By Stephen Ubanna
Until his recommendations last year, by Hameed Ali, a retired army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, to the Customs Board, as an Acting Comptroller General of the NCS, and his Final Confirmation by the Board, last September, Muhammed Uba Garba, who is currently the Coordinator, Customs Zonal office, 2, Kaduna, north west geo-political region, remains a nightmare to smugglers.
From The Federal Operations Units, Zones A, and C, including Seme Command, described as the African busiest border in the African Continent and the Border Drills, Zone 3, Ilorin, Capital of Kwara state, where he had served during the closure of the nation’s Land border’s with the neighbouring countries of Benin Republic, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon,, he had made ‘’no Compromise and operation no Mercy for the economic saboteurs his watch word’’. This may have informed why there was always outcry by the smugglers and their sponsors in virtually all the Areas he had served because of the incessant seizures of their goods that runs into millions of naira.
Many believe that one thing going for him and which other Customs Area Comptrollers and adhoc Teams Coordinators, in the recentmtime had followed religiously was the puncturing of the Tramadol d, Pangolin Scales and Elephant Tusks, syndicate. He had opened up on the Tramadol syndicate at the, FOU, Zone C, Owerri Jurisdictions, covering the south eastern states of Abia, Anambra, Eboyi, Enugu and the south-south states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross-river, Delta, Delta and Rivers, when the Command anti-smuggling Patrol Team, intercepted the dangerous Pharmaceutical product in Rivers state.
The seizure of the Tramadol drugs, in the Elele axis of Rivers ststate, may have forced the syndicate to fight back, by sendinding death threats to the Patrol Team Leader who had intercepted the Consignment and subsequent seizures by the Command. This may have opened the eye of the officers that it was a thriving illegal trade Nigeria that needed to be stopped at all costs.
The intensified anti-smuggling Campaign in the south east and south-south by the then Comptroller Garba, who is now an ACG, and the Pressure mounted on the smugglers and other fraudulent agents at the south east seaports t was very frustrating that the big time agents tried to use their contacts in the Customs Headquarters to force his removal from the FOU, Zone C, and replacement , with someone who may not necessarily not be hard on them . They got it wrong.
This is because Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, had redeployed Comptroller Kayode Oluseimere, now an ACG, overseeing, Customs Zonal Headquarters C, PortHarcourt, to the Command and who was said to have continued from where the then Comptroller Garba, had stopped, which was too bad for the smugglers and Fraudulent agents.
For the then Customs Comptroller, who the agents were clamouring should be be removed, was redeployed to FOU, Zone A, overseeing the south west states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo,Osun , Ekiti and Ondo, anti-smuggling operations. Instead of giving the smugglers, operating between the neighbouring west African country of Benin, and their Collaborators Nigeria, room to give him the baptism of fire, by turning the region, into a smugglers’ haven, he had made life uncomfortable for the cross-border smugglers and the Fraudulent agents at the Lagos seaports.
He may have sent a signal to the smugglers and the Fraudulent agents, in the smugglers and Fraudulent Importers, exporters and their agents in 2018, when he made a seizure of Pangolin scales, described as thriving trade over the years in Nigeria but no officer have had the courage to make any seizure of the items or arrest the Chinese buyers , who had made Nigeria, their transit route.
The seizure of the Pangolin Scales, weighing 12.264Kg and 218 Elephant tusks of such endangered species , made history in Nigeria as it was a big blow to the Chinese buyers and their Nigerian Collaborators. The Chinese buyers of the Pangolin Scales and Elephant tusks may have packaged the 12.264 Kg Pangolin Scales and 218 , Elephant Scales, for export through the Lagos seaports to their country but luck ran out of them as the items fell into the waiting hands of Garba’s men, who were said to have acted information .
The seizure of the Pangolin Scales and Elephant tusks, may have informed why Juan Carlos, who is the Chief Legal Affair, of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and Flora, CITES, Headquarters, in Geneva, Switzerland, visited Nigeria to see things himself.
His findings may have necessitated why he had sent a recommendation to the CITES Geneva Headquarters that Nigeria has joined the global fight against the illegal trade and needed to be fully supported to stop using the country as a transit route.
Ibrahim Usman, the then minister of State, ministry of Environment had accompanied the CITES, top official, to the FOU, Zone A, Command, premises, Ikeja, Lagos, the nation’s Commercial nerve centre, to see the seized the Pangolin Scales and Elephant tusks for themselves in order to make assurance doubly sure.
Note that Nigeria is a signatory to CITES, but was suspended in 2005, because of the increasing illegal wildlife trade and a Lack of adequate enforcement by the government. TheUnited Nations, UN, Geneva based Environmental agency, may have withdrawn the suspension placed on Nigeria , in 2011 and in 2018, the Pangolin Scales and Elephant tusks, was seized on the country.
The suspension may have been lifted because the Nigerian government had designated National Environmental Standards and Regulations Authority Agency, NESREA, as the country’s new Enforcement Authority and has enacteda new wildlife Regulations that was said to have fully complied with CITES Requirements. This may have informed why Nigeria at present has been ranked in Category one under the CITES Legislation project.
