By Stephen Ubanna
For Years, Seme/Krake , a joint border Community between Nigeria and the Benin Republic, had been described as a home ofor vehicle, foreign parboiled rice, drug and petrol smuggllers. The situation was so bad in 2017 that Muhammed Uba Garba, a one-time Comptroller of the Seme Command and now an acting Assistant Comptroller General, ACG, of Customs, Enforcement, Investigation and Inspection, EFI&I, took the anti-smuggling war to the smugglers Camp.
Chedi Wada, a Deputy Comptroller was said to have contuned from where the former Controller had stopped. He was said to have taken advantage of his nine months in office as the Command acting Comptroller to give the smugglers a run for their money , forcing many of them to go underground.
The deployment of Wada, to the Customs Hadquarters Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and the redeployment of Bello Muhammed Jibo, a former Comptroller, Bauchi/Gombe Command, as a substantive Comptroller of the Command may have given the smugglers an opportunity to think that they could come back to do what they best : smuggling of Contraband from Benin Republic into the Nigerian market.
They got it wrong. This is because the new Seme Customs Comptroller, who is a chip of the old block and who understands the terrain very well and determined to cage the smugglers using the same structure, checkpoint and Patrol Team leaders and their men appointed by the former acting Comptroller to do the job.
until his upliftment as a Comptroller, he was a revenue mobiliser at the Command who had worked under one or two Comptrollers with anti-smuggling experience.
Unknown to the smugglers, who thin they could do anything to play the spoiler role at Seme jurisdiction, they were disappointed, as the anti-smuggling officers who had transferred their had their loyalty to the new Comptroller, were out to put smiles on his face without giving him room to shout at them to go ut and make seizures. They were said to have been churning ut the Contraband seizures. This is evident going by the recent report of the Area Comptroller of one month-and three weeks of diecting the the affairs of the Command under a very difficult time of of Border closure with neighbouring countries of Benin Republic, Niger, and the Central African country of Cameroon, coupled with the END sars protest of which took much of October 2020. As many people people including uniformed were forced to stay at home.
But Comptroller Jibo and his anti-smugglings were said to have braved the odd to tighten the security at the border to ensure that nothing enters or leaves the country even the risk of their life even when when the hoodlums who were armed with dangerous weapons and wearing charms and amulets were out to do harm to any uniform person found along the border route and who was out to disrupt their illegal business of smuggling rice into the country.
Recall that the Katsina state born Nigerian President had closed the borders across the country with the neighbouring countries of Benin, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon in August 2018 to forestall smuggling of Foreign par boiled rice, small and light arms into the country. The border closure had not gone down well with the people who believe that their source of income had been blocked.
Giving an insider information of the Command achievements within seven weeks of being at helms of Affairs, at Seme Command, the Customs Comptroller confirmed that the Command made ‘’a total of 128 interceptions of Contraband ranging from Foreign par boiled rice, vegetable oil, vehicles, Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, popular, petrol to drugs other general Merchandise goods.
Given a breakdown of the figure, on Monday, November 23, 2020, at a press briefing at the Economic Community of West Africa states, ECOWAS, Conference room, he disclosed that 1,716 bags of 50 Kg each of Foreign rice,148 Jerry cans of Petrol of 25 litres each, equivalent of 28,700 litres, 17 Jerry cans of vegetable oil of 25 litres each, 10 Jerry cans of Coconut oil of 25 litres each and 48 packages of the Asian country of India manufactured 48x10x10 tabs and 4, 800 tabs x 200 mg Tramadol were intercepted. This is in addition to 395 cartons of different sizes of Tomantoes, allegedly smuggled from benin Republic into the Nigerian market through unapproved routes but fell into the waiting hands of the eagle eyed officers on the road.
Investigations by the Magazine shows that due to the tight security mounted at the border during the End SARS protest which took the much of the month of October, 2020, the Command Patrol Teams and the officers at the Agbara and Gbaji checkpoints may have frustrated the smugglers who were said to have attempted to take advantage of the crisis to smuggle Contraband into the country through the land border merous bush paths.
The Magazine findings shows that the Command intercepted 396 bags of Foreign rice of 50 Kg each, 52 Jerry cans of petrol of 25 litres each, six Jerry cans of vegetable oil of 25 litres each, seven units of vehicles and other merchandise goods were intercepted during the END SARS protest alone.
The Customs Area Comptroller who could not hide his feelings had told The Magazine that the Command achieved that much within the short period because’’ it was able to harness all the existing Cordial relationship with the host Communities at different levels through adequate management ofiInformation with the aim of sustaining peace and tranquility within the nooks of the Joint border area’’.
He may have gotten the people on the side of the Command anti-smuggling war as a chip of the old who had witnessed the efforts of one or two former Comptrollers of the Command by making the people ’’ to understand that Customs is a partner in progress and always ready to facilitate genuine and Compliant cross-border traders for the progress and development of the country’’.
Moreso, the Command was said to have adopted ‘’an unwavering synergy and Cooperation with the relevant security agencies at the joint border Community which had translated into the spectacular Contraband seizures during the END SARS protest alone. The Duty Paid Value, DPV, of all the seized Contraband within the , seven weeks, Comptroller Jibo had outlined his modest achievements in the Command anti-smuggling war was put at about N183 million.
It is instructive to note that while the Government warehouse premises at Sem was thrown open for Journalists, on Monday , November 23, 2020, to see the seized items, D. Yakubu, an Assistant Comptroller, overseeing the Command Gbaji check point , which also hosts the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, under the close watch of Usman Yahaya , the Comptroller General of Customs , CGC, Strike Force, and the Border Drills, Zone A, Lagos, and countless of the security agencies checkpoints including the Police, sdelivered in two intercepted Hilux vehicles intercepted from the dare-devil smugglers amidst strong opposition.
This is the first time that the Command Team at the Gbaji checkpoint could make such a seizure as they had always left the job of making seizures at the checkpoint alone to the FOU, Zone A personnel, who are everywhere. The story appear to have changed with the riot Act read to the officers at the check points and the Patrol Team Leaders and their members to go out and make seizures.
Perhaps what may have engaged the attention of the Seme Customs Comptroller in the recent time was how to control the proliferation of Chckpoints at the Seme land border route. Under the previous Management, the Security agencies Chiefs , at the land border comprising of the Customs as the Lead agency, Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, Border Patrol, Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency, ndlea, National Agency For Food and Drug Administration, NAFDAC, Nigeria Police Force, NGPF, Army, Airf Force, Department of State Security Service, DSS, were said to have set up a Task Force to control the situation .
The Magazine gathered that Adahunse Rashid, a Deputy Comptroller overseeing the Command Enforcement Unit, is a member of the Task Force. It was also gathered that an Army Colonel is also a member of the Task Force. Abbdullahi Husain, an Assistant Superintendent of Customs and the Command Spokespeson is optimistic that that the Task Force would achieve its purpose of controlling the proliferation of security checkpoint s along the Badagry –Seme border road. The Seme Customs Area Comptroller may have set the stage as he was said to have warned the Patrol Team leaders never to mount checkpoints on the road but always to be on the move in search of the smugglers. He was said to to have taken time out to drive along the road in the recent where he was said to have made some observations which he was said to have pointed out at their security meetings on how to sanitise the situation.