By Stephen Ubanna
For years, the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone C, Owerri, Imo state had remained a leveler for smugglers who had escaped the eagle eyes of the FOU, Zone A, Headquarters Strike force, Team A and Border drills, Lagos Zonal office and the porous borders, particular, in Ogun Oyo, and Ekiti personnel, in south west to get to the south east and south west geopolitical regions.
Past and present Area Controllers of the FOU, Zone C, have continued to make a mockery of the tactics employed by the diehard smugglers to break the tight security mounted in the two regions to forestall the smugglers from carrying out their nefarious trade.
Many had expected the FOU, Zone C, anti-smuggling officers at the varous locations in Edo, Akwa Ibom and Cross river state to be idle for want of job to do as no one in his imagination would ever think that smuggled Contraband would enter the two regions because of the too many FOU, Zone A and the adhoc Team checkpoints between Lagos – Ondo – Edo states. They got it wrong. Comptroller Ali Ibrahim, a one-time Deputy Comptroller, Enforcement Unit, FOU, Zone A,
may have known that he has a big task at hand and that he cannot afford to disappoint Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, who had deployed to the area in order to use his wealth of experience to ensure that no Contraband enters or leaves the region, to the neighbouring west African country of Benin or the Central African country of Cameroon. He was said to have given a matching order to the officers and men of the Command on assumption of duties last year that they must give room for ompromise but go all out to make Contraband seizures. It was not surprisisng why the anti-smuggling Patrol Team Leaders in various parts of Edo, Delta, Anambra Enugu, Imo, Abia and far away Eboyi,, including Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River, are competing among themselves to make Contraband seizures
Informed sources, told The Value News that the Benin, Capital of Edo state, Government WareHouse, HWH, and Owerri, the Command Operational base are always filled to the brium with seized Contraband goods. It is not surprising why the past and Current Area Comptroller , of the FOUC, zone C, have at different times thrown the Benin and Owerri ,GWH, open to showcase the Contraband items that had been seized from the unrepentant smugglers.
Last Thrsday, March 10, 2022, Comptroller Ibrahim, beaming with smiles, as he was surrounded by some his senior officer s had thrown open the GWH Owerri, to showcase the intercepted unregistered Pharmaceutical products, including Tramadol, mostly used by the Islamic Fundamentalist Group, BokoHaram, the Islamic State of West African Province, ISWAP and the Bandits Group, operating in the north west states of Zmfara, Katsina, President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Army General, home state, Kaduna , Sokoto and the north central state of Niger, fighters. It was said to have render the lives of many young men and women useless in different parts of the country. It was not very surprising why Comptroller Ibrahim, was very happy to showcase the seized Contraband drugs and other items to the public, with a warning to the smugglers operating between the south west and the south east and south geo-political regions that he will continue their illegal business unprofitable by seizing it from them if caught in the act.
Jerry Attah, a Deputy Superintendent of Customs and the Command spokesperson, had said that the Duty Paid Value, DPV, of the seized unregistered Contraband Pharmaceutical products and other items that were seized by his anti-smuggling officers on the road in different parts of the south east and south- south was about N530 million between January 1, 2022 and February 28, 2022.
He may have shocked the Journalists when he revealed that the 640 cartoons of unregistered Pharmaceutical products that were seized by his men along the Okada-Benin axis was worth N192 million, noting that it was convyed in a DAF Heavy Duty Truck and one J5 Transit bus. The seizure of the Contraband pharmaceutical drugs along the Okada and Benin axis, clearly shows that it might have entered the south east from the south west geo-political region . as it may have exited the Lagos seaports of Apapa, Tincan Island, Port Multi-sevices Terminal Limited, or Kirikiri Lighter Terminal Phases I &II or the porous borders of Ogun and Oyo states.
This is where Comptrollers Malanta Yusuf , Area Controller, Apapa Command, overseeing Apa port and Adekunle Oloyede, his Counterpart , at the Tincan Island Command, and their Enforcement officers have to to tighter security at the exit gates and put their eye on what is happening a the bonded Terminals outside the port to enure that the right thing is done.
An elated Comptroller Ibrahim, who is very happy that his men are giving the smugglers a run for their money in their areas of jurisdictions had said tha 1,650 bales of used clothing which value was put at N165 million were intercepted along the Umuikaa/Aba , the Commercial nerve centre of Abia state, road. The question o on the lips of most people was how the 1, 650 bales of second hand clothing found their way to the Umikaa/ Aba roa, without being discovered on the road. There are indications that the large number of bales of second hand might have entered the country through the Bakassi axis but the smuggler was unlucky to fall into the waiting hands of Comptroller Ibrahim’s men on the road who may have have gotten intelligence report about the large quantities of second hand clothing coming into the Aba market and were full prepared for them as they stationed themselves at strategic locations along the route that was expected to be used by the smugglers and their Collaborators. The Command was said too have alo intercepted an additional 181 50Kg each bags of rice valued at N7.2 million.
The FOU, Zone C, Customs Comptroller had said that181 bags of 50Kg each, of foreign parboiled rice were intercepted along the Akwa-Ibom Calabar axis. This is in addition to 2,239 pieces of used pneumatic tyres, worth about N40 million, and 36,000 litres , about three litres , more than a Tanker load of Petroleum Products, that was said to have been concealed in polyethylene bags, valued at N3.6 million.
Comptroller Ibrahim may have repeated what the FOU, Zone A, had been known over the years, with the seizure of exotic vehicles. The Command had seized eight exotic vehicles which may have entered the country through the borders of Ogun and Oyo states from Republic of Benin without the relevant Customs documents.
A list of the exotic vehicles that was said to have been intercepted by the FOU, Zone C, anti-smuggling officers on the road includes three Toyata Hilux of 2017, 2020 and 2021 , models, one Land Cruser High- Lander ,2014 model and one Toyota Venza, 2016 , model. The seizure of the eight exotic vehicles, may have encouraged the anti-smuggling officers, to search thoroughly suspected expensive vehicles plying the Lagos-Benin road and other major roads in the south east. This may have forced most of the vehicle smugglers to go under ground since the beginning of March , 2022, to avoid losing more exotic vehicles to Comptroller Ibrahim’s men who have refused to be Compromised on road.
Appealing to the smugglers, who have been labelled in Customs circles as ‘’economic saboteurs to turn a leaf from their illegal business’’, a tough talking Comptroller Ibrahim had made it clear to them that that they are ‘’more resolute to ensure untiring implementation of government’s fiscal policy’’. He had called on the Traditional and Religious Leaders including other well-meaning Nigerians to advice the Youths and those sponsoring them in the illegal business to desist from it. He was said to have pleaded with them to stop attacking Customs personnel doing their legitimate duty in ‘’the interest of peace and process’’. The message was very clear: That any further attack on Customs personnel will be met equal resistance as trained Professionals to defend themselves. This is bad news to the smugglers as there will more casualties on their side if they fail change.