller who has been deployed to the Customs Headquarters as Comptroller, Enforcement has opened the gateway for them to carry out their nefarious activities may have to do a rethink.
This is because , Yusuf Lawal, who many see as a greenhorn, to be given such a wide area to oversee which many believe would not not be abe to do it is giving the smugglers sleepless night. Between November 23, 2020 and December 27,2020, Lawal , who was said to have rejigged the Command , patrol teams, inherited from Oluseimere, his predecessor had proved that he is not a push over. He may have sent a signal to the smugglers on assumption of duties that the battle line has been drawn and that they should expect the worst .
With the mandate given to him, as a Comptroller , heading an intervention Unit, Lawal and his men , had gone all out to tighten up security at the border Communities between Ondo and Edo states as well as the the Mfun border Communities between Nigeria and the Central African country of Cameroon including tightening up security at the Creeks that dotted most of the states, particular, Akwa Ibom, Cross river, Bayelsa, Rivers, and Detata.
The FOU, Zone C, Area Comptroller, who may have heeded the advice of a one- time officer in-charge of the Command Operations to withdraw the Assistant Comptrollers, heading the Patrol teams back to the office and use them in other areas of need was said to have replaced them with the Chief Superintendents despite their pledge of loyalty.
The fallout was the harvest of Contraband seizures including live Cateridges that had been made by the intervention Unit within one month of overseeing its operations which had been attributed to the Competition among the new Patrol team Leaders and their members to excel.
Taking a cue from other Area Comptrollers of other intervention Units and the adhoc Teams including those at the seaports and Airports, who always showcase seizures and revenue profile their to the public, at a any given time, Lawal, may have found the need to to address Journalists on the Command activities over the last one month on Thursday, January 7, 2020.
The Customs Comptroller was said to had conducted the Journalists round the premises to see the seizures at the Owerri premises while the sezures at the outstations in Benin, Mfun and other areas, within the Command jurisdiction were listed out in his speech.
Given an insider information of the report of the activities of the intervention Unit over the last one month, Jerry Attah, a Deputy Superintendent of Customs and the Unit spokesperson had issued a Statement showing that they had intercepted 5,200 live ammunition Cartridges of 30GR 70mm. According to him, the 5,200, Live ammunition Cartridges were intercepted on December 13, 2020 ‘’concealed with other items in a Sienna Toyota Passenger vehicle with registration number DKA 237 DW, along Nwzebyi, IKom, Cross river state, south-south Nigeria’’.
The seizure of the Live ammunitions Cartridges was said to have been based on Credible intelligence which was said to have been developed over time by the Mfun outstation officers. He had wondered what would have happened , ‘’if these live cartridges get t its destination unchecked , considering the fragile security of the country and fall into the hands of armed robbers, kidnappers, bandits or the insurgents, through their various sources.
It was, therefore, not very surprising why the Customs Comptroller who did not need to think twice to order for its seizure as it falls under the SHEDULE4, the Common External Tariff, which’’ its importation is absolutely prohibited’’.
Lawal, the FOU, Zone C, Comptroller, who could not hide his feelings may have had expressed his worries over the trends in the smuggling of Small and Light arms into the country as he had cited the interception of a similar such arms at the Lagos seaports in 2017 and Kwara , home state of Ibrahim Gambari, a Prfessor and Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, home in 2018.
He had also alluded to the recent arms seizure in Kebbi state, north west Nigeria, stressing that the Service which are also playing the national security role ,besides its anti-smuggling operations and revenue generation for the government are equal to the task.
Attah noted that the FOU Zone C, also seized various other Contrabands including 1,215bags of 50kg each of foreign parboiled rice. Most of the 50kg bags of rice were said to have been Concealed in bags of beans , maize and groundnut seeds, ostensibly to play on the intelligence of the officers on the road but the smugglers and their sponsors were disappointed as the items still fell into the waiting hands of Lawal men .
The FOU, Zone C, spokesperson, who had quoted extensibly from the Comptroller’s speech ,had said that the Intervention Unit also made a seizure of 38 jumbo bales of used clothing, 204 cartons of tomatoes and four exotic vehicles. This is in addition to a bullet proof Toyota Land Cruiser , 2019, model, without an End User Certificate, which ought to have been obtained from the office of Babagana Munguno, a retired Major General and National Security Adviser, NSA.
Among the four exotic vehicles, according to Attah, are Two Toyota Hilux, 2015 and 2016 , models respectively. The Owerri based Customs Intervention Unit Patrol teams were said to have also intercepted some controlled Pharmaceutical drugs at various locations within its areas of jurisdiction.Valuation experts had put the value of the seized items by the Unit , at about N400million. Many see the Contraband seizures as a baptism of fire for the unrepentant smugglers in the south east.
In a related development, the Lawal led Intervention Unit was said to have recovered N7,557,731.00 for the government through the issuance of Demand Notice to guilty importers with their agents who had taken delivery of their Containers at the Lagos ports which fell into the hands of Lawal’s men on the road and those released from the south east ports, particular, Rivers port , over alleged false declaration and wrong Classification , resulting in under-payment.
This is the amount that could have entered into private accounts both for the intensified anti-smuggling efforts of the Unit Patrol teams but saved for the government.