It is interesting to note that ever since 2018, that the then Comptroller Garba, now, an ACG, and Coordinator, Customs Zone 2, Kaduna, Zone 2, had made the Pangolin and Elephant tusks seizures, the Nigerian government, past and present, had been in robust Collaborations with the Embassies of the United Kingdom, UK, Germany and the North American country of the United States, US, including other credible Organisations that had already indicated interest in their quarterly meetings to provide Platform for shared experiences.
Besides taking a swoop on the illegal wildlife traders in Nigeria, the no nonsense Garba, had given the Fraudulent importers with their agents at the Lagos ports sleepless night as those who had contravened the government Fiscal Policy, by making False Declarations, under-payment, involved in Concealment and wrong Classification of their goods have had their Containers transferred to the Command premises for re-examination and Demand Notice, DN, and penalty raised for the guilty importers. This is evident with the interception of 14 Containers at a go released at the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tin-can Island , Port Multi-services Terminal Limited, PTML, and the Bonded terminals, that are scattered all over Lagos. Some of the intercepted Containers that were intercepted by the Command Operations and Lagos Roving at the instance of the then Customs Comptroller, were carrying made in Nigeria Cables but actually imported from China, and declared as electric distribution board and ballast.
The seizures of the 14, Containers, had sent a message to the importers with their agents that they have to amend their ways or be ready to pay outrageous DN, into government offers or lose their goods to government.Even the vehicle dealers, who took advantage of the too many illegal routes between Nigeria and Benin Republic, in Ogun and Oyo states, to stock their Sales outlets in different parts of Lagos, with smuggled vehicles, claiming to have been imported were not spared.
A whole car sales outlet at Lekki, a high brown area in Lagos , where the multi-million dollar, deep sea project was sited were said to have been evacuated and transferred to the Command premises to show how how tough he was on the smugglers and the car dealers who shortchange the government. Indeed, the Customs Training College, Ikeja, field, was used to keep the vehicles forcing the owners to come forward, and make the appropriate duty payment with the approval of the Customs Management.
Ali, the Customs boss, who was so impressed with the vehicles being impounded by the FOU, Zone A, under the close watch of the then Comptroller Garba, had visited the Command to see the brand new vehicles that were impounded by the FOU, Zone A. His joy knew no bound as he jumped the gutter to find his way to the open field to see the exotic vehicles.
Notwithstanding the impressive performance of Garba, the then Customs Comptroller at FOU, Zone A, interventionist Unit, he was redeployed to Seme Command where he had forced the vehicle, Foreign rice and Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, popular, petrol, smugglers, to run underground. The best in him as an anti-smuggling expert, may have come out at the Seme Land border because of President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired army General, economic policy, banning the importation of vehicles and Foreign rice, into the country through the land border on January 1st, 2017.
He did not stop there. He had made petrol stations dealers, around the Seme Jurisdictions, identified as being involved in bunkering activities, to weep by sealing their stations. He had had intensified the anti-smuggling operations at the Seme Jurisdictions by going into the Creeks, around the Owode and Badagry axis to have a look at what is happening in the areas and restrategise on how to deal with the petrol smugglers. He got it right. It was not surprising why many of the Petrol smugglers ran underground throughout his stay at the Seme Command.
Insiders told The Value News that Comptroller Garba, until he was appointment an Acting ACG, and subsequent confirmation in October, 2021 he, has proved himself as an Administrator and anti-smuggling Czar, at the Border Drills, sector 3, Illorin, Kwara state, Coordinator,by working on the mandate of the Customs Comptroller General to to oversee the entire north central states of Kwara, Kogi, Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa, and Niger, Former military President, retired, General Ibrahim, Babangida , home state, anti-smuggling operations.
Aware that smuggling has become a huge industry accepting all comers , attracting the greedy and the youths who do see it as a crime, the then Comptroller Garba,had gone all out with his officers, comprising of Customs and other security agencies personnel to fish them out from their hideouts in the bushes and Creeks. The worst hit were the smugglers in the Border Communities of Bokoru, Alapa, Okuta, Illesha Baruba and Chikanda in Baruten Local government Area of Kwara state including those operating in Babanna axis in Niger state.
An eyewitness account disclosed that throughout his stay at the Border Drills sector 3, inIlorin, Capital of Kwara state, he had masterminded the arrest of smugglers involved in the illicit trade of Foreign par boiled rice, , vehicles, textile materials, motorcycles, and other Contraband, including those working for their sponsors in smuggling of petroleum prom products through the Creeks into Benin Republic. Between January and September 2020, the Border Drills sector 3, had arrested 13 Nigerian suspects in different parts of Kwara and Niger states during their operation. The sector was said to have also arrested 15 Benin Nationals who were granted Administrative bails and repatriated to their country. TThere is no gainsaying the fact that the superlative performance of the Customs Comptroller, in all the Commands he had served between 2015 and 2020, may have necessitated his recommendations by Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, for Appointment as an Assistant Comptroller General.
A senior Customs officer who spoke to The VMagazine on Condition of anonymity at FOU, Zone B, Kaduna, described him as ‘’an asset to the officers’’, which have helped the various Interventionist Units in the north west geo-political region in containing the activities of the smugglers who are no longer finding it funny in smuggling foreign rice, vehicles, from Niger into the Nigerian market or smuggling Petrol from Nigeria into the Nigerien market.
Vintage ACG Garba.