Customs: RRS, Dealing Decisively With Vehicle Smugglers As FG, Initiate Measures To Curb Petrol Smuggling  

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: Dealing With Vehicle Smugglers In The North

 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.

Petrol Tankers Being Tracked

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.

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