By Stephen Ubanna
Between December, 2021, and now, many had expected Kehinde Hussain Ejibunu, a Deputy Comptroller, overseeing the Affairs of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos and his anti-smuggling officers to be more aggressive in their operations. They had expected him to take advantage of the withdrawal of the 22 Enforcement Officers from the Headquarters Enforcement, Investigation and Inspection, E,I&I, Department, officers to rejig the Command Operations and Lagos Roving Team as well as injection of some new faces to Head the Command various Patrol Teams in different parts of the south west geopolitical region .
. Informed sources told The Value News that the Customs acting Comptroller who was received with open arms when he resumed at the Interventionist unit last September by the Units head and the Patrol Team Leaders, in what they had described as’’ a home coming’’ had pledged their loyalty and promised to sustain the tempo of theanti-smuggling operations that had been set by Usman Yahaya, a Deputy Comptroller, and his predecessor, who was said to have been decorated with the Comptroller’s rank on retirement.
The FOU, Zone A, customs boss may have have taken advantage of his first three months in office to study the Headquarters enforcement Officers, believed to have been involved in making spectacular Contraband seizures in the Command, from the Lagos ports oof Apapa, Tincan Island, Port Multi-services Terminal Limited, PTML and Kirikiri Lighter Terminal, KLT, Phases I &II, as well as making seizures at the bonded terminals in the nation’s Commercial nerve centre and land the land border arrears in the region.
This is evident with the Command interception and seizure of 7,059 bags of ‘’50’’, bags of foreign parboiled rice, equivalent of 14 trucks load and other Contrand goods, such as arms, Pharmaceutical products at the south west regions porous land border routes in Ogun, Oyo and other states in the region.
Recall that barely one month in office, the Customs Headquarters Enforcement officers and Patrol Team Leaders within the Oyo axis had intercepted 856 Jerrycans of 25 litres each of Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, popular, Petrol, worth over N723 million Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, popular, Petrol, and other items The Jerry cans of ‘’25’ litres each, of PMS, were said to have been intercepted at Igbo-Ora axis of the state with the close monitoring of the Customs Area Comptroller.
Prior to the seizure of the hundreds of Jerrycans of ‘’25 litres each of Petrol, the patrol Teams were said to have made 29 seizures of of 8,000, 50 Kg, of Contrand foreign rice, 419 jerry cans of 25 litres each of vegetable oil, 621 cartons of expired medicament and 635 cartons of wine among others. The Customs Area Comptroller, who had become covinced that that he has raised a formidable new Enforcement officers who could effectively confront the dare-devil smugglers in the south west region without blinking may have requested Hameed Ali, a retire Army Colonel, and the Customs Comptroller General to with the Headquarters officers on loan to the Command.
the Customs Area Comptroller did not hesitate in directing Elton Edorhe, the service Deputy Customs General, overseeing the E.I&I, to go ahead and withdraw the 22 Headquarters Officers on loan to the FOU, Zone A, , towards the tail end of 2021.
The magazine learnt that when information filtered out that the 22 officers from the Custom Headquarters E,I&I,have been withdrawn from the FOU, Zone A, there were celebrations in the smugglers camps in Ogun and Oyo states, that ‘’the bad boys’’ frustrating their nefarious business’’ have finally been sent packing. The smugglers and their security Operatives Collaborators may have seen it as an opportunity to intensify their smuggling operations by flooding the Nigerian market with foreign rice, and other Contraband products.
Indeed,what may be happening at the land border Communities, particular, Ajilete, Ilaro, Owode, Imeko , Yewa axis and the waterside communities, in Ogun state and Igbo-Ora, Community and its environs in Oyo state , where the smugglers appear to be having a field day, confirms what Kehinde Adewole, the Olu of Ilaro, had said that ‘’there is no end to smuggling in the border Communities between Nigeria and Republic of Benin’’.
The Ilaro Monarch may have made Ejibunu, who had paid him a familirisation visit last September to understand that it would be very difficult to contain the of the activities smugglers because of the too many illegal border routes between Nigeria and Benin, in the state’’. He noted that past Area Comptrollers of the Command and their Counterparts in the Ogun I, did everything within their powers to prevent the smugglers from carrying out their nefarious activities but that was how far they could go as the service had continued to be at the losing end.
The Oba’s message was very clear to, Ejibunu , that ‘’ he should not expect a 100 % compliance by residents of the land border Communities in the state to stop smuggling as most of them have ‘’penetrated the ranks of’’ the officers stationed in the area and who are not happy over their strenuous conditions’’, meaning that they may have been Compromised. Unknown to the south west region’s smugglers,celebrating for the withdrawal of the Headquarters officers from the Command, he has his joker and plan B.
Many believe that he had wanted the smugglers to see the appointment of Superintendent Edet as a replacement for the bulky Jack Okpabi, a Assistant Comptroller and former Head of the Command Operations and Lagos Roving ahead of his superious as the joker. He was said to have impressed it on the Abuja Enforcement officers who had been withdrawn that anyone still interested to coming back to the Command would be accepted by him. Assistant Comptroller Jack may have started a new life at the Headquarters E,I&I, as he was said to have been assigned a special Task Force, where he was said to have made a spectacular seizure around Kwara state.
