By Stephen Ubanna
Between 2016 and 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, had relied on the Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, of Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, to supply grains and other items for feeding the internally Displaced persons ,IDPs.
The food items were supplied by the Customs Authorities at the IDPs various Camps in the north eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe including the south –south state of Edo. This according to business analysts, had saved the government billions of budgetary allocations which could have been spent to supply the food items to the IDP Camps.
Given that the purpose of the Buhari Administration Agricultural policy was essentially to make the country become self sufficient in food production, particular, production of rice, the Katsina state born Nigerian President had banned the export of foreign rice into the country through the land borders across the country and the seaports.
Ali, the Customs boss may have known that with the ban on the export of foreign rice into the country through the land borders and seaports, would pose a big challenge to the land border Commands and the FOUs anti-smuggling patrol teams across the country to contain the activities of the die- hard smugglers operating between Benin Republic, Niger ,Cameroon and Nigeria to carry out their nefarious as they may be forced to develop new tactics to beat Customs Patrol Teams to it.
As a prelude to caging the smugglers operating both on land, creeks and the country waters, in the country, the retired Army Colonel and Customs boss, had established a Strike Force, baptised the Comptroller General Task Force, to Compliment the efforts of the various FOUs across the country. With the news making the rounds that ships load of foreign parboiled rice had continued to be discharged at the Benin Terminal and Bollore port , in Benin Republic, which are smuggled into the country through unapproved routes, the Customs Comptroller General was said to have devised strategies to deal with them decisively without looking back given his military background.
It is instructive to 3that some of the transit foreign rice cargoes discharged at two ports in Benin Republic belong to both Nigerian and Nigerien importers including the major foreign rice importing firms within and outside the country , which also have operational offices in Nigeria.
A ware these foreign rice transit cargoes and other Contraband, could no longer be exported into the country through the land border routes in the south west, south, north central and north west , geo-political regions, because of the government policy that had banned the importation of foreign rice and vehicles, through the land border and the tight security at the border Communities, the Buhari was forced to close the border routes across the country with the neighboring Benin, Niger and Cameroon. The closure of the Borders across the country with these neighbouring countries was basicallyto ensure that Contraband, particular, foreign parboiled rice, from the Asian country of Thailand and processed vegetable oil from Malaysia, were not smuggled into the country .The fallout was the inauguration of the Border Drill , COMPRISING four major sectors to effectively man the borders in the south west, south –south, north central and the north west covering 25 states of the Federation.
The establishment of the CGC Strike Force and the Border Drill, to compliment the effort of the Resident Land border and FOUs patrol Teams, across the country may have given Ali and his Management Team the impression that the Contraband smugglers had no hiding place. He is right.
Investigation by The Value News shows that there had been an intensified Competition by the various Customs anti-smuggling Formations to make seizures from smugglers even at the risk of officers live. Eyewitness account of some of the Customs anti-smuggling Patrol Team Operations in the south west disclosed that the Teams actually Compliment each other to make seizures of Contraband.
Take for instance, the foreign parboiled rice and Vegetable that had escaped the eagle eye of the resident anti-smuggling officers at the land borders in the south west or the FOUs, patrol Teams in the region were said to have fallen into the waiting hands of the CGC Strike Force or the Border Drill sector Patrol Teams in Lagos , Owerri, Ilorin and Kaduna Zonal offices .
It was not surprising why the Government Warehouses in Lagos, Seme, idiroko, Abeokuta, Ibadan, Benin, Owerri, Calabar, Bauchi , Kaduna, Katsina , Sokoto, Kano, kebbi and other Warehouses in several other places are filled up with impounded Contraband, particular, foreign rice and vegetable Oil including second hand Clothing, bags, shoes and tyres.
The Stay at home order by the Katsina state born Nigerian President to curb the spread of the Wuhan town in Hebei Province of China emerged Coronovirus last December which had brought untold hardship to the people of Lagos and Ogun states including Abuja , the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, may have forced him to fall back on the Ali led Customs to supply the grains to the ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, for distribution to the poor to cushion the hardship across the country.
Although the Government Warehouses are already filled up as there are no more available space to keep seized Contraband, insiders informed the Magazine that the seizure by the various Customs Formations Patrol Teams across the country became more pronounced with the outbreak of the Coronavirus, in the country last February.
Indeed, many of the smugglers had dared the Customs Patrol Teams in various parts of the country to smuggle their foreign rice cargo and other Contraband from Benin Republic, Niger or Cameroon, into the country with the believe that Customs personnel would not mount road blocks or patrol the border, Creeks or waterways because of the World Health Organisation, WHO, social distancing Campaigns to Contain the disease.
Note that the deadly disease had already spread to 203 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America and Australia. They got it wrong. This is because Ali, had mandated his men to ensure that nothing enters or leaves the country with the border closure. He was said to have urged the Customs personnel to take their job serious.
Many believe that Ali had jumped at the Presidential directive to release all the millions of “50” bags of foreign parboiled rice at the various Government Warehouse across the country to Hajia Sadiya Omar Farouq, the minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development for distribution to vulnerable Nigerians to cushion the effect of the COVID 19 stay at home order both at the state and Federal level.
This may have informed why he gave a matching order to the Area Comptrollers to compile the number of trucks that the seized foreign rice in Government Warehouses within their Area of control could be. Based on the report that was said to have been made available to the Customs Headquarters by the Commands, as the time the request was made by the President, there was about 150 trucks load of rice that could be ready for distribution.
It was learnt that the report was made available to Hajia Zainab Ahmed, the minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, who was said to have heaved a sigh of relief. The minister was said to have reached out to the President, to inform him about the number of trucks load of rice and other food items which runs into billions of naira which the Customs Authority had provided to cushion the COVID 19, effect on the people.
The minister had confirmed that 150 trucks load of foreign rice at the Government Warehouses across the country that was handed over by Ali, the Customs boss, at the instance of the President to Faroq, the minister of Humanitarian Affairs for distribution to the 36 states of the Federation.
Given an insisder information, the minister disclosed that other food items supplied to the ministry by the Customs Management include hundreds of 25 litre each palm oil and vegetable oil, condiments and Beverages. An appreciative Hajia Ahmed, who spoke at a recent press briefing at Abuja, alongside other ministers, said the Customs contributed items would be distributed as” stimulus package to the poor and vulnerable Nigerians”.
She gave kudos to Ali, the Customs Comptroller General and his officers for making the spectacular seizure of foreign parboiled rice and other items, stressing that the government would not hesitate to give all the necessary support to the Service in order to do more.
. This may have encouraged the various Customs Formations across the country and adhoc Teams to intensify their anti-smuggling Operations in the south west, south-south, north central and north west geo-political regions. There may not be much activities in the north east geo-political region for now, because of the Crisis in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, because of the activities of the Boko-Haram Insurgents .
Notwithstanding, the vacuum created in the region, the anti-smuggling Patrol Teams in Bauchi/Gombe Command, with the support of the soldiers in the two Brigade Commands in Bauchi appear to have filled the vacuum created over the years by making seizures of Contraband, particular, Foreign par boiled rice and vegetable oil , which could have been smuggled into the Nigerian market in the recent time, no thanks to Bello Muhammed Jibo, the Area Comptroller. The other Area Comptrollers at Adamawa/Taraba and Borno /Yobe Commands, who are worse hit by the Crisis in the region, according to reliable sources are leaving no stone unturned to make seizure of Contraband as well. The duo were said to have also put the name of their Commands on the list of those that made contribution to the 150 Trucks load of rice and other items made available by the Customs Authority ministry of Humanitarian Affairs for distribution to vulnerable group in the country.
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