By Stephen Ubanna
Usman Yahaya, a Deputy Comptroller , formerly overseeing the Customs Comptroller General, CGC, Strike Force, and now , acting Comptroller , Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, and the Command Operations and Lagos Roving Team, Headed by Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs, appear to have won the heart of Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel, and the CGC.
This was because of the seizure of 147 sacks of pangolin scales weighing 9.504 Kg . Insiders confirmed that it was the highest seizure of pangolin meant for the Chinese market to be made by the Command over the last five years.
An appreciative Ali, the Customs Comptroller General had said that the value of the 147 sacks of the Pangolin scales was about N10.3 billion. Perhaps , what may have given the Customs Comptroller great joy was the fact that the multi-billion naira pangolin seizure was made by the Command barely a month that Yahaya , had taken over from Aliyu Mohammed, the former Comptroller , who had been redeployed to the north west geo-political region to serve as the Coordinator of the Border Drills operation, sector 4.
Given an insider information on the pangolin seizure , the Customs Comptroller General disclosed that it was made by the Command Operations and Lagos Roving Unit, whose officers said had been linked with most of the spectacular seizures of the Command over the last two years ranging from exotic vehicles ,bullet proo, pangolin, tramadol to other prohibited Pharmaceutical products .
Ali, the Customs Comptroller General , had said that the Unit which had acted on credible intelligence had ‘’ uncovered an abandoned warehouse at Isheri Estate, Alomosho Local government Area f Lagos state where 2 X ‘’20’’ Containers were stacked by an unknown person on Saturday, January 19, 2020.
According to him, the Containers were promptly evacuated to the Command premises at Ikeja, where it was subjected to 100% physical examination to ascertain its content. The Physical examination was said to have revealed that it was loaded with Pangolin scales.
Note that Nigeria is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade of Endangered species, CITES, which had placed absolute prohibition on its importation , an indication that trade on it is illegal globally.
The multi-billion naira pangolin seizure by the FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos Roving team, under the close watch of Lura, may have informed why the Customs Comptroller General, had appealed to Nigerians to support the service with information that could assist in the discharge of their anti-smuggling and revenue generation duties.
The Value News learnt that while the Comptroller General was busy addressing Journalists over the N10. 3 billion Pangolin seizure made by the Command, another Patrol Team transferred six, Tokunbo vehicles loaded with the Asian country of Thailand parboiled rice into the premises. The acting Comptroller was said to have used the opportunity of the CGC, working visit to blow his own trumpet of being a performer.
There is no gain saying the fact that the Command also made a Container load of Vegetable Oil allegedly smuggled into the country through the unapproved routes in Ogun state into the country . A Statement made available to The Magazine by Jerry Atta, an Assistant Superintendent of Customs and the Command spoke person also shows that it made a total of 3,722 Jerry Cans of 25 liters and an additional 1040, Jerry Cans of 4.73 litres of foreign Vegetable Oil each, 14 Units of exotic vehicles , 703 cartons of foreign poultry products, 543 Jerry Cans of 25 litres each of Petroleum Products, 416 bales of second hand Clothing and 575 pieces of used tyres, which were said to have been smuggled into the country from the neighbouring West African country of Benin . AAgain, Valuation experts put the worth of the seized items at bout N 244.1 million.
Indeed, not many people were surprised that the Command made such seizures of Contraband within a month ,despite the large presence of the CGC Strike Force and the Border Drills personnel who are strategically positioned in different locations in Ogun, Lagos, Ekiti, Ondo , Oyo and Osun states to contain the activities of the smugglers.
Many attributed the success to the mandate given to the Unit Heads and Patrol Team leaders to go out and make Contraband seizures without Compromise.
Recall that the government had closed the Borders across the country with the neighboring countries of Benin, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon last August, thus forcing the smugglers to change tactics to beat the Customs various anti-smuggling patrol Teams to it. This may have brought out the best in the FOU, Zone A, Units and patrol Teams as they were forced to go back to the drawing board in order to frustrate the illicit trade.
The fallout was that those who escaped the eagle eyes of the CGC Strike Force or the Border Drills personnel in the bush fall into the waiting hands of the Yahaya, boys who understand the terrain.
The spectacular seizures made by the Command within one month may have informed why the Customs Comptroller General had appealed to Nigerians to Provide Customs personnel with information that could assist them to do their job of containing the activities of smugglers and blocking areas of revenue leakage.
In a related development, Wale Adeniyi, Comptroller, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Command, appear to have brought the Command in the good books of the Comptroller General of performing Commands in anti-smuggling operations and revenue generation. The Command , was said to have fallen into the list of performing Commands in anti-smuggling operations.
Only recently, the Command had intercepted $8.6 million , equivalent of about N3 billion , going by the current official exchange rate of N360.00 to a dollar. The cash was said to have been loaded in six Bagco bags .
The Customs Comptroller had said that the Cash was discovered in a suspected bus operated NAHCO , ostensibly to facilitate its being smuggled out of the country. The owner of the cash, may have resorted to use the services of the NAHCO, cargo aircraft to smuggle it out of the country as the was out of it because of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, searchlight on them to forestall money laundry activities. .
Many believe that the discovery of the multi-million dollar cash in a NAHCO operated bus, apparently to facilitate its being smuggled out of the country without Customs search was a clear indication that it has been a thriving business over the years, at the Airport.
When The Value News visited NAHCO, SAHCO and Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, FAAN , last Wednesday, there was palpable calm. herever two or three people gather, the Comptroller Adeniyi cash seizure at the airport dominate their talks.
The Comptroller, according to sources had acted on intelligence information to get at the NAHCO bus loaded with the cash. The question on the lips of most people was who owns the cash and the country of destination?. This has remained a guided secret .
An official of NAHCO , who spoke to The Magazine disclosed that that fear have gripped the terminal staff as their official vehicles are mow suspect. The NAHCO staff noted the $8.6 million seizure have given Customs personnel at the Airport the ammunition to properly search all branded vehicles coming into the cargo terminals by Customs personnel and other security operatives including the EFCC.
Meanwhile security has been tightened up at the airport and the cargo terminals to ensure that unauthorized persons and with their insider Collaborators did not find their way to smuggle in undeclared cargo into the aircraft. Already , the MMIA, Customs boss, has put the officers on the red alert to ensure that fraudulent agents and their terminal operator staff Collaborators did not play a fast on them to do the wrong thing.
Given the security implication of the cash seizure at the Lagos airport, the Magazine made attempts to reach out to the Comptroller through phone calls and messages but no luck. Feelers from the Command shows that he had travelled to Abuja for Consultation .
An insider told the Magazine that the seizure of the 8.6 million cash at the airport has restored hope to the officers who were almost getting worried over lack of any serious work to do compared to officers the seaports.
Aware that the government needed money to provide basic infrastructural facilities in the country and prosecute the Boko Haram war in the north eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, a N2 trillion revenue target has been set for the service this year. The revenue target, according to Customs sources, was based on its incredible performance in revenue generation over the last three years by the service which had hit the trillion mark.
Perhaps, to ensure that the amount would be paid into the Federation Account without with ease, the National Assembly was said to have approved the service N238.15 billion budget for its operation this fiscalyear.
The budget approval is in addition to other incentives which had been approved for the service by past Administrations. Take for instance, the 7 percent Cost of Collection, approved by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, for it and the additional 2 percent Cost of collection for Value Added Tax , VAT for the Federal Inland Revenue Services, FIRS. ‘’ With the National Assembly support to its operations, Ali canot fail afford to fail’’, an agent remarked.