By Stephen Ubanna
More facts have emerged why Usman yahaya, a Deputy Comptroller and acting Comptroller, Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, established the Special Weapons and Tactical Team, SWATT, described as an illegal structure by maritime watchers.
It was essentiall to tackle the problem created by the improper examination of cargoes at the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tin Can Island, Port Multi-services Terminal limited, PTML and Kirikiri Lighter Terminal ,KLT, phases 1 and 2 including the Bonded Terminals by Customs and other security agencies personnel involved the examination of such cargoes. Yahaya, according sources, may have been exposed to the rot at the Lagos seaports examination bays when he was the Coordinator of the Comptroller General of Customs, CGC, Strike Force, Lagos Zone.
He may have been further encouraged to set up the Team because of the news making the rounds about the diversion of cargoes evacuated from the Lagos sea ports to the Ikorodu Lighter Terminal and other Terminals within the state by Barge Operators selected by the Nigerian Pots Authority, NPA, and the alleged smuggling of small and light weapons through the borders across the country with the neighbouring countries of Benin Republic, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon.
Many believe that he could not have done anything to address the problems at the CGC Strike Force office, because it was an adhoc assignment. He may have waited for a time he would have the opportunity to Head any FOU Command across the country to do so. The opportunity came with his appointment as the acting Comptroller of FOU, Zone A last December.
There was the initial fear that there would be an inherent abuse of powers by the team members in the discharge of their duties since there was no clearly defined responsibility. But yahaya, the Command acting Comptroller, appears to have known what he wants to achieve in the long run: To use the Special Team to Compliment the efforts of the Lagos Roving Team Headed by Ricks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs to give a bite to its anti-smuggling operations at the Lagos seaports . The FOU, Zone A, acting Comptroller, believes that with the SWAT Team, fraudulent importers with their agents who escape with their suspicious cargoes released at the port by beating the Lagos Roving Patrol Team on the road may not be lucky to beat the new Team to it.
Investigations by The Value News show that there had been lot of misgivings about the new team. This may have been made possible because one Artia, a Deputy Superintendent of Customs, who was made the interim Head of the Team , because of the absence of Ogan, a Chief Superintendent of Customs and the authentic Team leader, could not understand his limit but enjoined his men to see themselves as competing with the Lagos Roving Team Patrol Team in the interception and Transfer of such suspected Containers to the Command premises at Ikeja. His major concern, insiders said was to win the heart of the Area Comptroller.
Note that not many Agents had come to terms with the existence of the FOU Zone A ,new Patrol Team members who are strategically stationed along the Oshodi-Apapa Express Way and other areas around the port environment.
The situation is so bad that Containers intercepted by the Special Team which had been transferred to the Command premises at Ikeja, had been linked to the Command Lagos Roving Team personnel by the agent. They have every reason to do so. This is because the Team had been associated over the years with the stop and search of Containers on the road and subsequent transfer of suspected cargos to the Command premises for physical examination to ensure that what was declared in the importer’s Bill of laden and the duty paid correspond with what was found in the Container.
It is instructive to note that the Lagos Roving Team personnel may have been put in the dark over the last one moth about the total number of Containers that had been intercepted and transferred to the Command premises by the Team . This is evident going by the recent interception of a Container belonging to a well known agent which was transferred to the Command premises.
, Insiders told The magazine that between Monday, march 11, 2020 and Wednesday, March, 13, 2020, the importer’s Agent had shuttled between his Apapa office and the FOU, Zone A, premises to reconcile his documents with the findings of the examination officers from the Command to facilitate the release of the Container but Lura, the Head of the Command Lagos Roving Team was not aware of it.only the acting Comptroller and the SWAT Team members were said to have known about the infraction.
Boniface Aniebonam, Founder, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders,NAGAFF, believes that if the importers had made correct declaration and the security agencies personnel involved in the examination of cargoes at the ports do the right thing, there would not have been any need for a former FOU Zone A, Comptroller to set up the Lagos Roving Team or the present acting Comptroller to think of establishing SWAT Team. ‘’It is an intervention Force’’, he had said.
Appealing to importers with their agents to be trade Compliant, he noted that it is the only way to stop running into trouble with the FOU, Zone A ,Patrol Teams. Recall that Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General of Customs had made it clear to those that cares to listen that ‘’no Patrol Team should remain at a location for more than 24 hours to avoid Compromise.
Yahaya may have known this that he had moved to rijig SWATT by handing it over to Ogan who was originally penciled down to head it. Informed sources told The Magazine that the acting Comptroller may not want to interfere with the selection of the officers who would be in the Team. He was said to have promised to give the SWAT Team Leader the free had to select his Team members, insisting that he what he wants is result: Interception and seizure of Contraband as well as recovery of government lost revenue.
The Roving Team members were said to have been selected and nurtured by Lura, which was why the Team had been making spectacular seizures of Contraband, particular, vegetable oil and foreign par boiled rice, exotic vehicles and bullet proof including Pangolin scales. The last Pnangolin scales seizure made by the Team was valued at about N10 billion.
Security watchers described as a wise decision Yahaya, the acting FOU, Zone A, acting Comptroller, to appoint Ogan to Head the SWAT Team, stressing that he is the only one who could effectively compliment the efforts the Lura led Lagos Team in the anti-smuggling war to ensure that the Command stand out among its Competitors.