Barely two weeeks after the Christmas Holiday, acting Comptroller Ejibunu, who had studied the officers and known their strenth and weakness may have removed Superintendent Edet, and replaced him with Mohammed Abdullahi, an Assistant Comptroller, described in Customs circles as a’’ smooth operator and a more experienced in matters of anti-smuggling operations. recall that prior to the withdrawal of Assistant Comptroller Jack back to the the Customs Headquarters, E,I&I, there was rumour making the rounds that Assistant Comptroller, his second-in-Command, may be the possible replacement.
There have been ccelebrations in Customs circles and worries in smugglers’ circles over the introduction of the Customs no-nonsense Asssitant Comptroller and experienced Enforcement officer who had been involved in making specular seizures in the FOU, Zone A, in the past, including arms, that were released from the Lagos ports of Apapa, to head the Command Opeations and Lagos Roving.
Although, he will effectively resume in his new office on Tuesday, January 18, 2022, insiders told the Magazine that between Monday , January 10, 2022, and Thursday , he and his Team members, have gone back to the drawing to perfect their anti-smuggling strategy to restore the Interventionist to its its original position where it was feared in the south west.
He was said to have led a Team , that had made over 3,000 bags of ”50Kg, each, of foreign rice for the Command .He was said to have targeted some medicaments of Tramadol in an undisclosed warehouse in Lagos, which Valuation experts had put at over N3 billion. Many beleive that if he and his Team succeeds in intercepting the Contraband and transfering it to the Command, it would raise the profile of the Customs Comptroller to a very high level as a man of action who can deliver on his promises.
On Thursday, January 13, 2022, Assistant Comptroller Abdullahi, had mobilised a Team at the instance of the Acting Comptroller Ejibunu, who had dressed in his Combative uniform, who was said to dressed in his Combat uniform and accompanied the team to the notorious Ilaro area, where an Officer was said to have been shot by the smugglers. The Operation was said to have taken the team to Imeko, an indications that” it is no longer going to be business as usual for the smugglers”.
Aware of the 2023 general elections that is just around the corner ,when cross-border traders would want to increase the importation of illicit transit products, particular, foreign parboiled rice , textiles and other prohibited items through the Autonomous port of Benin, Cotonou and Bollore port in the French speaking country and other ports in the west African sub-regions and smuggle it into the Nigerian market through the illegal routes.
Given that that the Command may not have made much Contraband seizures i the month of December, to showcase to the public, and to tidy up its records, may have encouraged the Customs Comptroller to add up all the seizures of the Command, from that of Comptroller Yahaya, his predecessor and the seizures made under him in 2021, thus bringing the total seizure of the Command to 135 trucks load of foreign rice, valued at about N7.86 billion.
With the renewed anti-smuggling strategies that had be put in place by the FOU, Zone A, acting Customs Comptroller he was said to have discovered a location at Agege local government Area of Lagos state where smuggled bags of foreign of 50Kg each are assembled. The owner of the warehouse used by the smugglers to deposit the product are said to be in the Babajide Sanwo-Olu government . The CFOU, Zone A, Customs boss, had said that ‘’the various beaches in Lagos, are now ”haven for smugglers in the Lagos Area which is a big assignment for Assistant Comptroller Abdullahi, the Command new , Head of Operations and Lagos Roving to tackle headlong.
. He may have sent signals to the Lagos die-hard smugglers using the Lagos beaches for their nefarious activities and the traders who patronise them that the game is up. Already the FOU, Zone A, Customs Comptroller, has beamed his searchlight on Olososu beach, described as very notorious, for a start, to stem the smuggling activities in Lagos.
Note that the loss of Ejibunu, the FOU, Zone A, Area Comptroller, over the last four months may have been the gains of Comptroller Ali Ibrahim , led FOU, Zone C, whose Patrol Team, officers , have tightened up security at the border Communities between Edo and the south west state of Ondo, including monitoring what his happening at the Creeks and the watersides in the state
. The FOU, Zone C, Patrol Team officers, in Benin axis of the Edo state, according to Insiders are said to bemaking spectacular, Contraband seizures, particular, foreign rice and Poultry products that may have escaped Ejibunu’s men, Border Drills and the Headquarters Strike Force personnel, around the Land border areas , in the south west geo-political region heading to the s south east.
The large quantities of Contraband products, seizures particular, foreign rice deposited in the Government warehouse in Benin, the state Capital speaks volume.The Nigerian President had banned ‘’the importation of foreign rice and vehicles through the Land borders across the country on January 1, 2017, which gives the Customs Enforcement officers, across the country to seize such cargoes. Even at the seaports, foreign rice are not supposed to pass through it because it is Contraband. It was not surprising why the Customs Enforcement Officers at the Apapa Command under the Close watch of Comptroller Yusuf Malanta and Comptroller Awwal Mohammed controller Port Harcourt Area II, Command, Onne, had at different times seized Containers loaded with foreign concealed with dutiable items.