The Value News

Customs: Fear Grips Releasing Officers At The Ports As Smugglers Become More Daring Despite Border Closure

 By Stephen Ubanna

This is not the best of times for Customs  Releasing officers  and other officers stationed at the exit gatesat the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tin can Island, Port  multi-services Terminal Limited, PTML and Kirikiri Lighter Terminal ,KLT, phase  1&2 to monitor the movement of goods and srvices.

This is because of the reports making the rounds that the no nonsense  Ahmadu Shuaibu, a Deputy Comptroller and Coordinator, Coordinator of the Comptroller General of Customs , CGC, Strike Force, Lagos  Zonal office,  who may have  exposed the rot at the ports   with the seizure of 13 Containerised cargoes within three weeks of operations inside the port  due to wrong Classification, false declaration and under-payment has taken another bold initiative to stop the mess.

 Shuaibu , was  said to have  begun a  sensitisation Campaign  on the need for the releasing  and the exit gate officers to ensure that the right thing  is done with proper scrutiny of containers without bending the rules  before allowing the cargo exit the port.

He was said to have addressed  the Assistant Comptrollers, who are the releasing officers including his own   men at AP Moller, one of the private terminals  at Apapa port, described as the largest Container Terminal  in  the West African sub-region on Tuesday, November 24, 2020. The Customs Deputy Comptroller may have sent a signal to the Customs Releasing officers at the  AP Moller, that  it is  no  longer going to be business as usual. The CGC Strike Force, Lagos Coordinator, may have been at the AP Moller, Container Terminal, at a time Mohammed Abba-Kura, the Apapa  Command  Comptroller, is hard on non- Compliant importers with their agents.

AP Moller Terminal, Apapa

 At a  time the CGC , Lagos Zonal Coordinator had intervened on port operations, Aliko Dangote, President Dangote Industries, who has functional factories inside  the Apap port and also a big-time importer  was said to have  made out time to be  with the  Area Comptroller  over  undisclosed reason on uesday, November 24, 2020. 

The presence of the multi-billionaire business mogul at the Apapa customs Comptroller’s office may have   forced other visitors who were  said to have   waited endlessly without any hope of seeing  him to leave without  achieving their purpose of  being at the port.

As at Wednesday, November 25, 2020, the situation was not different as the Apapa Customs Comptroller was said to  have  locked  the office  from inside to prevent his Personal  Assistant , who is a Deputy  Superintendent Of Customs or his Orderly  from bringing in visitors Form to him, to avoid distraction.  Even some senior officers who were said to have made attempts to see him on official matters  were  disappointed.

Only recently,  the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, under the close watch of Usman Yahaya, Operations and Lagos Roving Team, Headed by Jack Okpabi, an Assistant Comptroller,  were said to have intercepted some   Containers  released from  the APM terminal allegedly belonging the business mogul. A Demand Notice, DN, of about  N200 million was said to have been  issued  to him, which he may not have found funny. The  Yahaya boys  may have  intercepted the business mogul Containers  over  alleged infraction of the government Fiscal policy, which may not have been   his fault but of the agent who cleared the Consignment  and the  Customs Collaborators at the port.  Efforts to speak  to Yahaya,  the FOU, Zone A, customs Comptroller  through phone calls and visits  did not materialise.

 There are reports making the rounds that Shuaibu, the CGC Strike Force, Lagos Coordinator had extended his sensitization Campaign on the need for the right thing to be  done at the ports  to the releasing officers on the Vehicle Seat of the, of PTML, under the close watch of Festus Okun.

Shuaibu: Coordinator, CGC Strike Force, Team A

 Recall  that the Team  in the recent  weeks had  intercepted vehicles  duly released from the Lagos ports Vehicle Seats. The CGC  Strike Force Coordinator, Lagos Zone A,  may have sent a  message to all the officers on the Vehicle Seats at the ports to sit up .

 Mahmood Ibrahim, a Deputy Comptroller who was  in-charge of the Tin can Compliant Unit,  which is  directly Supervised by Abdullahi Musa, popular, MBA, the Area Comptroller, and now redeployed to Port Harcourt Area 2, Onne, Port , exit gate,  which serves  two Commands,  was said to have started doing  exatly what was  did as Head of the Compliant Unit of the Tina Can Island port by ensuring that no Containerised cargo or  any other merchandise  leaves the port  without the importer with agent paying the appropriate duties. 

