By Stephen Ubanna
When Comptroller Bello Mohammed Jibo, was redeployed from Bauchi/Gombe Command to Seme Command last July, nobody gave him opportunity of succeeding in his anti-smuggling war in an area that has many Creeks and watersides scattered all over Badagry West and East Local government Development Councils, LGDC.
This is in addition to the unidentifiable illegal routes that dotted the old Badagry Local government, forcing the Patrol Teams Leaderrs and their members to wait for the smugglers along the Lagos-Seme Express Way and the road leading to Owode Border Community.
Many had believed that as a revenue expert , he may be overwhelmed by the activities of the cross-border smugglers of vehicle and foreign rice smugglers operating between the neighbouring West African country of Benin Republic and Nigeria, the oil giant in the sub-region.
Unknown to the skeptics, he has acquired the basic rudimentary knowledge on how to cut the wings of the smugglers at Bauchi and Gombe, with the support of Ali, the Customs Service, NCS which had made it possible for him to prove his critics, that he is an all rounder as a senior Customs Officer.
. It was therefore not very surprising that eve since he resumed at the Seme Land border, described as the busiest border in the African Continent, last July, he knew that to succeed in his anti-smuggling war, he needed the support of the host Communities, Traditional rulers and Bales , as well as having a good working relationship with the other security agencies personnel at the land border.
The smugglers may have made their first attempt to penetrate him but found him a hard nut to crack that they were forced to withdraw to avoid playing into his hand. They may have known that the game is up and that it is no longer going to be business as usual as they were forced to go back to the drawing board to find out ways of beating the Command Patrol Team members to it.
Indeed, those who are familiar with the change of tactics of the anti-smuggling Operations at the Seme Land border over the last nine months could attest to the fact that whatever step that had been taken by the Smugglers to beak into the impregnable wall of the Jibo’s reconstituted Patrol Teams would be shocked that the Teams are always ahead of them and have turned out to ecome firebrands by taking the anti-smuggling war to the smugglers’ camp.
An informed source told The Value News that the Seme Customs Comptroller and his Management Team members, who were said to have developed a zero tolerance for vehicle and Foreign par boiled, being smuggled into the country through the Land border as a result of the government policy which had banned its importation into the country is giving the smugglers a run for their money.
T A senior Customs officer who spoke to The Magazine disclosed that he best in Comptroller Jibo and his Enforcement officers, particular, Adahunse Rashid, a Deputy Comptroller overseeing the Command Enforcement Unit, had emerged with the reopening of the Land border alongside other border routes with the neighbouring countries of Benin, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon, last December after about 18 months closure.
The Seme Customs boss may have hit the nail on the head when he said that ‘’the smugglers had remain in the illegal business ‘’out of greed, unpatriotic and ignorance. But Maritime analysts had said is that the issue of Ignorance, is not an excuse, to be a smuggler, because Joseph has Attah , a Deputy Comptroller, and Customs National Public Relations Officer has continued to sensitise the public on the approved cargoes that are allowed into the country and the items that are prohibited through the service various platforms This may have informed why there is jubilation in policy maker circles anytime the economic saboteurs lose their smuggled cargoes to Customs Operatives on anti-smuggling operations in different parts of the country.
Jibo, the Seme Customs boss, may have proved that there is nothing extra-ordinary about the smugglers in the last three months with the support of the host Communities Youths, Traditional rulers and Bales. As a prelude of having a good working relationship with the host Communities the Command had ‘’constructed a modern Convenience at the International park, J4’’, in Badagry West, Local government Development Area Council, to assist local and International travelers.
The facility Which consists of four toilets and bathrooms, for both males and females, was said to have been handed over to Houtonu Bamgbose, Chairman of the Badagry, West Local government Development Council on Wdnesday, March 31, 2021, amidst applaud from the Youths who had promised to be Law abiding.
The The Seme Customs boss may also have been encouraged to incorporate Badagry United, a Football Club, with the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC .The Football Club is expected to serve the interest of the Youths. The Certificate of incorporation of the Football Club with the CAC, was said to have been kept in the Custody of the Ankran of Badagry, De Wheno Aholu Menu Toyi 1, for his Royal blessing. The Seme Command gesture may have won the heart of the Youths who in the past had aided and abetted smuggling activities within Seme Juridiction, thus posing a threat to Customs Command anti-smuggling Operations in the area.
The Seme Area Comptroller’s promise ‘’to support Compliant traders’’, may have formed why the Communities had thrown their weight on thee Patrol Teams. This is evident going by the number of Interceptions and seizures of Contraband that were made by the Command in the last three months. The Command was said to have made 705 interceptions and seizure of items, valued at about N851.53million.
