Customs: Kyari Backs Ali’s Ban On Supply Of Petroleum Products To Filling Stations At The Land Border Areas to Curb Smuggling

By Stephen Ubanna

For years , past and present management of the Nigerian National Petroleum Co-orperation, NNPC, have been complaining of massive  smuggling of Petroleum Products, particular, Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, popular, petrol, or fuel in local parlance, to neighbouring countries of  the Bepublic of Benin, Niger, Tchad and the Central African country of Cameroon. 

Given the  price of a litre of petrol in Nigeria, which makes it one of the cheapest in the west African sub-region,, and thus a good source of business  for  smugglers  across the border. Take for instance , the Consumption of the products  across the country  was said to have increased by  about 30 million  litres  within one  month , rising  from the 1.33 billion  litres  consumed in February to 1.36 billion litres consumed last March.

Note that the Petroleum products consumption level   in the country had been  giving officials of the NNPC and the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, a cause for concern. The situation was so worrisome that NNPC, officials, believe  that the Nigerian Customs  Service, NCS, personnel wer   not doing much   to checkmate the activities of the  cross border petroleum products smugglers. From  the border Communities in Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Adamawa, Borno to Yobe state states, the story was the same: massive smuggling of smuggling of petroleum products across the borders.     

Investigation by The Magazine  shows that it was  an organised Crime which allegedly  involves security operatives including Customs personnel.  It was not surprising why it was very difficult for the Customs anti-smuggling  officers at the land border areas , particular Seme Command and the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, to successfully track the PMS smugglers down.

Worried by the activities of the PMS ,  smugglers across the country, ,Maikanti  Baru, an Engineer and a former,  Group Managing Director , GMD, of NNPC, was said to have spearheaded the setting up of a tripartite  Committee  comprising  of officials  of the Corporation, DPR and NCS to check mate. But that was how far he could go.

Last August the, DPR , officials were said to have discovered at Monduva, a border Community between Nigeria and Cameroon, in Adamaw state . Officials of the  DPR, were said to have intercepted 500,00 litres  of PMS  Concealed in an underground bunker. The state alone , going by the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, report  has over 80 unapproved routes that could be  used by  smugglers to carry out their nefarious activities.  

Given an insider information, Kyari lamented that  the activities of the smugglers have been subverting  the government’s  efforts  to ensure  adequate  supply  of petroleum products  in all parts  of the country. It  was not surprising why he had sought the support of  Yusuf  Magaji  Bichi , Director General , Department of State Security, DSS, last month to help  curb the rising incidences  of petroleum Products smuggling across the borders.

An angry NNPC GMD,  had said that the intolerable  implication  of the ‘’reign of smuggling  syndicates  has made Nigeria  the ‘’unintended supplier of  the products to the entire west and central African subregions’’. Unknown to Kyari, Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General , NCS, who has the ears of President Muhammadu Buhari , was said to have got his approval to mobilise his men and other security operatives to close the nation’s land border routes to ensure that there is no import or export of cargoes out of the country. The fallout was the inauguration of the Border Drills last August in the south west comprising of Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Oyo and Ondo and Ekiti, south-south, north western states of Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Sokoto , Kebbi and Zamfara . The Border drills operations  was also extended to the north Central geopolitical region.

Mele Kolo Kyari: GMD,NNPC

Insiders informed The Magazine  that since Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, in Collaboration with Muhammad Babadende, his counterpart in NIS and  other security agencies  effectively took over control of the official and unofficial border routes  across the country  the syndicate allegedly  involved in the smuggling of petroleum products had ran  ground.

This is s evident going by the drop in the fuel Consumption level in the country. That much was confirmed by the Customs helmsman.  According to him, the country’s fuel Consumption level of the country had dropped  by 10.2 million litres, an indication that Nigeria was the major  source of cheap fuel  for Benin, Niger and other countries  in the west and central African sub-regions

This may have emboldened the Customs boss , who has been given the free hand by the Katsina born Nigerian  President to do everything within his powers to checkmate the activities of these cross- border  smugglers  Who are sabotaging the  economy finally came out with the ban on the supply of PMS to nearby border filling stations across the country.

