By Stephen Ubanna
When Hameed Ali, a retired Amy Colonel, appointed Assistant Comptroller Jack Okpabi, one time Head of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos, Operation and Lagos Roving, who was said to have given vehicle smugglers in the south west geopolitical region, tough time, as the Coordinator of the Comptroller General of Customs, CGC, Rapid Respond Squad, RRS, to oversee the northern region, many knew that the vehicle smugglers are in trouble.
Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari had banned on the importation offoreign rice and vehicles through the land border on January 1, 2017, into the country. This may have made the job of the Team very easy. The Katsina born Nigerian President may have simplified their job by providing them with all the necessary logistics support to succeed.
The RRS, was said to have been established to compliment the effort of the various Interventionist Units in the north to curb the activities of smugglers of foreign ice, vehicles from Benin Republic and Niger into the Country and Petroleum Products from Nigeria into these countries including the Central African country of Cameroon.
DC. Okpabi and his men, may have taken advantage of the government policy on the importation of vehicles through the Land border Areas to impound 190 vehicles between January 1, 2023 and January 10, , 2023, valued at about N7.3 billion in different parts of the 190 northern states forcing the dealers to to cry out for Help . One of the vehicle seizures, under detention were two Prado Jeeps, almost brand new with the same Chassis number.
. The RRS Coordinator had revealed the uniqueness of the two Jeeps which have the same Chassis number, describing ‘’it as criminal and height of falsifying and indulging in smuggling’’. We are in investigation to know which the right one is and which one is the fake one, he further remarked.
The Team was said to have also intercepted 28 units of Buffalos. The dealer was said to have provided documents but only nine could be verified. The worry of the RRS Coordinator was that the vehicles were not exited from any Customs zone. It is not surprising why he had said that they are sending the 28 Buffalos for Investigation in order to know exactly what is going on, noting that ‘’ anyone who is involve would get his hand burnt’’.
In a related development,Umar Ajia, a top official of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, now baptized Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, NNPCL, with the signing into Law by the Nigerian President of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, passed by the National Assembly by the National Assembly on August , 2021 may have given all the Customs interventionist Units , including the RRS, more job to do going by the information volunteered when he appeared before the House of Representatives Committee Investigating fuel subsidy in Nigeria. He had said that ‘’with N5 million anyone can smuggle trucks of Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, popular, petrol, and other Petroleum products out of Nigeria’’.
He was emphatic: If you have N5 million you can cross trucks laden with PMS to Benin Republic, Niger and Cameroon’’.He may have shocked the House Committee members when he disclosed that ‘’PMS, Passes everywhere to the Central African country of Cameroon through the north east’’ , noting that the country’s PMS, also gets to the West African country of Mali.
Ajia, who was said to have represented Mele Kolo Kyari, the NNPCL, Group Managing Director at the House Committee hearing, had revealed that some West African and Central African countries have actually stooped importing Petroleum products and depend solely on smuggled products from Nigeria.
Mention was made countries like Benin Republic, Niger and Cameroon which are feeding fat on Nigeria petrol. He was particular about Cameroon, that depend solely on smuggled PMS, from Nigeria to sell in their domestic market because their refinery got burnt sometime in 2021 and since then the country have not imported PMS, but the country’s motorist have continued to use fuel on a daily basis to do their runs .
The NPCL, official, believes that that the Customs interventionist Units are not doing much to contain the activities of the Petrol smugglers. Hear him: We are subsidizing these neighbouring West African and Central African countries’’, describing it as’’ the simple truth’’. According to him, ‘’the government spends about N209.00 on everyLitre of petrol consumed in the country as subsidy’’.
He may have shocked the House Committee members when he disclosed that ‘’ neither the NNPCL, nor the security agencies, including the NCS, have an idea of the exact daily consumption of petrol in the country’’. NNPC had said that the country’s daily Consumption was 66.7 million litres based on the truck out from the depots across the country.
The Corporation has repeatedly made Nigerians to understand that it supplies 98 million litres for the country on a daily basis but 42 million litres of petrol , which is over 500 trucks laden with petrol per day are smuggled across the Nigeria’s porous borders to Benin, Republic, Niger and Cameroon on a daily basis but Ali, the Customs Comptroller General would not agree.
The Customs boss who was aid to have appeared before the House Committee for an interactive session on the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF, for 2023-2025, had queried why Kyari led NNPC would allow the lifting of 98 million litres of petrol par day when he knew that the actual Consumption of the country is only 66.7 million litres daily.
Describing the NNPC claims as laughable, he had asked ‘’which roads are the Petrol smugglers following, where are they ferrying the products to’’. He had made it clear to those that cares to listen that the Customs under his Leadership is addressing the issues of smuggling of petroleum products across the country’s borders squarely, noting that the major Challenge has been smuggling along the country’s water ways and creeks.
The continued seizures of thousands of Jerrycan of PMS, of about 33 litres each from Creeks and waterways around the Seme Jurisdictions by the Seme Command, under the close watch of Comptroller Mohammed Bello Jibo, now an Acting Assistant Comptroller of Customs speaks volume.
There are about 16 waterways and Creeks around the Seme and Badagry axis which are allegedly being combed on a daily basis by the Command Operations Team, headed by one Abubakar Dankigari, an Assistant Comptroller of Customs and scores of other waterways aand creeks in other parts of the country.
The effectiveness of the Team, in checkmating the activities of the VIP Petrol smugglers may have forced them to Ogun state where there are over 140 illegal border routes used by smugglers to carry out their nefarious activities, Oyo and Osun states.
Many believe that if DC Ookpabi, the Head of the Headquarters RRS and his men, had given the same attention in checkmating vehicle smugglers to the VIP, petrol smugglers, they would have been forced to stop.
Perhaps to put an end to smuggling of PMS, across the nation’s porous borders and arrest the culprits Temipre Sylva, a former governor of Bayelsa state and now minister of state, Petroleum Resources, had said that measures such as ‘’improved technology , PMS equalization to close differential cost and routine end to end tracking of petroleum products cargos using Lloyds List Intelligence and Refinitiv had been deployed to track every truck loading products from any of the NNPC depots’’.
We have been able to put a tracking system to track the trucks that load from the depots , so that we are sure that when they load the products from the depots , they take it straight to the filling stations in any part of the country’’, he had said.
He had boasted that ‘’the era of smuggling products across the country’s borders was over as it negatively contributed to the high number of litres of products that was said to be consumed in the country on a daily basis by NNPC.
Given an insider information on further progress that had been made by the Buhari’s Administration’’ ‘’to ensure energy suffiency in the country’’, he had said that ‘’255,659 truck out have been equalized , 11,622,926, 494 litre litres equalized, about N173,200,284,779 .00 equalisation paid and 1,277 supplying vessels tracked.
There are indications that that 25,525,688,042 Litres of PMS, has been discharged with 666.7 million litres average daily sufficiency and 24,346,614,589, truck out volume’’. Energy analysts describe the measures that had adpted by government in the recent time to checkmate petrol smuggling as encouraging provided the new technology would not be sabotaged by insiders with their VIP petrol dealers.