By Stephen Ubanna
Foreign rice and other Contraband smugglers operating between the neighbouring West African country of Niger Republic and Nigeria, and who had expected Cheldi Wada a Deputy Comptroller, overseeing Katsina Command, and his anti-smuggling officers, scattered all over the Land border routes in the north west state, to soft pedal in their operations may have to do a rethink.
Many believe that Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel, and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, knew why he deployed the Customs Deputy Comptroller, who had served as a one-time acting Comptroller of Seme Command, described as the busiest Land border in the African Continent, where he was said to have given the smugglers operating between Benin Republic and Nigeria, a run for their money.
This because for the one year he was said to have acted in that position , the Government Warehouse at the Land border Community was always filled with seized parboiled bags of rice smuggled from the neighbouring West Africa country into the country through the bush or the 15 Creeks around the Seme Jurisdiction.
Indeed, the experience he was said to have acquired at the Seme Command under Mohammed Ubah Garba, a former Comptroller of the Command and now, an Acting Assistant Comptroller General of Customs, Enorcement, Inspection & Investigation, E.I&I, in dealing with the skilful smugglers in the area, may have emboldened him to deal decisively with the Katsina state smugglers who were said to have cried out. The Katsina smugglers who may have taken advantage of the Banditry in the state to step up their smuggling operations got it wrong.
Unknown to them, they have a tough and experienced Customs Comptroller who could not be Compromised to penetrate easily. Informed sources told The Value News that given the lack of functional Industries in the predominantly Civil Service state, the people appear to have seeing smuggling as tan alternative source of income.
Even President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Army General, knew that there is high level of smuggling in the state and the north west geopolitical region in general, that he had said that only’’ the Almighty God would be able to effectively police the vast and porous borders between Nigerian and Niger Republic’’.
The Ktastina state born Nigerian President had said that the country share more than 1,400 Kilometres of border with Niger, but much of the borders are said to be in Katsina state. It is not surprising why Wada and his officers had to go back to the drawing to restrategise to be able to deal with the smugglers in the state who have hundreds of illegal routes to carry out their illegitimate trade.
Note that in the last three months have not been an easy one for some of the big time smugglers who , many believe are well connected in Customs Circles , both at the Customs Command and the Headquarters level but the eagle eyes of the Wada’s anti-smuggling officers on the road who have refused to be Compromised to avoid playing into the acting Comptroller’s hands were said to have frustrated all their efforts.
Informed sources told The Magazine, that once in a while , the Katsina Command , acting Comptroller had , disguised himself to visit some of the identified notorious land borders in the state, unannounced to see things himself. This may have forced the Patrol Team Leaders and Officers overseeing the approved checkpoints in the state to sit up as the acting Comptroller had told them that all he wants is the report of evidence of their weekly seizures.
It is not surprising why the Command officers and the Patrol Team Leaders Compete among themselves to make Contraband seizures in order to win the heart of the Customs Acting Comptroller. Between May 4, 2021 and Thursday, June 3, 2021, the Command , was said to have intercepted Contraband with an estimated Duty Paid Value , DPV, of about N101. O3 million in different illegal smuggler routes in the state.
Speaking like an Army General, whose troops had won a major battle in a difficult war situation, Acting Comptroller Wada, had said that the items seized from the unrepentant smugglers ranges from tiger nuts, animal feeds, Premium Motor Spirit, popular , petrol, condensed milk, Tomatoes to foreign parboiled rice.
Many of these intercepted goods were said to be on transit from the Autonomous port of Benin, Cotonou and Bollere port, also in Benin Republic, but which developed wings between Benin and Niger and entered Nigeria boder to fall into the waiting hands of Wada’s men on the road and in the bush.
Giving a breakdown of the Contraband seizures, an elated Wada, disclosed that the Command anti-smuggling drive facilitated the interception of 31 cartons of Condensed Milk , 8,775 litres or 351 Jerri cans of Petrol, 33 bags of 50Kg of Animal feeds, 40 bags of tiger nuts, seven cartons of foreign couscous, and 122 cartons of foreign Spaghetti. This is in addition, to 25 cartons of foreign tomato paste, , 48 Jerri cans of vegetable oil of 25 litres each, six bags, 25 Kg each and 226 bags of 50 Kg each of foreign rice.
Perhaps , to completely cut the wings of the smugglers operating in the two neighbouring West African countries, the Katsina Command, Comptroller had sought the support of the people to avail them with information on how to track the smugglers, as the big-time operators were said to have gone underground. Wada would want the Katsina trading public ‘’ to understand the enormous responsibilities of the Customs personne who are out l to protect the Local industries and the country’s rice farmers, from being thrown out of the market by their foreign Competitors.
Taking his sensitization Campaign against smuggling of Contraband to the people ,the Customs Acting Comptroller was said to have urged them to take advantage of the numerous opportunities in the country of doing genuine business and go into full sale importation through the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tincan Land or Port Multi-services Terminal Limited, PMTL, in order to take delivery of their goods without Customs harassment on the road as they have all the relevant import documents to show that it was imported through the Nigerian ports instead of engaging in smuggling activities that may land them into trouble.
Aware of the people’s lack of awareness on the dangers of smuggling to the nation’s economy in the Buhari home state, the Katsina Command, Acting Comptroller was said to have taken up the bold initiative to start the sensitization against smuggling in the state in order to create awareness to the people. He was said to have taken the sensitization Campaign to Kongolam , Mai Adu’a, Zanjo and Birnin Kuka border axis of the state.
A senior Customs officer, who spoke to the Magazine on condition of anonymity, dislosed that since the Katsina Acting Comptroller flagged off the sensitization Campaign against smuggling in the state, ‘’it has brought down the tension in the state between the people and Customs personnel, as they no longer see Customs personnel as their enemies who must be harmed while carrying out their Legitimate duties but as friends who must be assisted to do their job.
It is instructive to note that while on the sensitization Campaign of the border Communities that were said to have been visited, Wada, was said to have assured the people of the Command determination to assist the people ‘’to become Licensed Customs Agents in order to clear and take delivery of their imported goods in any Customs Formation anywhere in the country. He was said to have repeatedly told the people,’’ Our aim is to help your business grow’’.