By SStephen Ubanna
Not many people were surprised that barely one week after Jack Okpabi, an Assistant Comptroller of Customs who succeeded Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs, CSC, to Head the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos Roving Team, could make a spectacular seizure of thirty three vehicles and three trucks in a single operations in Oyo state, south west Nigeria.
Investigations by the Value News shows that he was able to make the seizure in his capacity as the head of a Special Patrol Team established by Usman yahaya, a Deputy Comptroller and the Command acting Comptroller .
Prior to undertaking the Special assignment for the acting Comptroller in Ogun and Oyo, described as home state of Foreign parboiled and vehicle smugglers, he was the Officer in-charge of the busy Gbaji check point situated on the road to Seme, a border community between Nigeria and the West African country of Republic of Benin.
The FOU, Zone A, acting Comptroller, may have decided to give him additional responsibility out side his traditional base of Gbaji checkpoint to keep him busy. He believes that there is no much job for him at the Gbaji check point because of the border closure besides running after Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, popular .petrol smugglers at the Badagry Creeks and Owode, a border town between Nigeria and Benin.
He believes that by giving him such additional responsibility to head a Roving Team in south west states of Ogun and Oyo, he would be able to control the activities of the smugglers, who are mostly security agencies personnel.
This may have informed why, Officers said he turned his back on the Command known Operations and Lagos Roving Team, as he was said to have denied the Team of Funds to engage the services of informant to assist them in their job with information gathering on the smugglers and Fraudulent agents at the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tin-can Island, port Multi-service Terminal Limited,PTML, Kirikiri Lighter Terminal , Phases I and II, KLT including the bonded terminals.
With all the necessary support given to the Jack led Special Patrol Team in order to deliver on their mandate, Jack and his men were said to have moved into action.
The Team members were said to have been moving from Ogun to Oyo,and back, depending on the state whee they have information that smugglers have made their major route of smuggling vehicles, Foreign par boiled rice and other Contraband into the country.
The intervention of the FOU Zone A, Special Team , in the two states, according to insider sources was supposed to be a closely guided secret, but its presence in the two south west states had filtered out, even before they settled down for operation, thus forcing the smugglers to change their tactics of operation.
According to the source the news about the presence of the FOU Special Patrol Team in Oyo state, particular, may have filtered out to the smugglers by the security agencies personnel turned smugglers and informant including the moles at the Oyo/Osun Customs Command.
This may have informed why despite all the known strategies adopted by the Team to deal decisively with the smugglers both by training and action, they never made any vehicle or Contraband seizures. But Jack and his team members , a the source disclosed did not lose hope of bringing the vehicle and Contraband smugglers , who are mostly security agencies personnel on their knees.
Unknwn to many , Jack , with the support of Yahaya, the Command acting Comptroller had engaged the services of local informant who were said to have made their job simple.
Between June and early August, Jack and the Team members were said to have been working on a lead that could result in making a spectacular seizure, that would shooke the Command . ‘’We are working out on something ‘’, a member of the Team, accosted by The Value News at Ibadam, said. For security reasons, the Magazine did not to push too further to avoid letting the cat of the bag.
Getting close to making the spectacular seizure that would send a signal to the smugglers operating at the Shaki and Iseyin axis of Oyo state and their security agencies personnel Collaborators that the game is up, the informant were said to have identified Ido, Eruwa road in Ibadan, the state Capital, as a possible location to track down the smugglers with ease. The Customs Assistant Comptroller and his Tea Team members were said tohave heaaved a sigh or relief that the battle is over.
Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari, had banned the importation of Vehicles and Foreign par boiled rice through the land Borders across the country with the neighbouring countries of Benin, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon on January 1, 2017 in order to increase patronage of Nigerian ports and protect the local rice farmers and make the country self sufficient in food production.
The ban may have forced the Cross –border importers and traders to go back to the drawing board to devise new tactics of taking their imported vehicles and Merchandise goods into the country without losing it to Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General of Customs’ men on the road in the south east, south west, north west and north east or to the officers at the approved government checkpoints scattered all over the border states.
The Oyo state based smugglers after weeks of operating underground may have resumed their smuggling activities in a full scale when information filtered out that Jack, the Leader of the FOU, Special Patrol Team troubling them had been withdrawn to the office by Yahaya, the Command acting Comptroller. They may not have read the handwriting on the wall that it was a tactical withdrawal as the operational officers were still on ground at Ibadam, the Oyo state Capital.
They were said to be working closely with the local informant in the state. Jack , the leader of the Team , The Magazine was informed limited himself to shuttling between the Commmand, Ikeja office and Ibadan to give instructions
.The FOU, Zone A, Special Patrol Team members may have also changed tactics when information leaked out that the smugglers and their security agencies personnel aiding and abetting them had entered Ido, Eruwa road, in a Convoy of vehicles loaded with Contraband heading to Ibadan.
They were said to have ambushed them at strategic locations on the busy smuggler route based on information pieced together from their informant about the smugglers movement.
The Magazine findings shows that it was when the smugglers had reached a point where they were said to have found it difficult to return back to Benin Republic or change direction on citing the FOU Team, without losing their cargoes that the Jack boys struck.
