Customs: How DPR, Encourages Bunkering Through Indiscriminate Issuance of Filling Station Licenses

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. 

Seme- Krake Joint Border Post

 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.

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