A memo to confirming  the ban was said to have been made public on Wednesday, November 6, 2019.  The memo which was said to have been signed by  Austin Chidi, a Deputy Comptroller General, DCG, in-charge of Enforcement , Inspection and Investigation reads in part: The Comptroller General  of Customs  has directed that henceforth, no petroleum product, no matter the Tank size, is permitted   to be discharged  in any filling station  within 20 Km to the border.

Joseph Attah, a  Deputy Comptroller  and Customs Spokesperson, noted that since the closure of the land  borders across the country, filling stations have been springing up at different border  Communities across the country  with the intention to cash on the closure to smuggle PMS. .This is bad news for marketers who had been given operating License by DPR to open filling stations at the land border areas.

 A visitor to Seme border Community recently,, for instance, would be surprised at the number of filling stations tha tare close to the border  selling products. The situation is the same at border communities  across the country , with some of them having under-ground tanks that connects to  dealers in Republic of Benin. At the Owode axis alone, in Badagry west, local government area, where there are over 100 filling stations servicing fewer motorists and Okada riders plying the road.

Only recently the Magazine did an undercover story on Pashi Community, within the Badagry west local government  area where  are  over 20  functional filling stations servicing  less than 5,00 people , an indication that the fillings stations  were set   for bunkering purposes.

 Security watchers  would think that the filling stations  are not always opened for business.’’ But visit the Community at  night , it is a different ball game: buying and selling of products to motorists  including those with 25 litres jerry Cans  coming from undisclosed locations,’’ an Okada remarked. The village , which is on the right side of the road when  going to Owode, where  Seme Command , has an Out station,  according to sources, is separated  from a Republic of Benin nearby Community by a river.

Many blame the DPR , for creating the room for Petroleum Product  smugglers  to thrive at the border areas because of the indiscriminate issuance of operating License to dealers. They noted that if the DPR, had followed strictly the laid down  regulations that filling stations must only  be established about 20 Kms to the border Community, there would not be any basis for the massive smuggling of products currently being experienced at the boreders Communities across the country.

This is evident going by what is happening at Seme and Owode axis,, where Beninese motorists  who easily drive in  to fill their tanks and also fill their ‘’25’’ Jerry Cans  and return to their country are no longer finding it funny.

 The number of these  Beninese selling petrol in bottles , along the Seme   –  Cotonou road,  speaks volume. The Magazine finding shows that since the border Closure  became effective last August, some of those roadside petrol  dealers along  the Seme –Cotonou  road had disappeared. This  is because of the  difficulty being encountered  in the hand of NIS personnel at the land border,as they insist on citing the International Passport of the traveller and tr purpose of visistng Nigeria Those who could not give reasonable  explanation  on why they are coming to Nigerian at the Se/Krake Joint border  were said to have been turned back.

 This may have informed why  the Syndicate inolved in the smuggling of petroleum products  across the country’s  borders  were said to have gone under –  ground to avoid playing into playing  into the waiting hands of Customs Personnel on the road.

The situation is worse at Seme and  Badagry west where, Mohammed Uba Garba,  the Seme  Area Comptroller has tightened up security that it has become very difficult for the die-  hard PMS smugglers to practice their trade.

Patrick Talon, and other  Heads  of State and Government , from the   member countries of  the  Economic Community of West African States , ECOWAS, had expected to use the opportunity of the Economic bloc Summit in Niamey, Niger, hosted by President   Issoufou Muhammad, to revisit the Nigeria border closure between Nigeria and her neighbours  and use the opportunity to  impress it upon   Buhari, the Nigerian President to have a rethink on the January 31, 2020, set  deadline, of reopening the closed borders They may have been disappointed  that  he had sent  Yemi Osinbajo, the Vice President to represent him at the Summit.

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