By Stephen Ubanna
Hammed Ali, a retired army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, appears have prepared the ground to drive out the smugglers sabotaging the nation’s economy out of business. With the t distribution of the 46 units of Hilux vans procured for both operational and Administrative purposes, from Eizade Nigeria Limited at the cost of N1.5 billion, the heat has turned against the dare- devil smugglers, that they have been forced to cry out for help .
Note that with the increased smuggling activities across the country, Ali, the Customs Comptroller General had distributed the 46 procured vehicles, to the Commands, based on need and level of anti-smuggling activities. The Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, which has Hussain Kehinde Ejibunu, a Deputy Comptroller , as the Area Controller may have been allocated 16 units of the 46 while Ogun Command under the close watch of Comptroller Dera Nnadi, and Oyo/Osun Commands got 10 vehicles each.
Many see the distribution pattern of the operational vehicles as fair enough as the FOU, Zone, A, which had the lion share , have the entire south west geo-political region with hundreds of illegal routes used by the smugglers to carry out their nefarious as area to cover.
Take for instance in Ogun state alone, there are over 140 illegal routes used by the smugglers between Republic of Benin and Nigeria, to carry out their nefarious activities. Oba Kehinde Adewole, the Olu of Ilaro, a border town between Nigeria and Benin, may have painted a gory image of the situation in Ilaro, when he declared that ‘’there is no established border between Benin and Nigeria , in the area, to the hearing of Deputy Comptroller Ejuibunu last October.
The message was very clear that smuggling activities cannot be controlled at the Ilaro axis. The south west Traditional Ruler had said that if Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, expects ‘’to get a 100% Compliance by the people to the government’s Fiscal policies in the Area, he will be disappointed’’, blaming it on the Customs Authorities who had made the officers to be ‘’working under strenuous conditions’’, where they could easily be Compromised.
The good news was that all the interventionist units are making good use of the operational vehicles that had been distributed by the Customs Headquarters ‘’to clip the wings of the smugglers who had repeatedly abused the Federal government Fiscal policies with their Benin Collaborators as they have become the loser with the Customs operatives dispossessing them of their Contraband virtually on a daily basis.
From Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, to Owerri , Kwarra and Katsina, the story is the same: smugglers losing millions naira worth of goods including vehicles to the government. President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired army General, had banned the importation of Foreign rice and vehicles through the Land borders, across the country, on January 1, 2017. This may have emboldened the interventionist Units Area Controllers and their officers at the Land borders and the seaports to be on the red to ensure that Foreign rice and other prohibited item did not enter the country.
In spite of the fact that the CGC Strike Force Team A, vehicles, may not be as bad as FOU, Zone A, because of the regular maintenance which had put them at the level where it could not easily broke down during operations, let alone give room to the smugglers to attack, Kill and go, Shuaibu, and his officers, may have seen the allocation of the three new Operational Hilux vans to the Team as a major boost to its operations.
The Headquarters Strike Force Team A, Coordinator, was said to have used the three Operational vehicles allocated to the Team to assist in its anti-smuggling Operations effectively to make an appreciable n impact in the south west states. The Border Drill, Lagos,Zonal office, was said to have received only one operational vehicle , out of the 46, that was procured by the Customs Authorities.
. Not much is known about the activities of the ad-hoc Team, across the country, as Maritime analysts believe they exit more on the pages of Newspaper that than with other interventionist Units to make Contraband seizures as many of the smugglers have gone underground.
This is evident with the interception and seizure of 61 ‘’20’’ Containers load of teak wood for export to the Asian country of China worth about N7 billion and 36 ‘’20’’ Containers load of Teakwood derivatives, Charcoal, for export to the Middle East, valued at about N382 million including a ‘’40’’ Container load of Hides and skin, from slaughtered donkeys, described as endangered from the Far north with an estimated value of N61.2 million meant for export to China.
Deputy Comptroller Ejibunu, overseeing FOU, Zone A, may have known that the new operational vehicles, allocated to the Command will boost its operations that he had distribute it to the Command Patrol Teams, to ensure that no Team would have d any reason to Complain why it could not deliver on its target. Informed sources told The Value that almost all the Teams got of the new Hilux van vehicle,
The distribution of the vehicles to the various Patrol Teams of the Command may have forced them to Compete among themselves. This is evident with the seizure that had been made by the Patrol Teams in two weeks of operations. The Command was said to have made Contraband seizures worth N2.8 billion, ranging from` foreign par boiled rice, India Hemp, Teak wood, Charcoal, Several Jerry cans of Petrol, and vehicles.
Even Ali Ibrahim, the Area Controller, FOU, Zone C, Owerri, Imo state, south east Nigeria, was said to have come up hard on the deadly smugglers, puncturing all their known tactics to ensure that those who escape with their smuggled goods or vehicles from the Lagos ports or the border Communities between Nigeria and Benin into the south east, may not be Lucky.
He has demonstrated this with the seizure of an armoured Lexus Jeep without an End User Certificate from the office of Babagana Munguno, a retired army Major General and National Security Adviser, NSA, worth about N12 million, p, it is instructive to note that the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tincan Island and Port Multi-services Terminal Limited, PTML,handles 75 % of Nigerian imported goods that are pushed into the market, legally and illegally.
The situation may have been made worse by the neighbouring Autonomous port of Benin, Cotonou and Bollore port,used by the transit cargo importers who had relocated from the Lagos port and the south east ports to the French –speaking country to take delivery of cargoes, which are mostly Foreign par boiled rice, and vehicles,that are smuggled into the Nigerian market through the Creeks and watersides, that are scattered all over the country.
