By Nwangwu Uba
Mohammed Uba Garba, former Comptroller, Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, and now Comptroller, Seme Command, may have opened the flood gate for the seizure of Pangolin scales by the Comptroller General of Customs Strike Force, CGCS,SF, south west, under the Command of Salisu Shuaibu, an Assistant Comptroller of Customs.
Within a space of one month, the CGC, Strike Force, were said to have intercepted 195 sacks of Pangolin scales, weighing about 7560 KG in the region. Going by the black market rate of $3,000 per Kg, and at the unofficial exchange rate of about N500.00 to a dollar, the value of the intercepted Pangolin scales was put at about N8.4 billion.
The Pangolin scales seizure and may have given Shuaibu, the Zonal Commander the courage to invite Abudullahi Kirawa, a Deputy Comptroller and National Coordinator of the CGC Strike Force, to the Zone to see the spectacular seizures made by team within one month including thousands of 50Kg foreign parboiled rice intercepted at the land border and Containerised cargoes released from the seaports.
The National Coordinator, according to a source did not hesitate to jump at the invitation as he quickly rescheduled his antennary for the week to accommodate the south west Strike Force engagement on Monday, December 31, 2018.
Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller and the National Public Relations officer of Customs was said to have sent a representative to accompany the CGC National Coordinator, showing the importance attached the engagement, described as” earth shaking in Customs circles”’.
The Strike Force seizures were said to have been scattered in Government Warehouses in the south west but only the ones deposited at Ikeja and the Customs Training College, Ikeja were opened for the press to see.
Investigation shows that Prior to the Strike Force National Coordinator appearance at the Lagos Zonal Command at the Customs Training College, the intercepted Containerised cargoes were said to have been examined to ascertain their contents. The intercepted perishable items, such as foreign parboiled rice and 25 Kg kegs of processed vegetable oil were also said to have been counted and the records handed over to him. It was not surprising why he could speak to the press without reading from any prepared document .
An elated Kirawa, could not hid his joy when the he saw the Contraband seizures that was made by the Lagos Zonal Command within one month of operation. He noted that the seizures could not have been possible without the support and provision of the necessary working tools by Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service .
Insiders told The Value News that the intercepted sacks of Pangolin scales were loaded into a 40 ft Container to facilitate easy hand over to the Nigeria Environment Standards Regulatory Enforcement Agency, NESREA, an agency of the Federal ministry of Environment.
Going by the Law establishing the agency, it has the mandate to Coordinate the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species , CITES, of wild fauna and flora. The CGC Strike Force boss, may have sent a warning signal to smugglers of these pangolin scales and their Chinese Collaborators that the game is up as they have nowhere to hide any longer in the south west.
The CGC Strike Force, a source said, are working closely with the Customs Intelligence Unit, CIU, officials , who give out credible information to them to carry out their operations. He was said to have used the opportunity provided by the Lagos Zonal Command seizures to appeal to Nigerians to give reliable and credible information to the team to protect the country’s endangered species and national heritage .
He was surprised at the number of 40 ft Containers, deposited at the Government warehouses by the Lagos Zonal Command of the Strike Force. This is in addition to a suspected Dangote Cement Haulage vehicle and a brewery delivery van used in smuggling Thailand parboiled rice into the country deposited at the Government Warehouse.
It was learnt that about 5X40ft Container No’s: CCLU793878-4, CCLU7733038, CLU8099413CHBU8133193 and FSCU, which were released at Apapa seaport were intercepted along the Oshodi -Apapa Expressway on account of False Declaration by the CGC Strike Force. this is an indictment on Bashir Mohammed, the Area Comptroller of Apapa Command and his senior officers at the terminals who have a hand in the release of the intercepted Containers.
An additional two suspected 2X40ft Container No’s.MSKU1326933 and MSKU40142103, according to the source were said to have been released from Tin- can Island port but arrested on account of False Declaration by the Strike Force team. There are indications that one of the 1X40ft. Container No, MSKU958631-0 allegedly conveying 459 bales of second-hand clothing may have been released from Tin-can Island port going by the Confessions of the driver during interrogation.