While the  CC Strike Strike Force, Lagos Zonal office , Coordinator and his Operational  personnel are doing everything within their Capacity  to  sanitise to the Lagos ports, with the support of Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, the dare- devil smugglers  who are still living in the era of   of the END SARS protest  have refused a  to turn a new leaf In the south west states of Oyo and Ogun.  The  unrepentant   smugglers were said to have turned the notorious  border Communities in the two south west states uncomfortable for the Customs  and other security agencies personnel doing their legitimate dutes.

.  This is evident going by the killing on Friday, November 20, 2020,  of one Isaiah Peter,an Army Lieutenant at Igbo-Ora border  Community in Oyo state.  The  Army  officer  was said to have been killed in a clash between a  Patrol Team of the FOU, Zone A, and the smugglers in the Igbo-Ora Community. The aggrieved smugglers were said to have  attacked the FOU, Zone Out Station office in the border Community who were bent on bringing Contraband  from Benin Republic into the country to force them to run. The FOU, Zone A,  Patrol Team, who had  the support of the soldiers were not ready to take it which may have resulted in an exchange of fire.

 The smugglers were said to have  extended the attack to the Operation Swift Response , popular, Border Drill out station in  in the town  for  coming to support the Yahaya boys t to forestall their plan of smuggling Foreign rice into the country.   Three border Drills officers  were said to have been ratcheted  but  rushed to Hospital Colleagues for Treatment.

FOU, Zone A vehicle Seizures Around Ibadan Axis, Oyo State

Until Yahaya, the              FOU, Zone A,  Acting Comptroller , recalled Jack, an Assistant Comptroller, and the  Head of the Command Operations and Lagos Roving Team, to the office, he had  on different occasions  sent him out on Special assignments  to the notorious  smuggler’s routes in Oyo and Ogun states, where the Team had intercepted some fairly used vehicles and hundreds of 50Kg bags of Foreign par boiled  rice.

 It is on record that within the short period that the fierce looking Assistant Comptroller  mbilised his men to go out  on Operations the  Oyo and Ogun states, many of the smugglers, who were getting daily information on the movement of the  Command Patrol and Surveillance Teams were said to have been forced underground.

 Acting Comptroller, Yahaya , may have to reconsider giving  the Customs Assistant Comptroller, who have been involved in several  tough anti-smuggling operations  in the  Command  in the past to move his boys  to these two  notorious smugglers sate to bring the situation under control.

 Recall that on  May 18, 2020,  to be precise,  Customs Patrol Team officers who were out  on operation  at the  Ilashe border Community in Ipokia Local government Area of Ogun state between Nigeria and Benin, to forestall the smugglers operating  in the area, from carrying out their smuggling activities were attacked .The anti-smuggling officers , from the Idiroko Command who, were said to have  intercepted  thirty-five  50Kg bags of the Asian country of Thailand  par boiled rice  carried  in convoy of motocyclists , popular, Okada  did not find it funny.

But in the smugglers had mobilised   in their large number, armed with dangerous weapons including charm  to launch a vicious attack on the officers carrying out their legitimate duties. One Chidi Johnson, an Assistant Superintendent of Customs  was said to have been brutally  matcheted in the Counter-attack.   

Jibo: Showcasing The Command Foreign Rice Seizures From Seme Jurisdiction

There is no gain saying the fact that most of the smugglers  operating at the Seme Jurisdiction , who  had made  life uncomfortable for the security agencies personnel in the area in the recent time  may have relocated to Oyo and  Ogun sates, because of the tight security   mounted  at the Seme/Krake joint Border and its environs by Bello Muhammed Jibo,  the Command Area Comptroller over the last two months

. The heat imay have become much  on the smugglers that they  could no longer bear it  but to relocate to  border Communities to the two   south west states of Oyo and Ogun  that are not as exposed as the Seme /Krake Joint border and its environs in Lagos state.  In seven weeks alone, the Jibo led Seme Command,  had intercepted  hundreds of  50 Kg bags of Foreign parboiled rice, tens of  units of  fairly used Vehicles and other Merchandise vehicles  and other Merchandise goods.

The continuous attack on Customs Patrol Team personnel, Particular, the FOU, Zone A, officers, may have brought   all the  security agencies personnel  in  Oyo and Ogun states, to works as a Team to curtail the activities of the unrepentant smugglers.

Given the wrong message that had been sent to him  about the activities of the   smugglers  operating in I                diroko axisi and Ogun state in general, Peter Chado Kolo,  The newly  redeployed Comptroller, to Ogun 1, Idiroko Command, was said to have warned the smugglers  ’’to desist from such nefarious activities as tough times awaits them,’’.

