By Stephen Ubanna
The era where smugglers or gun men can attack Customs checkpoint or the other is over. This is because the Interventionist Units have joined forces to form Mega checkpoints on the road or Land border routes across the country to prevent attacks. The Interventionist units, comprising of the Federal Operations Units, FOU, Border drills, and Comptroller General of Customs, CGC, Strike Force, across the ountry.
The formation of the Mega, checkpoints, which was said to be at the instance of Hameed Ali, a retired army Colonel and Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, was informed by the recent attack at an FOU, Zone C, Patrol base Checkpoint at Isiokpo, in Ikwerre Local government Area of the oil –rich Rivers state, along the Port-Harcourt –Owerri road. The attackers have killed three Customs officers carrying out their legitimate duties and made away with two operational Hilux Vans.
Many believe that the smugglers or gunmen may have succeeded in carrying out the attack at the Isiokpo Customs Checkpoint because there were only few officers on ground. They believe that if there were at least between 40 to 50 armed Customs personnel at the Isiokpo Checkpoint, the smugglers or gunmen, would at least think twice before daring the officers.
Once beaten and twice shy, may have informed why Ali and his Management Team, may have gone back to the drawing board on how to ensure the safety of the officers at the Checkpoints and came to the conclusion that all the various interventionist units either on Patrol or at the approved Checkpoints are working towards achieving the same goal: make contraband seizures.
Perhaps, to ensure that the January 1, 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired army General, ban that the Asian countries of Thailand and the North American country of Vienam par boiled rice or the Indian Basmati and Agricultural rice which are shipped into the Autonomous Port of Benin, Cotonou and Bollore port, and also re-exported to landlocked Niger or shipped to the Doula port of Cameroon are not smuggled into Nigerian market or Premium Moto Spirit, PMS, popular, Petrol, smuggled out of the shores of Nigeria to, the various Customs Interventionist units needed to work as a Team while on Patrol or operate as a Mega Checkpoint, where they could all stay together to carry out their legitimate duties.
The Value News took time out to visit Seme border Community on Thursday, and found out that the number of Customs personnel at the Patrol base Checks along the Lagos – Badagry Express have been reinforced and other Collapsed into one while the officers at the approved checkpoints at Agbara and Gbaji, have been strengthened with more men including military personnel attached to the Border Drills among them.
Armed to the teeth, and ever Combat ready to take on any intruder, a resident of Badagri Town, described as one of the hideouts for fairly used vehicles, foreign poultry products and foreign rice smugglers told The Magazine that with the security measures adopted by the Service in the recent time, it would be very difficult for smugglers to dare a Customs Mega check point with over 50 armed Customs Operatives without counting their loses.
The situation was the same at the at the seven approved Customs Checkpoints at Ogun state and the several Patrol base Checkpoints in the state. Some of these Customs checkpoints within the Idiroko Jurisdiction had been attacked by hoodlums in the past with the slightest provocation of intercepting their smuggled foreign rice or fairly used vehicles . There are over 100 illegal routes in Ogun state alone that are used by smugglers of foreign rice, poultry products and fairly used vehicles operating between Benin and Nigeria.
A foreign rice trader at Sngo Otta, told The Magazine that ever since thee Customs officers were killed by gu men at a Customs Checkpoint in rivers state, which is not as volatile as Ogun or Oyo states, it has become very difficult to see any Interventionist unit of five Customs personnel at a Checkpoint as they have been Collapsed into one Mega checkpoint at a Location. The trader noted that it is difficult to identify FOU, Border Drills, CGC,Strike Force or the land Border Commands Personnel along in any Location as they work as a Team in the south west Geo-political region.
The question on the lips of most people was how the various Interventionist units Checkpoints would be able to identify their own Contraband seizures now that the Service have approved the Mega Checkpoints, comprising of all the officers of the Interventionist units at a Particular Location.
A senior Customs Officer told The Magazine that would not be much of a problem, noting that if it is a major seizure the officer from the Interventionist unit who had initiated the seizure would still claim the credit. The officer disclosed that the good news is that the seized Contraband belong to the government , and could be deposited at the nearest Warehouse. Those operating within the Seme Jurisdiction which may take their intercepted Contraband to Government warehouse at the Seme Border Community while the Mega Checkpoint officers may consider using the, Idiroko Government warehouse or the Abeokuta warehouse. The Mega Checkpoint officers operating between Oyo and Osun, according to an informed source have Government Warehouse Ibadan to use to deposit their intercepted Contraband instead of transferring it to the original respective Commands .
In a related development, the CGC, Strike Force, Team A, under the close watch of Ahmadu Shubuibu, a Deputy Comptroller of Customs, appears to have devised a new Strategy on how to generate more revenue for the government. The Team, may have realised that it does not really make any economic sense to seize cargoes over alleged infraction ranging from false declaration, wrong classification, to underpayment but to give the maximum Demand Notice, DN, and penalty on the imported cargo and allow the importer to take delivery of his goods.
