By Stehen Ubanna
For the first time, Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel has opened up why he established the Headquarters Strike Force, HSF. According to him, the HSF, to checkmate underpayment at the seaports and land border areas as well as suppression of smuggling across the country.
Value News findings shows that the ad-hoc Task Force has recovered millions of naira for the government through issuance of Demand Notice , DN, on suspected cargoes , released at the ports which had fallen into the hand of the team in Lagos and the south east and south -south geo-political region.
It was learnt that Abdullahi Kira, a Deputy Comptroller and the National Coordinator of the HSF, who is working closely with the Customs Ruling Centre officials at Abuja, because of the nature of their job which is technologically and information based had stopped may Containers released from Apapa, the nation’s premier port, Tin-can Island , among other from the port when it gets security alert of underpayment.
An agent who spoke to The Value News on condition of anonymity disclosed that the Apapa office of the Strike Force, has been turned into a beehive of activities , by agents whose client’s Containers’ have problem under declaration, under-valuation and under-payment. This is because they are forced to invite the ad-hoc tema members to carry out an examination of the Containerised cargo to ensure that what was declared by the importer was what was loaded in it and that appropriate duty was given to the importer based on what is contained on the Bill of lading to pay.
An officer who spoke The Value News disclosed that Kirawa, the National Coordinator hardly had any no moment of rest whenever he is in the office. The officer disclosed that between Monday and Sunday, he shuttles between Lagos, Abuja and other states of the Federation to monitor the activities of his officers.
He believes that the Zonal Commanders of the Strike Force, have done well but that” there is still room for improvement”. Perhaps, what may have helped the team a great deal was the self criticisms which they often subject themselves before their lapses became known to Ali, the Comptroller General, who oversees their operation.
A senior Customs officer who spoke to the Magazine disclosed that the HSF officials had made the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, personnel across the country to sit up. Take for instance in Lagos , the FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Operations , and Lagos Roving team headed by Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent f Customs appear to have known that they have a major competitor and therefore cannot afford to fail. It was therefore not surprising why the team members are everywhere and were said to have intercepted several Containers along the Oshodi -Apapa Expressway , thus restricting the HSF , team members to operate and intercept suspected Containers based on information.
Perhaps, one area, the team may have done exceedingly very well over the last one was in anti-smuggling operations. Kirawa, who described ”smuggling as evil and harmful to the economy”, believes that with the support of Ali, the Comptroller General, the HSF, team, would surely suppress smuggling.
Note that the team anti-smuggling operations may be concentrated in the south west because of the increased volume of trade through the seaports, Airport and land border areas. More worrisome was the several illegal routes in between Nigeria and Republic of Benin which needed to be adequately policed in Ogun, Oyo and Ekiti states.
The anti-operations of the team may be less concentrated in the north but it has been spectacular seizures which had escaped the eagle eyes of FOU , personnel in the region. Recall, that the team had made tramadol seizures along the Lokoja- Minna road in north central Nigeria. Foreign rice seizure in Mokwa axis of Niger state.
Insiders informed The Value News that the anti-smuggling operations of the HSF has not been without casualties. It was gathered on several occasions smugglers had laid ambush for the for the officers . In one of the operations , the team had lost an officer.
In spite of the ambush of the ad-hoc officers in carrying out their legitimate duties, Kirawa, the National Coordinator, has vowed that the team members would never be deterred as they are determined to reduce smuggling to the barest minimum to the barest minimum throughout the country. He was said to have embarked on sensitization Campaign to drum into the ear of residents of Border Communities about the dangers of smuggling to the economy. Even the far flung, north eastern states of Adamawa, Taraba, Borno and Yobe, particular, where BokoHaram Insurgents operates everywhere , the HSF, personnel may not have allowed to discourage from doing their job as Kirawa, according to sources was always on the neck. The team has succeed in suppressing rice smuggling in the Chad Basin axis which had reflected in the local rice production in the region.