. PortHarcourt Area II, Command, under the close watch of Comptroller Auwal Mohammed, controlling Onne port, whch was allocated one of such operational and Administrative vehicles is actually making good use of it as it is make more Contraband seizures and revenue for the government.
The Seme Command, Area Controller, Comptroller Bello Mohammed, may have taken advantage of the four operational vehicles, allocated to the Command to tighten up security at the Land border and its environs. With only only one International route, with many Customs and other security agencies Checkpoints on the road, and several Creeks and beeches that dotted the Seme and Badagry axis, may have informed why it has become a source of attraction for the Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, popular, Petrol and foreign rice smugglers.
In the recent time, the Command Patrol Teams had come up hard to deal decisively with the smugglers operating in the Creeks and watersides. The seizure of 1,050, Jerry cans of’’ 25 Litres each’’ of PMS, equivalent of 31,500 litres of Petrol or a tanker load of Petrol,worth about N5.4 million and Which Hussaini Abdullahi, a Deputy Superintendent , had said was discovered and intercepted in Sacks along the Creeks and beaches, within the Seme an Badagry axis, bear eloquent testimony to the fact that Ali, has got an answer to smuggling activities in the country.
There is no gain saying the fact that almost all the Area Controllers of the various Customs Interventionist Units had described ‘’the tremendous support of the Customs Comptroller General with the distribution of the New Operational Hilux Vans to their various Commands as very encouraging. They have confirmed based on their daily and weekly reports to the Comptroller General,’s office and the Deputy Comptroller General, DCG, Enforcement, Investigations and Inspection’s office, ’s office, that’’ it has started yielding positive results as they are making good Contraband seizures’’ which is very revealing.
In a related development, the Customs Comptroller General,, may have won a major Legal victory for the service in the recent time. Ali, the Customs boss , had succeeded in jailing Mahmud Hassan, a retired Customs Officer, Oskar Okafor, Donatus Achinulo,. Hassan, the retired Customs officer, registered Company, with the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, Hassan Trades Limited was said to have been used to import the illegal arms through the Appa port.
F Indeed, for the past nine years, Comptroller Adamu .D, who incidentally was the Head of the FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos, Roving, who had who had deployed the Team to Mile axis, in Lagos, the nation’s Commercial nerve center, that made the seizure of 661 Pump Action Rifles, released from the Apapa seaport , have been shuttling between the Court with the Customs Legal Team to prosecute the suspects.
Given that nothing had been heard about the case since it became a Court issue as neither past Comptrollers nor the present Comptroller of the FOU, Zone A, or the Customs Authorities were ready to speak on the matter as they maintained closed lips may have given people the impression that the parties have settled out of Court.
Unknown to many, the Customs Authorities, through the FOU, Zone A, Legal Team officials and the Legal Team, were still on the case. Hassan, and the two other suspects, were convicted by Justice Ayokunle Faji, of a Federal High Court in Lagos recently as they were found guilty of the allegations levelled against them. The Customs Legal were said to have provided overwhelming evidence to prove that that the suspects were involved in ‘’unlawful importation of 661 Pump Action Rifles, firearms, into the country. Not only that they were said to have forged, uttered documents and involved in bribery’’ to get the Consignment of the port.
They were said to have ‘’forged the bill of lading, allegedly issued in Istabul, capital of Turkey, , on January 2017, falsely claiming that was issued in Shanghai, China. They were said to have offered a bribe of N400,000.00 to an official of the Customs attached to the FOU, Zone A, at the port , ‘’to prevent a 100% Examination of the Container , No. PONU 825914/3, loaded with the firearms at the Apapa port’’. The Container was said to have been loaded with 49 boxes of 661 Pump Action Rifles.
Hassan, whose Company was said to have been used to place order for the Consignment was said to have induced the government officials at the port with N1million to prevent the search of the ‘’20’’ Container, by Customs officials on the road.They were said to have used their contacts in getting the ‘’20’’ Container, loaded with the Rfles out of the port but it was intercepted the FOU, Zone A, Patrol Team, along the Mile-Apapa Road,which had marked the beging of the trio’s problem and road to Jail.
The bad news for the trio, was the forfeiture of their properties to the government while Hassan Trading Company Limited, used as a vehicle to smuggle, was ordered to be windup and its assets forfeited to Federal government by the trial Judge. The fourth suspect, Abdullahi Danjuma, was said to have set free by the Court, of the all the charges leveled against him.
Given the direction of the case, Abubakar Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Attorney General of the Federation and minister of Justice, in the third count of the charges leveled against the trios, had accused them of ‘’illegally importing several double-barreled shotguns into the country through the Lagos ports, without Lawful Authority between 2012 and 2016’’.
The imprisonment of the trio, may have sent a signal to other supects standing trial over the importation of Pump Actions Rifles from Turkey into Nigeria in 2017, through the Tin can Island port, which has Abdullahi Musa as the Area Comptroller. The Command had seized three, ‘’20’’ Containers , concealed with Pump Action Rifles, manufactured from the North American country of the United States, US, but shipped to Nigeria, through Istabul port, Turkey. The first ‘’20’’ Container had Contained 1,100 pieces of Pump Acton Rifles, while second ‘’20’’ Container seizure , which was discovered through100% had contained 475 pieces of the Pump Action Rifles.