By Stephen Ubanna
Until his re-deployment from Seme Command to Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Aliyu Mohammed, has a way of monitoring filling stations along the Owode Apa road to forestall the owners from engaging in bunkering activities.
This is because of the news making the rounds that most of the filling stations along the road were not licensed by the Department of Petroleum Resources DPR,, and thus, engaged in Bunkering activities. The situation was so bad that even the licensed ones were have joined the illegal filling stations to involve in Bunkering activities.
The Bunkerers may have heaved a sigh of relief when information leaked out on August 2018, that he had been redeployed to FOU, Zone A. The relief was short lived as his successor, Muhammed Uba Garba, who has been a thorn in the flesh of smugglers in the south west as a former Comptroller of FOU, Zone A, was not ready to tolerate the Bunkerers in any form. He was determined to drive them out of the illegal business and save the country millions of naira lost annually in the past though Bunkering activities.
The filling station ownersuspected to have been involved in Bunkering over the years knew the game was up when it became clear that Muhammed, the former FOU, Zone A Comptroller was coming over to Seme Command. A visitor to the Owode Apa road would think that most of the filling stations had been closed down because of the low activity Some of the filling stations were said to have been taken delivery of fuel tankers but that was how far they could go.
The Customs Comptroller was said to have taken a closer look at the filling stations before applying the sledge hammer to show that he can bark and bite. The Petrol dealers were said to have made several attempts to penetrate him but no luck.
It was therefore why hee could close the filling stations alleged to be involved in Bunkering activities without Compromise. For the past eight months or more , most of the filling stations marked X, have been out of business, along the Owode Apa road. Some of the filling stations had been overtaken by weeds.
The filling station stations owners may have thought that the closure would be temporary but it had dragged on for over seven months. Worried that their capital are being tied down , of the Owode Apa Petrol Dealers Association were said to have reached out to Aliyu, the FOU, Zone Customs Comptroller, to use his position to re-open the closed stations. They got it wrong as the FOU, Zone A, Customs boss, was said to have told them to their face hat he has no hand in the matter as only Muhammed, the Area Comptroller, of Seme Command , has the power to do so.
Believing that they have reached a dead end as the Seme Comptroller could not easily be approached, because of his stand on Bunkering, the Association were said to have engaged the services of Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, to use his legal powers to force the customs Authorities to reopen the 46 filling stations closed by Comptroller Muhammed .
The legal luminary was said to have petitioned Hameed Ali, a retired army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, alleging illegal closure of the filling stations along the Owode Apa road by the Seme Command last August, barely seven months after the closure of the stations.
The Owode Apa filling station owners had expected Ali, to use his weight to force Muhammed , the Seme Area Comptroller to rescind his decision and allow the petrol dealers affected to go back to business but they were disappointed as the Comptroller General was said to have thrown his weight on the Customs Comptroller to’’ ensure that no petroleum products are smuggled out of the country’’. The Association members may have made their case worse as the Comptroller general was said to have enjoined him to ensure that only licensed filling stations by the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, and which adhere with the extant laws of doing petrol retal the business were allowed to operate in the area.
He was said tohave urged the Comptrollers, to liaise with the leadership of the Owode Apa Petrol Dealers Association to get the authentic list of the illegal filling stations along the road in order to block the unregistered filling station from further receiving products supplies to prevent Bunkering.
Given the Complaints of some the affected filling stations owner along the Owode Apa, road, which ‘’centered on illegal closue’’, The Magazine embarked in an undercover investigation into the matter. The Magazine, who was prepared to get to the root of the matter, came into contact with one David Matthew, an Okada rider, and who incidentally was a fisher man to take me to owode, a Border Community between Republic of Benin and Nigeria, through the Owode Apa road.
. Matthew had given the Magazine a blow by blow account of the movement tankers along the busy Owode –Apa road every week which discharge petrol at the filling stations, which developed wings overnight. The Okada rider, who who has his base at the Owode Apa junction disclosed that no fewer than about 50 petrol tankers discharge at the filling stations on a good day.
The question on the lips of most people was is: how many vehicles ply the Owode Apa road daily that the DPR, could give that number of dealers or more license to open filling stations along the Border route. Matthew, who has at his fingertips information of what is happening at the filling station as soon soon as the owners get their supplies in the day time leaves much to besired. He noted that between 1 am and 4 am daily, before the Seme Command Comptroller descended on them to stop the illegality about eight months ago, the stations were beehive of activities. It was not surprising why fuel supplied to most of the stations are sold out within 24 hours.
This may have informed why Ali, the Customs boss, was said to have directed that a ‘’Customs officer must accompany any petrol tanker heading to any of the filling station to ensure proper discharge of fuel’’. He was said to have also directed that officers from Seme Command, FOU, Zone A and the Headquarters Strike Force, under the close watch of Usman, Yahaya, a Deputy Comptroller , personnel, patrol along the road to stop tankers from crossing the Border with petroleum products.
As if what is happening at the filling stations along the Owode Apa road was not bad enough, Matthew, opted to take the Magazine to where the real bunkering activities are done in Badagry West local government area with impunity. He took the Magazine to Pashi, a Community surrounded by bush down to the waterside to further see what the filling stations licensed by DPR do with their supplies at night.
