By Stephen Ubanna
When the Comptroller General of Customs, CGC, Strike Force Team A, under the close watch of Ahmadu Suaibu made a seizure of four Container load of unprocessed Teakwood, allegedly planned for export to the Asian country of China last June, through the premier Lagos port of Apapa, not many were surprised.
This is because of his track records at the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone C, during the Administration of Kayode Olusemire, the then Comptroller of the Command and now an Acting Assistant Comptroller General and Coordinator, NCS, Zone C. But unknown to many the Interventionist unit has a bigger plan ahead. It had kept as a closely guided secret chasing a major seizure that would shock Nigerians and the international Community.
Shuaibu, could do all that because as the Head of FOU, Zone C, Command, Operations, he had kept as a guided secret his major operations which was said to have forced many VIP, foreign Par boiled rice and vehicle smugglers including importers with their agents flying Containers in the south east geo-politi, another DCG,cal and those involved exporting prohibited products underground.
Indeed, his experiencess at FOU, Zone C, covering the south east states of Abia, Anambra, Eboyi, Enugu, Imo and the south –south states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross river, Delta, Edo and Rivers state, may have given an insight on how to deal with the smugglers in the south west states of Lagos, Ogun, Ekiti, Ondo , Oyo and Osun states.
One major Contraband seizure in of the Shuaibu led Headquarters Strike Force, Team A, in the recent time, with the support of the Customs Intelligence Unit, CIU, personnel, was the multi-billion Pangolin and Elephant Tusks. Hameed Ali, a retired Army General and ComptroIler General, NCS and Elton Edoreh, Deputy Comptroller General, Enforcement, Inspection and Investigation including DCG Modupe Olubiyi and Smart Akande, the Customs Lawyer, were said to have showed up in Lagos to see things themselves. The Customs Comptroller General may have seen his visit to Lagos on August 4, 2021, to show case the multi-billion naira pangolin and Elephant Tusk to the public as one of his happiest moment in the service going by the smiles on his face while addressing the press.
He may have alluded to the support of the Wildlife Justice Commission in making the Seizure that have been applauded in different parts of the world. This may have informed why he has given the assurance that the service will ‘’treat every information with utmost Confidentiality’’ and appropriate actions taken to stem this tide of illegality’’.
He noted that the service extensive Collaboration yielded Credible intelligence that ‘’triggered swift and Comprehensive action by the CIU, personnel and the Headquarters Strike Force, Team personnel’’ The Value News learnt that at the instance of Shuaibu, the Headquarters Strike Force, Team A Coordinator, Hamawa Isa, a Chief Superintendent of Customs and the Interventionist unit Head of Operations was said to have raised a Team headed by one Dapo Efeni, a Deputy Superintendent of Customs Efeni, who was said to have led the operation on the Eastern side of Ijeoma street, Lekki, described as an exclusive area for the rich and whee major Companies in Lagos state , including the $1.7 billion Lekki Deep sea project , which is a joint venture project between the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, China Habour Engineering Company and the Lagos state government are situated.
DSC Efeni and his Team members who may not have been intimidated by the tight security in the street were said to have broken into the house where the sacks of Pangolin and Elephant Tusks were parked, preparatory for alleged export to China. Given the large quantities of sacks of the Pangolin and Elephant Tusks found in the house when it was said to have been broken into by the Team members clearly shows that it may have taken the local smugglers and their Foreign Collaborators who had planned to smuggle out the items through the Lagos porst of Apapa or Tin can Island port between two to three years to source for the endangered species Pangolin and Elephant Tusks in different markets in different markets in the African Continent., particular, Republic of Congo and South Africa.
The sacks of Pangolin and Elephant Tusks, which were transferred to the adhoc Team Operational base at the Customs Training College were said to have examined and the following prohibited animal species items were found. The items are 196 sacks of Pangolin Scales, weighing 17,137.40Kg, 870Kg of Elephant Tusks and 4.60Kg of Pangolin claws which the Customs Comptroller General had put the Value at about N22.3 billion based on the available price , per Kg, of the items in the International . His worry was that even if the Nigerians and their Chinese Collaborators had succeeded in smuggling out the Pangolin and Elephant Tusks into China to deliver to those that need it, they may not have been able to get get up to a billion naira, urging Nigerians ‘’to be patriotic and be proud of their own country like people from the US, Uk, France, Germany and China, among others.
The CGC, Strike Force Team A, may have trailed the sacks of Pangolin and Elephant Tusks to its location at Lekki when information leaked out that Nigerians who are being used by some Chinese who were hiding it in order to smuggle it out from Nigeria to china through any of the Lagos seaports, even when it is against the Law of the country’s Law to do so.
There is no gain saying the fact that Pangolin and Elephant Tusks export falls under ‘’ the Export Prohibition schedule VI, of the Extant Common External Tariff which prohibits their exportation’’. It is not surprising why the CGC Strike Team A, had to seize the endangered animal species pangolin and Elephant Tusks because ‘’it is in line with section 63 ‘’e’’ and ‘’g;; of the Customs and Exercise Management Act, CAP 45 LFN, 2004 as amended.
Given the worldwide ban on the trade in pangolins and Elephant Tusks which was said to have been unanimously agreed at a meeting of the 181 member nations of the United Nations, including Nigeria, of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, CITES,in September 2016.
The Customs Comptroller General, may have gladdened the heart of Nigerians when he said that the service would do everything within its capacity to ensure that the country is not used as a ‘’transit hub for pangolin and elephant tusks in Africa’’ being a signatory to the CITES Convention.
Many believe that the NCS could make a headway in seizing the sacks of Pangolin and elephant tusks in the country because of ‘’the robust Collaboration with Embassies of the North American country of the United States, United States, US, United Kingdom, UK, Germany and other international Credible bodies, already indicating interest to join their quarterly meetings that provide platform for shared experiences.
Ali, the Customs boss, who could not hide his feelings had said that ‘’deforestation and depletion of wildlife , especially the endangered species which have been a global concern with nations Collaborating , sharing intelligence and expertise that will stamp out the indiscriminate killing of the endangered species will continue to be given top priority in Nigeria’’.
The arrest of three suspects, comprising of Nigerians and Foreigners , may have sent a signal to those involved in the illegal trade of Pangolin and Elephant Tusks that’’ it is no longer going to be business as usual’’. Those arrested by the Customs Police at the instance of the Headquarters Strike Force, Team A, in connection with the seized multi-billion naira Pangolin and Elephant Tusks include Djakonba, Isiak Musa and Mohammed Bereta. Berete Morybinet, a Chinese who was said to have masterminded the illegal business, was said to have escaped from the house where the Pangolin and Elephant Tusks were parked before the Customs Headquarters Strike Force ,Team , members arrived for the operation.
The Customs helmsman was said to have sent message to the runaway Morybinet that if he thinks ‘’he can evade the long arm of the Law, he has made a mistake, as he will surely be apprehended in his hideout in any part of the country to face trial for trading in prohibited Pangolin and Elephant Tusks. He was said to have urged him to surrender himself to the Law Enforcement agencies or he will surely be fished out which may be too bad for him.
As a prelude to getting him, Ali, was said to have urged the security Operatives and the Customs personnel at the Land border Areas to tighten up security to ensure that he will not escape to Republic of Benin or any other country within West African sub-region and then, use the opportunity o return to China, his home country.