The smugglers were said to have abandoned their 33 vehicles and three trucks in their Convoy loaded with Contraband and dashed into the bush for fear of been arrested to facce prosecution over alleged economic sabotage that may land them in jail.
Valuation experts put the Duty Paid Value, DPV, of the 33 vehicles and three Trucks and their contents at about N10 billion.
It is instructive to not that one of the trucks had fallen into a ditch that requires repair which temporarily disrupted the Journey to the Command Premises at Ikeja. Two officers armed to the teeth were said to have been put in-charge of the broken down down truck while some other officers went in search of the Mechanic that would fix it.
It was gathered that while the officers left the scene briefly to ease themselves, the smuggler, pretending to be a victim of car snatchers who was said to have been accompanied by some Special Anti Robbery SARS, officers, after allegedly narrating his ordeal in the hand of robbers to the location where they were said to discovered the vehicle on the road where it was parked.
It was said to have been driven to the Oyo state Police Command Headquarters at Ibadam last week Tuesday. The Magazine cited the vehicle at the at Ojo, the Oyo Police Command Premises.
Worried by the action of the Oyo state Police Command, SARS officers, Yahaya , the FOU Zone A, acting Comptroller was said to have detailed the Customs Assistant Comptroller Jack, the officer in-charge of the Command Special Patrol Team that made the seizure to follow up the matter to ensure that vehicle was released and handed over the Command. Between Friday, and Monday, August 17, 2020, Jack was said to have followed up the matter at the Oyo state Police Command insisting that it was a smuggled vehicle and not a stolen vehicle as alleged.
The intervention of Mohammed Adamu, the Inspector General of Police, IGP, may have softened the ground for Chuks Enwonwu, the Oyo state Commissioner of Police to hand over the vehicle to the FOU , Zone A, on Monday, August, 17, 2020, after four days of pressing for the release.
The vehicle handed over to the FOU , Zone A, by the Oyo state Police Command was said to have Completed the number of vehicles and trucks put at 36 that was said to have been intercepted by the FOU, Zone A, Special Patrol Team in a single operation in Oyo state.
An elated Yahaya, had said that the smugglers had ‘’met their waterloo when the operatives of the Unit , ‘’acted based on Credible information which made the seizure possible at Ido, Eruwa road of Ibadan’’.
The Customs acting Comptroller noted that though ‘’there were stiff resistance from the smugglers who engaged the support of the villagers and the Area boys around to block the road in order to frustrate the FOU Team from taking away the vehicles to the Government Warehouse at Ikeja but that was how far they could go.
Eyewitness account disclosed that Jack and his boys had displayed a high level of Professionalism as they exercised restraint to secure the intercepted 33 vehcles and three trucks .
The source disclosed that the Team successfully transferred the intercepted smuggled vehicles and trucks , comprising of both fairly used and new vehicles loaded with second hand clothing, Foreign par boiled rice and parcels of Indian Hemps, grown in the West African country of Ghana to Lagos without any casualty.
With the seizure of the smuggled vehicles and trucks loaded with Contraband from Benin Republic into Nigeria from unapproved routes , the slim but slow talking Customs acting Comptroller, who many believe chooses his words before making any public Statement, has sent a signal to the smugglers and their security agencies personnel Collaborators in Oyo.
‘’ They would continue to count their loses as the Command Patrol Teams who are backed by the relevant Customs Laws , are better mobilised and Organised to do their job. The smugglers loss of he 33 vehicles and three trucks loaded loaded with Contraband valued at about N10 billion has set confussion in the camp of the smugglers and their security agencies collaborators as they weep. This is because they have been following the Ido, Eruwa route over the years to carry out their nefarious activities without losing any vehicle or Consignment to FOU, Zone A or Customs adhoc Patrol Team At present wherever two or three people gather in Ibadam or any part of Oyo state, the seizure of the 33 vehicles and three thrucks from smugglers dominate their talk.
Yahaya, the FOU, Zone A, acting Comptroller had stopped short at saying that the Command Patrol Teams are ahead of them to make nonsense of every of their plans to smuggle vehicles or Contraband into the country through Ogun, Lagos, Oyo, Osun , Ekiti or Ondo states as his men were everywhere.
Appealing to the smugglers to desist from sabotaging the nation’s economy by engaging in economic activities that would not jeorpardise the government’s Fiscal policies of making the country self- sufficient in food production, he opined that ‘’ it is the only way they could escape Customs harassment’’.
Aware of the change of tactics of the die-hard vehicle and Contraband smugglers in the south west, operating between Benin Republic and Nigeria, Kayode Olusemire, Comptroller , FOU, Zone C, Owerri , Imo state, and his Patrol Team officers in the south east were said to have tightened up security in the region.
This, an insider said, made it very difficult for smuggled vehicles or Contraband, from Benin, which had entered the south west geopolitical region from Shaki and Iseyin border routes in Oyo state and the several illegal border routs in Ogun state that had escaped the eagle eye of the FOU, Zone A , Patrol Teams to escape FOU, Zone Patrol Team officers on the road.
The fallout was that the Government WareHouse, at Benin, Cthe Edo state Capital is filled with seized Contraband and fairly used vehicles at every point in time.