First time visitor to the priviledge would think , it was a farm land as there were no visible signs of human beings or vehicles accessing the Community until you get into the village to see traces of life in it. The Magazine was surprise to find no fewer than 20 filling stations sited in the Community that lead to the lagoon.
A Tanker that was said to have discharged petrol at one of the filling stations was still at the premises as the time of the visit to the village a fortnight ago. Many believe that officials of DPR, should be blamed for the siting of the filling stations in such a village , that could only be accessed mostly by Beninoise through the waterways or by land through the Owode Apa road .
A resident who spoke to The Magazine stressed that the Pashi filling stations were not sited to serve the Nigerian public but for outright Bunkering. For the one hour, we spent on the lonely road to access the Pashi the village, there was hardly a vehicle or Okada found on the road .
As obtained in most of the filling stations along the Owode Apa road, the filling stations found in the village were also closed for business in the day time, which according to the Okada rider, could only be opened for business at night between 1 A.M, to 4 P.M to serve the Beninoise Customers who smuggle the products into their own country through the waterways or by road with their Nigerian Collaborators.
It was learnt that Motorists form Keregbe and other Beninoise villages and towns close to Owode are the greatest beneficiaries of the thriving Bunkering business as they could access the Community at any time to do their transaction and go. The fine modern bungalows found in the village and others that are still coming up speaks volume.
The Value News reporter had brought out his phone to take pictures of some of the filling stations but was warned not do it to avoid being lynched as the petrol dealers have agents everywhere who were paid to monitor the movement of strangers into the village including security Operatives to avoid being taken unawares.
The worry of many was that there are security agencies personnel along the Owode APA road and a Nigerian AirForce Base along the road, including the Badagry west Local government Headquarters,, yet Bunkering activities, were still thriving in the area, fueling speculations that the Pashi Bunkering business is an organised crime.
Yusuf Lawal, an indigene of Pashi, confirmed that many of them have been thrown out of business and which had been made worse by the on-going Border drills, championed by the NCS,Headed by Ali, in Collaboration with Mohammad Babadende, Comptroller General, Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, and other security agencies including the Department of State Security, DSS, under the close watch of Magaji Bichi and the Directorate of Military Intelligence, DMI, across the country.
The Border Drills in the south west is Coordinated by Abubakar Amajan, an Assistant Comptroller General , ACG, of Customs and his boys are stationed at strategic locations in the south west. They are everywhere at the Seme land Borders, from Gbaji to Seme-Krake Joint Border.
It is not surprising why the busy pashi village which attracts lot of business men from Benin has suddenly become a shadow of itself as the petrol dealers involved in Bunkering have all gone underground. Last Monday , trouble had erupted at Sawa village, along the Owode Apa road as Seme Command officers stationed along the road cited an Okada rider with some kegs of ‘’25’’ petrol and stopped him but was resisted.
Eyewitness account said there was an attempt to disarm the officer which led to an accidental discharge hitting two of the victims. The Customs officer may have looked worried as he quickly put the victims in his vehicle and took them to an undisclosed Hospital in Badagry for treatment .
the hoodlums were said to have traced him to the Hospital, afflicting body injuries on him as well as collected his rifles from him. T. The aggrieved youths were said to have also burnt a branded Customs vehicle at the scene of the incident.
Muhammed, the Area Comptroller, who may be experiencing such a problem in his new Command for the first time , was said to have taken up the matter with the Obas in the area and the Badagry West local government Chairman to resolve the crisis.
Ammajan, the ACG, in-charge of the south west Bordr drills, who was accompanied by the Seme Command Comptroller were said to have visited Sawa Community, and the Obas in the area as well to talks thins over and ensure that there is normalcy before putting his officers on the road.
On Wednesday, August 4, 2019, Adahunse Rashid, a Deputy Comptroller, in-charge of the Command Enforcement Unit, had, led a member of the House of Representatives , representing Badagry East and West to the office of the Area Comptroller at the Seme-krake Joint Border,, in continuation of the search for peace in the area.
The House member was said to have emerged from the meeting impressed with the handling of thesituation by Area Comptroller, not to have escalated , appealing to him not to stop in his conflict resolution efforts. The Officers rifle, according to sources , was said to have been recovered by police and handed over to the Command.
While the Seme Command Authorities, are stiil working round the clock a repeat of the Sawa incident, Hundreds of truck laden cargoes, still litter Joint premises awaiting to be cleared. Within the two weeks the Command had worded in the month of August before the closure of the Border, the Command was said to have generated about N236 million for the government, an indication, both for the Border closure, the Command could have doubled the amount.
Importer with their clearing agents are waiting on the wings to take delivery of their trucks laden cargoes as soon the Border are closed. They were said to have made it clear to the Area Comptroller that they are ready to the relevant duties once they are given the nod to the documentation to delivery of the trucks.
This may have informed why the Command officials are optimistic that they would recover all the outstanding revenue, which would boost its revenue collection in the month of September.