The Magazine findings shows that importers with their agents who have been caught in the act and given the maximum DN, and the approved penalty as contained I the Customs and Excise Management Act, CEMA, cap 2004, are happy to pay the DN and penalty , instead of losing their entire goods , which would be auctioned at a giveaway price, that would never benefit the government or the importer. In the past many of the importers with their agents had deliberately allowed their Containerised cargoes to be seized. They were said to have used their high level contacts at the Customs Headquarters to have the cargo auctioned to them at a loss to the government.
A member of the Customs Strike Force, Team A,who spoke to the Magazine on condition of anonymity disclosed that there have been improved Compliance by the importers to do the right thing at the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tin-can Island, Port Multi-services Terminal Terminal, PTML, described as a one Ship, Grimaldi Terminal, Kirikiri Lighter Terminal, KLT, Phases I&|II. The situation is the same at all the bonded terminal terminals attached to the Lagos two major ports in Lagos, the nation’s Commercial nerve centre. An agent, disclosed that the CGC, Strike Force, Team A, Information and Technology , ICT, unit, manned by one Mohammed, a Chief Superintendent of Customs, who, it was gathered gets the ship manifest with his boys in advance for proper assessment and evaluation of the cargo before it is scheduled for Examination at the ports or the Bonded Terminals, by the Customs and other security agencies personnel. It is not surprising why the Team are having a low time at present.
When contacted , Shuaibu, the Coordinator of the CGC Strike Force, Team A, said ‘’it was good for the economy, as the importers with their agents are now doing the right thing instead of looking for ways to shortchange the government because of the negative Consequences: seizure of the Consignment or be ready to pay the maximum DN and penalty which is at the discretion of the Coordinator.
Even Yusuf Malanta, the Apapa Command, Comptroller, whose officers at APM, and Bonded terminals attached to it at the port who were said to have been doing some dirty jobs that involves aiding and abetting fraudulent importers with their agents appears to have come under close watch to stop the rot.
This may have resulted in the recent seizure of several cartons of the banned Pharmaceutical drug, Codeine and Tramadol in one of the Command major operations at SIFAX 3 terminal. The importer with the agent and their Customs Collaborators may have influenced the transfer of the ‘40’, Container , loaded with the banned drugs to SIFAX terminal, with the intention that it would be to be cleared and exited from the terminal with ease but they got it wrong..
Unknown for the importer and the agent, the Area Comptroller was said to have got the details of the ‘40’ Container loadd with the cargo from the day it was discharged at the port and subsequently, transferred to the SIFAX Bonded terminal 3, as the Manifest had already shown what it was carrying. It was a matter of time to identify it as it was said to be closely monitored by undercover officers working with Malanta, the Area Comptroller.
This may have informed why it was intercepted on Monday, April, 26, 2021, based on the intelligence gathering. The Container, with Registration Number TEMU 6164202, could have landed many Apapa ofand SIFAX, Bonded terminal 3, into trouble, if it had exited the terminal
. This is because the detailed information of the suspected Container had already filtered out to the Customs Headquarters, ICT, Trade and Tariff officials, FOU, Zone A, an indications that if Comptroller Malanta and his officers at the SIFAX Bonded 3 , terminal, had failed to intercept or seizure the Consignment, it may have fallen into the hands of the FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos roving, under the close watch of Jack Okpabi, an Assistant Comptroller of Customs, who remains a nightmare to smugglers in the south west.
But Malanta and his officers at the terminal did the needful to seized the Container on Examination and found 805 cartons of Codein, and 124 cartons of the Indian Pharmaceutical drug , Tramadol. Note that, both drugs had been banned by the Federal government. An eyewitness account said the deadly drugs were concealed in 483 pots.
It is on record that the Apapa port Customs Command, in the last four months have had a running battle with Codein and Tramadol importers. The Pharmaceutical drug importers who may have taken advantage of the fact tha Comptroller Malanta is new at the Apapa Command and may not have been schooled on the dangers of the drugs and therefore, could be Compomised with his terminal officers but they got it wrong. From the on set, he was ready for them and prepared to scatter the syndicate and force them out of market.
The Apapa Command, Customs Comptroller may have sent a signal to the Codein and Tramamadol importers with their agents that it is no longer going to be business as usual. This is evident going by the number of Container seizures at the premier port and Boded terminals attached to the Command. The Command had intercepted and made a seizure of 28 Containers, mostly, ‘40’, to be precise, including Codeine and Tramadol with a Duty Paid Value, DPV, of N1.8 billion.
Many believe that both for the CGC Strike officials Team A, which had beam their search light at the Apapa port which had exposed some fraudulent activities , like the Cross –release of cargoes and exit of goods that have violated the government Fiscal policy , which was said to have forced the Coordinator of the Strike Force team A, to hold closed door meetings with the Deputy Comptrollerse and Heads of Departments and the Bonded Terminals, urging to sit up and ensure they do the right things are done,Malanta, the Apap Command Comptroller, may not have known the high level of deals going on at the port that he was forced to take the bull by the horn. Vintage Malanta.