Customs: AC.Okpabi led HRRS, Frustrates Exotic Vehicle Smugglers

By Stephen Ubanna

 Barely one year after Jack Okpabi, an Assistant Comptroller and one- time- Head of the Federal Operations’ Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Operations and Lagos Roving Team, and 18, other Headquarters Enforcement officers were redeployed to their Abuja, Federal capital Territory,FCT operational base, Okpabi , appears to have  bounced back in doing what  he  knows best:’’ smoking out the smugglers from their hideout and being a threat to the economic saboteurs’’.  

Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller general, Nigerian Customs service, NCS, who may have been following the Customs Assistant Comptroller’s anti-smuggling efforts at the FOUs, Zone C and Zone A, respectively, over the years, may have considered it necessary to appoint him as the   Coordinator of the newly formed Headquarters Rapid Response Squad, HRRS, to checkmate the activities of the dare-devil smugglers in the north central, north eastern and north western geopolitical regions who patronize  imported exotic vehicles dealers from neighbouring countries of Benin Republic, Niger,  and smuggle them into Migeria through unapproved routes.

Given AC .Okpabi experience in dealing with the dire-devil smugglers in the south-south  and the south west states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun and Ekiti States, while serving at the FOU, Zone C and Zone A, at different times may have exposed him to the dirty tricks of the  smugglers.This may have informed why he did not find it much difficult in dealing with the northern VIP smugglers, caught with smuggled exotic vehicles, foreign rice and other Contraband items in the northern borders.

Last quarter, the HRRS, members were said to have intercepted 23 vehicles, while 10 are still under investigations. The Team was said to have also intercepted Elephant Tusks, 1,123 bales of second hand clothing, used tyres and foreign bar boiled rice.  Acting on information from the Headquarters, it was said to have intercepted over 100 bags of foreign par boiled rice in one of its operations. 

Recall that the rice millers, over the years, have been complaining about their loses due  to the activities of these foreign rice smugglers who were said to be turning Nigeria into a dumping ground for the Asian country of Thailand produced rice.

AC. Okpabi: Coordinator, Headquarters Rapid Response Squad, A Courageous Officer

Only recently, the AC. Okapabi led HRRS. had intercepted an additional   32 exotic vehicles and four bullet proof, which were said to have been traced to different locations in Kano, FCT and promptly seized.  The armoured vehicles, which have no end User Certificate from Babagana Munguno, a retired Army Major General and National Security Adviser, NSA’s office, but were said to have been imported   from neighbouring countries of Benin Republic as transit vehicles for Niger, but the vehicles  had developed K-Leg  on the way to the neighbouring West African country   as it was diverted into the Nigeria market  without having  proper documentation. More worrisome was the fact that the Two of the Armoured vehicles were 2022 models valued at about N83 million.

 There is no gain saying the fact that the exotic 32  vehicles which includes 4 bullet proofs which is   worth about N1.7 billion. It may have  fallen into the waiting hands  of the HRRS,  given the information from the Headquarters. The smugglers may have found it easy to deceive the Customs sand security operatives at the vbarious Checkpoints becauy had numbered the vehicles, with the plate numbers obtained from the Federal Road Safety Service, FRSS, but could not compromise the HRRS, officers.

This is because he Team they do not stay at the checkpoints on the road but are visible everywhere. It was therefore, not very surprising why they could stop the vehicles for the usual routine checks   and discovered that the number plates were fake. The vehicles were promptly arrested and transferred to the Government warehouse, Karo, for further investigations.

Many believe that the AC. Okpabi, led HRRS, may be making a headway in dealing with the foreign rice, vehicle and other contraband s in the northern part of the country because of his expertise in knowing how a smuggled vehicle or product looks like.  A source confirmed that AC. Okpabi, who did not want to take  any excuse from his Team members for failure  while on Patrol, had taken time out his busy schedules  to train the officers on how to go about their anti-smuggling operations and achieve results.

 He may have taken the pains to do so because virtually all team member were new to him and the Customs Comptroller General was said to have properly equipped the Team with functional operational vehicles and AK 47, to do their job.

With the mandate given to AC.Okpbabi and his Team members to operate in any part of the country with the information that may be given to them at the Custom Headquarters, may have informed why the Team,for now have concentrated its operations in the north central, northwest and north east geopolitical regions, leaving out the  south –south and south west for now.

 AC. Okpabi, the Coordinator of the HRRS, may not be in a hurry to strike in the south west states of Lagos, Ogun, Osun, or Ekiti, for now, because Kehinde Hussain Ejibuno, acting Comptroller, FOU, Zone A, whose Patrol Teams, particular, the Operations and Lagos Roving, headed by Mohammed Abdullahi, an Assistant Comptroller, believed to be giving the smugglers a source for concern is in total control of the region.

 The Okpabi led HRRS, may be forced to operate in the south west states as Assistant Abdullahi , described as a terror of the smugglers in the region have been redeployed to Katsina Command, in the recent massive  redeployment of  Assistant and Deputy Comptrollers, in various Customs Formations  across the country.

  AC. Okbabi, and his Team members, may have been emboldened to go after the smugglers in their various hideout in different parts of the northern region because of the ban on the importation of foreign par-boiled rice and Vehicles into the country through the land borders, across the country, by President Muhammadu since January 1st, 2017.

The Katsina state born Nigerian President had designated the Tincan Island port and Port Multi-services Terminal Limited, PTML, as gate way for the importation of vehicles into the country, meaning that any transit vehicle from Benin into the Nigerian market would be treated as smuggled item which will be seized.

  A valuation officer  at the Customs Headquarters had said that the 65 intercepted exotic vehicles  which includes four armoured vehicles, foreign rice and other Contraband products   that had been intercepted and stocked at the Government warehouse,  Karo  by the HRRS was worth about  N10 billion.

.  With the interception of the 65 exotic  vehicles, the Customs Assistant Comptroller and Coordinator of the HRRS, may have sent a message to  the economic saboteurs that  ‘’there is no hiding  place for them any longer  as his men are  on the red alert to take the right step at the right time to fish them out from their hiding’’. He has made it clear to those that cares to listen that Customs personnel are watching and that his Team members would always be ahead of them in their plans, stressing that they will continue ”to frustrate them in order to force them of the illegal business posing a threat to the economy.

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