By Stephen Ubanna
This is not best of times for officers and men of the Federal Operations Unit, FOUs and Land border areas across the country involved in anti-smuggling operations as Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, has vowed never to shield any officer found wanting. This is a big challenge to the Command Comptrollers to initiate a working arrangement with the Army to teach the officers the new skills on weapon handling to avoid discharge that might drag the name of the Service to the mud.
True to his words, Ali , the Customs Comptroller General, recently had set up an investigation panel headed by Kaycee Ekekezie, an Assistant Comptroller General in-charge of , NCS, Zone A, Comprising of 16 Customs formations in the south west geo-political region to investigate the immediate and remote causes of the incident that led to the alleged killing of one Godwin Agada Onoja, a Camp boy to a patrol team of the FOU, Zone A, at the Shagamu interchange along the Ijebu-Ode- Benin Express Way on Sunday, February 17, 2019.
As a prelude to the investigation, Mohammed Aliyu, the Comptroller of the Command was said to have recalled the team members back to the office. When the Value News passed through the Command on Tuesday, February 19, 2019, some members of the team , who looked very hostile as though they have been let loose from the cage were found guarding the Containers that had been intercepted on the road for contravening the government fiscal policy and transferred to the Command for proper examination and Valuation by the Command Operations and Lagos Roving team headed by Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent.
The value News took time out to find out why the tight security at the Command as a personnel armoured carrier, PAC, was stationed opposite the premises. The fierce looking officers stationed within the sandbag near the gate who were armed to the teeth were also on the alert ready to shoot any intruder.
Efforts to speak to see Jerry Atta, an Assistant Superintendent and the Command Spokes person to ascertain what was going on was rebuffed because of the alleged standing instruction that ”no journalist should be allowed to enter into the premises”.
Unknown to many, the Ekekezie, investigation panel had begun a closed door sitting at the Command premises over the Shagamu Interchange incident. Members of the patrol team who were fingered in the incident that led to the accidental discharge which killed Onoja, the camp boy used by the patrol team members at Shagamu were said to have been interrogated.
Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller, and the Customs Spokes person, confirmed that ” four members of the team were interrogated and detained at the Command premises”. The panel, according to Atta, could not conclude the interrogation of the officers found wanting because Destine Onebamho, an Assistant Superintendent 1, whose rifle discharged was still receiving medical attention because of the injuries sustained during the ”unfortunate incident ”as described by Atta.
The Customs helmsman may have taken the investigation because of the public outcry against the conduct of the officers which had subjected the” Service to public scrutiny and condemnation”. Trouble was said to have started on the morning of Sunday, February 17, 2019, when an Iyare Hiace bus with full load of passengers suspected be carrying bales of secondhand clothing was flagged down for routine check. One of the lady passengers was said to have been very who were doing their official job rude for daring to touch her phone when caught attempting to snap the what was happening at the scene. She was said to have boasted that the money used in buying the phone could pay the officer’s salary. This may have provoked the officers to anger because of the rudeness of the passenger. One of the passengers was said to dared the officer armed with rifle to shoot her for challenging him .
It was learnt that there was even an attempt by the passengers and some bystanders around to disarm of the officer of his rifle. Perhaps, it was during the skirmishes that the officer’s rifle discharged but hit an innocent person and a close friend of the patrol team.
It was not surprising why the Command and the Customs Headquarters are taking the matter serious and have taken all the ”necessary” step that will cushion the pain associated with losing a dear one”. It was learnt that the Service has opened up a channel of disccussion with the family members over the burial arrangement and possible compensation .
Recall that last year a woman was killed in such a similar situation at Badagry. the Customs operatives were said to be pursuing foreign rice smugglers into a filling station suspected to be their storage point but along the line a rifle discharged and hit a woman at the bus stop and who incidentally was a wife of an Inspector of police.
Insiders told the Value News that it took the intervention of Muhammed Uba Garba, Comptroller of Seme Command, who shuttled between Seme, Customs and the Force Headquarters for the matter to die down but not without a reasonable Compensation to the family. The frequent discharge of officer’s rifles while in operations may have informed the reason why the Ekekezie panel decided to take a closer look at the weapon handling and skills of officers with a view to retraining them.
Many believe that the ongoing trial of patrol officers found wanting at the Comptroller General’s annex at FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, may not have been the first of its kind. That much was confirmed by Attah, who disclosed that in 2017, the Service investigated and dismissed five officers who were implicated in the ”illegal release of 661 pieces of pump action rifles from Apapa port which fell into the waiting hands of then FOU, Zone A, Roving team, headed by Adamu Mohammed, then Assistant Comptroller and now A Deputy Comptroller because of the accelerated promotion given to him and some of the team members over the seizure.
Going by Ali’s decision never to shield officers found wanting, maritime analysts would want him to device a reward policy for Customs operatives who make Spectacular seizures or recover millions of lost revenue for the government in the discharge of their duties to boost their morale.