He was said to have assured the residents of the border Communities  of his maximum Cooperation  for Legitimate trade. Michael Agara, the former Area Comptroller, who was said to have been having sleepless nights  because of the continuous on his men by smugglers  may have seen his redeployment as a source of relief.

 He may have gone but Kolo his successor,, has   sent a signal to the smugglers that there is nothing to celebrate   as he is still ‘’ maintaining  the administrative style  and  standard  of anti-smuggling operations left behind  by Comptroller Agbara , his predessor. This may have informed why he has solicited the Cooperation  and support  of the  other security agencies personnel during his tenure. 

H Many believe that he may not have much to  worry as Dera Nnadi, a Deputy Comptroller, overseeing the Command Enforcement Unit and who has  a good working relationship with the  other security agencies personnel  is still very much on ground to offer his  expert advice to him on the way forward to deal with the ssmugglers. Another Comptroller, who may have seen his redeployment to the Customs Headquarters , to be incharge of Enforcement of the Service  Enforcement , Investigation and Inspection Unit , was Kayode Olusemier, popular Kay, described in Customs circles as a ‘’fulfilled man’’.

 Described asa  workaholic at  Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone C, Owerri, Imo state, overseeing the anti-smuggling operations in the south east states of Anambara, Enugu, Eboyi, Abia, Imo and the south south-south states of Edo, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Cross River , Bayelsa and Rivers state, as he gave the  smugglers , who had escaped the eagle eyes of the of the  anti-smuggling officers in the  south west and the ones  operating  in the Bakasi axis , between Nigeria and the Central African  country of Cameroon and those operating  the Creeks tough time.

He may have witnessed  a drop in the Command  anti-smuggling operations with the appointment  of Shuaibu, who was in-charge of Operations in the Command as the Coordinator of CGC Strike Force Team A, last October. This may have informed why Yususf Lawal, the newly appointed Comptroller of the Command was said to have reached out   to him to seek   advice  on how to go a bout the anti-smuggling  war in the Zone with failing.

 Going by the strategy  which he had adopted  as the Head of the Command Operations which was approved by Olusemiere, the then Area Comptroller, there  are indications, that the new FOU, Zone C, Area Comptroller may withdraw all the Assistant Comptrollers  at the Checkpoints to the office  to pave way for only the  Chief Superintendents of Customs, who  could  easily be   controlled  and shouted   at to go out and make seizures and they would  do it without grumbling.

An insider told The Magazine, that Lawal, the FOU, Zone C Comptroller, may shock the Assistant Comptrollers in his new roster , as they may with drawn to the  Owerri and the Out station in Benin City office.  This  may be  bad news  for the Assistant Comptrollers who are not used to working on files but to pursuing  smugglers and take advantage of their position to stop truck laden Containers on the road released from the ports to scrutinize their  import  documents to ensure that the right thing was done.

In a related  development, the House Committee on Customs as part of their Constitutional Responsibility  of carrying out their oversight function , were said to have  visited the FOU, Zone A, where they were received by by Yahaya, the Command acting Comptroller. They  may have embarked on the visist to the various Customs Formations because of the  news making the rounds, that the FOUs across the country are making things  difficult for importers with their agents  by intercepting Containers released from the seaport  without any valid reason.

 The Customs acting Comptroller, was said to have taken the House Team  to Mechanical Workshop turned Government Warehouse where there  are hundreds of seized vehicles and scores of other detained vehicles which fell into the waiting hands of the  Command Patrol Team officers on the road. The House Committee were said to have been taken to the second Government Warehouse within the Ikeja premises where seized foreign par boiled rice were stored.  The Lawmakers were surprised that there were no space to keep the seized smuggled rice. They were said to have  nodded in approval the good works of the  Area Comptroller and his officer, urging them to sustain the anti-smuggling war to rid the country of the economic saboteurs. Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari, had banned the importation of vehicles and Foreign rice through the land border on January 1st, 220. The Lawmakers  visist may have provided the Customs acting Comptroller an opportunity to draw their attention to the killing of an Army Lieutenant, ratcheting of officers and burning of the service operational vehicles by smugglers, which they did not find funny.  The visit may have exposed the lies being told about the FOUs, CGC Strike Force and Border Drills personnel  across  the country by aggrieve Nigerians.  

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Stephen Ubanna

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September 2021

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