By Ukachukwu Aaron
Nigerians who had expected to change their old vehicles to new ones on or before December 25, 2018, in Lagos and states in the south west geo-political region were disappointed.
This is because Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs in charge of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU Zone A, Ikeja, and Superintendent Ajao. O. as well as the Command Strike Force Headed by Superintendent of Customs were said to have mobilised their team members to effectively take over the notorious illegal routes used by the smugglers in the region to smuggle particular vehicles into the country.
Take for instance in Ogun state, there are about 83 of such illegal routes. The Value News Magazine learnt that Riks, particular, had positioned his men at strategic locations in Ogun state, regarded as a smugglers haven by security circles. The fallout was that smugglers who had succeeded in winning the contract from vehicle importers or buyers in Cotonou, Republic of Benin, to cross it over into Nigeria had fallen into the waiting hands of the FOU, Zone A, officers. This is evident, going by the scores of vehicles that had been intercepted by the Riks’ and Ajoa boys including the Command Strike Force team between December 1, 2018 and 25, 2018.
Recall, President Muhammadu Buhari, had banned the importation of Vehicles and foreign parboiled rice through the land border stations on January 1st, 2017. Comptrollers of the FOUs, and the land border stations across the country were given the mandate by Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, to adequately police the nation’s borders to ensure that the government policy was not flouted by the dare devil smugglers.
Muhammed Uba Garba, a former Comptroller of FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, and now Comptroller, Seme Command, when the policy was initiated was said to have taken the bull by the horn to deal with the vehicle smugglers. Several car marts stocked with smuggled vehicles were raided in different parts of Lagos and the smuggled transferred to the Command. Ali, was forced to visit the Command to see things himself when the information filtered out to him.
Garba, the then Comptroller of FOU, Zone A, may have effectively covered the smuggler’s routes in the south west, Mohammed Aliyu, his counterpart at Seme Command and now Comptroller FOU, Zone A , when the ban on the importation of vehicles through the land border was announced by the government, was said to have forced vehicle importers who took advantage of the policy to smuggle and divert to Ogun state which had many illegal routes to gain entry into the country.
It was not surprising why the Customs Comptroller has sustained the tempo of dealing with vehicle smugglers in the south west and those who shortchange the government at the seaports in the region, forcing car dealers to cry out.
A visitor to the Command would be surprised how the FOU, Zone A, officers , could overpower the vehicle smugglers who were armed with sophisticated weapons in the swampy areas to dispossess them of their vehicles and still transfer them to the Command premises at Ikeja.
The Aliyu’s controlled officers may have had at the back of their mind in confronting the dire hard vehicle smugglers in the south west with their AK. 47 that they are dealing with people who were said to be worse than armed robbers as they could kill any Customs officer involved in the operation if they have the opportunity to do so. Indeed, officers of the Command had been gunned down in the past, and even kidnapped by smugglers in Ogun state for daring to dispossess them of their smuggled vehicles.
The FOU Zone A Operations and Lagos Roving team members may not have allowed their operations at the border areas to blindfold them from monitoring the movement of cargoes in and out of the seaports in Lagos. The incessant interceptions of Containers at the seaports by the team may have encouraged Aliyu, the FOU, Zone Customs boss, to hold a closed door meeting with Comptrollers Bashir Mohammed, Apapa and Tin-can Island Commands respectively on Thursday, December 27, 2018.
The Value news cited some top officials of the Apapa Command who may have accompanied their Comptroller to the meeting. It was learnt most of the suspected Containers that had been intercepted by the Command Operations and Lagos Roving team along the Oshodi- Apapa Expressway had either been released at Apapa or Tincan Island port or bonded terminals attached to any of these Commands. This is in addition to the exotic vehicles which may have been released at Five Star terminal or Port-Multi Services Terminal Limited, PTML, all terminals within the Tin-can Island port which had been intercepted by Riks men on the road. Also, some 20ft Containers loaded with unprocessed wood heading to Apapa port for export to China, were said to have been intercepted repeatedly by the Command operational officers on the road at different times.
Many believe that the Ikeja meeting which was initiated by Aliyu , the FOU, Zone A , Customs boss , would go a long way to force Comptrollers Mohammed and Abdullahi to watch over what their officers are doing at the terminals to avoid running into trouble with his officers on the road.
While the Apapa Customs boss and his counterpart at Tin-can Island had gathered at FOU, Zone A, premises for a meeting, the Headquarters’ Strike Force Team , Zone A, Lagos, headed by Salisu Shuaibu, an Assistant Comptroller ,reportedly intercepted a suspected 40ft Container which was parked along the road leading to the Customs Training College awaiting examination. The team may have made an earth shaking seizure which was still a closely guied secret awaiting to be seen by Abdullahi Kirawa, a Deputy Comptroller and National Coordinator of the Headquarters’ Strike Force.