Perhaps, the two major seizures that may have opened the CGC, Strike Force , Zonal Coordinator’s eyes about the rot at the seaports and the bonded terminals, was the detained 1X 40ft Container No.HASU496060-2, which was said to have been examined by a crack team from FOU, Zone A, and discovered to be carrying 1,200 cartons of Hegra, a Pharmaceutical products .
According to Kirawa, the Customs Deputy Comptroller, the pharmaceutical product importer may not have had the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration, NAFDC, Certification, before going ahead to place order from his oversea suppliers. A close Customs source confirmed that the drugs were manufactured and supplied from India.
The Containerised drugs ,may have been detained on the orders of Kirawa, pending further investigation and directives from Ali, the Custom Comptroller General.
He may have been touched by a suspected 1 X 40 ft Container found to be carrying about1400 cartons of different types of fireworks and crackers which were declared as machineries . The items were said to have been manufactured in China.
He feared the damage that could have been unleashed on the society if the items had been allowed to enter into the Nigeria market during the yuletide Celebration. He disclosed that the case of the importer would be handed over to the office of the National Security Adviser, NSA, who have the experts to handle because of the nature of the imports.
If it was confirmed that the importer needed to have an End User Certificate, to be allowed to bring in the items into the country from his Chinese suppliers, it means, he may forfeit it to the government.
The Yuletide period may have also provided an opportunity for the south west Strike Force team to seal off the region to ensure that foreign parboiled rice did not enter the country through unapproved routes.
It was gathered that the team initial major headache was in Ogun state, where David Paradang, a former Comptroller General of Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, had confirmed has 83 illegal routes that could be used by smugglers and other Criminals to gain entry into the country.
Kirawa, explained that that the 8,090 50Kg bags of foreign parboiled and other brands of rice intercepted by the Strike Force in the Zone within one month were mostly from Ogun state porous border Communities with Republic of Benin. Parboiled rice were Agricultural produce of Thailand , Taiwan, and Vietenad Vietenam while the Agricultural brands which were imported through Cotonou port, Republic of Benin and other ports in the West African sub-region and smuggled into the country were produce of India rice farmers.
An aggrieved Kirawa could not understand why people are still engaging in rice smuggling, when government has provided a soft landing for them to import through the seaport by paying the relevant duties and levies.
Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari had banned the importation of foreign rice into the country through land border on January 1, 2017 as a way of protecting the nation’s local rice farmers and to encourage patronage of the ports by the importers who had relocated to Cotonou port.
The high duty rate and levy may have been a source of discouragement for the rice importers to seek for Letter of Credit, LC, from the ministry of Finance, to import rice through the nation’s seaports.
The Value News findings shows that between 2017 and now, the ministry of Finance has not issued LC to any rice importer as many of the traditional rice importing firms and individuals have backed out because of the outrageous duty and levy, forcing many of them who import through Cotonou port or any other port in the sub-region to push their rice imports into the Nigerian market through unapproved routes .
Heineken Lokpobiri, minister of state for Agriculture and Rural Development may have blamed the rice smuggling through the nation’s porous borders to the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, protocol on free trade as the member countries of the sub-region, particular, Republic of Benin may have taken advantage of the policy to ”frustrate the Federal government efforts at tackling the menace”.
Given repeated reports from Ali, the Customs boss, and the Nigeria Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, NACCIMA, about how shiploads of rice are being smuggled into the Nigeria market, Buhari was said to initiated a meeting with Patrice Talon, President of Republic of Benin on how to solve the problem. It could not be ascertained when the meeting would hold.
A Customs officer who spoke to The Value News disclosed that as long as Republic of Benin and all the other member countries of the ECOWAS sub-region operate the same fiscal policies on rice imports into their respective countries without restriction, there would always be that Conspiracy against Nigeria plans to protect its economy.
The question on the lips of most people was: how can the Nigeria government close the border with other ECOWAS neighbouring countries and expect them to sit idle, when their countries do not have the needed market to absorb their rice imports but to push it into the Nigeria market by Collaborating with the smugglers.
This is where Buhari may have to do a rethink in this 2019 to re-open the nation’s borders for rice imports to come into the country through the neighbouring countries seaports, particular Republic of Benin to come in as a way of checkmating smuggling of the item into the country through unapproved routes.