Of the intercepted and seized items, 79 Exotic vehicles , were said to be part of it. Recall that the interception and seizure of exotic vehicles along the Seme and Idiroko, border routes was the exclusive preserve of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone, A, over the last five years.
Jibo the Seme Command Comptroller had told Newsmen on Wednesday, March , 31, 2021, that the 79 Exotic vehicles were intercepted at different locations acting on information. Some of the seized vehicles were said to have been abandoned by the smugglers in their hideout but later carted away by the Command Patrol Team personnel without the arrest of any suspect.
The Magazine findings shows that nobody had ever shown up to claim ownership of any of the seized or detained vehicles for fear of being arrested to help in the Customs on-going investigations to unravel those behind the smuggling activities in the area. Most of the seized vehicles had been condemned by a Competent of Law, after the one month of grace given to the importers to provide the relevant Customs documents to take delivery elapsed.
One of the seized vehicles, an automatic Mercedes Benz, 2007 model, white in colour, may have exposed the desperate state of the smugglers and their sponsors. Forged Customs documents were said to have been found in the vehicle . According to the Sme Customs Command, Area Comptroller, the Customs documents found in the vehicle shows that it had arrived the country on March 11, 2021 and subsequently released on March 12, 2021. The vehicle , which has a duty Paid Value, DPV, of about N7.6 million was said to have been abandoned in the bush, as the anti-smuggling war at the Seme Land border gets tougher on a daily basis.
The vehicle importer may have used his contacts on the vehicle Seat at Port Multi-services Terminal Limited, PTML, to obtain the Customs documents to show that it was imported through a Lagos port. This is because it is the only the Terminal in Lagos, that has the capacity to take delivery of a vehicle from its Grimaldi vessel ,today and release it the next day, compared to Five Star Terminal in Tin-can Island port which may take a month or thereabout for the v vehicle to be released. This is because the 10 sssitant Comptrollers , who are the releasing officers at the terminal have the necessary technical skill to do so.
Another vehicle, a Pick-Up, Mercedes ,308, 2000 model, with a DPV. Of about N3.576 million, which was intercepted by a Patrol of the Command may have been suspected by the Patrol Team along the Lagos-Seme Express way, because of the speed at which the driver was running. The Team members were said to turned back and followed the vehicle to where it was said to have been kept.
The smuggler who fears that he may lose the vehicle to Customs was said to have mobilised the Youths in the area to attack the Customs Patrol Team members to frustrate them from taking away the Pick-Up to their Seme premises.
Perhaps given the good working relationship between the Youths and the Seme Customs boss, some of the Youths were said to have fully protected the Customs Patrol Team members and helped to drive away the smugglers from the Badagry Community. The officers may have operated by the Rule of Engagement without firing a shot despite the provocations to avoid casualty that may escalate the crisis in the area.
The no nonsense Seme Customs Comptroller who was said to have given a matching order to the Patrol Team Leaders to intercept and transfer to the Customs premises any suspected vehicle found on the road because the Nigerian government policy on vehicle and foreign par boiled rice January 1, 2017, may have encouraged them to go all out for such vehicles.
.There was a case of five exotic vehicles that were taken to hideout in Badagry but later discovered with the support of the people of the host Community. The five vehicles were said to have been impounded and transferred to the Command premises. The vehicle dealer was said to have reached out to the Customs Area Comptroller to release one of vehicles to him but the request was said to have been turned down. He may have read the handwriting on the wall that any further move, to push for the release of one of the seized five exotic vehicles to him may lead to his arrest and subsequent and detention as he was forced to discontinue making such a demand.
The Kebbi state born Customs Customs Comptroller has made it clear to the transit cargo importers with their agents that anyone who wants to engage in importation of vehicles must patronise the nation’s seaports , pay the appropriate duties as it would be seized at the land border, no matter the tricks that the importer and his agent as well as their hired Crossers may want to apply to get the vehicle smuggled into the country.
The worst hit in the Seme Command anti-smuggling war are the Foreign parboiled rice smugglers. Investigations shows that here was hardly a day without one or two of the Command’s Patrol Teams and the officers at the Gbaji and Agbara, Checkpoints would not be transferring scores of intercepted bags of foreign rice, 50 Kg, each, to the Government Warehouse. The officers who may be acting on the instructions of the Area Comptroller, that they must implement to the later the government fiscal policy on Foreign rice by not allowing the item to enter into the country had followed religiously .
Recall that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former minister of Finance and Coordinator of the Economy during the Administration of the exwhile President Olusegun Obasanjo and now Director General, World Trade Organistion, WTO, had advised the Nigerian President to maintain a ‘’Liberal border’’ to allow an uninterrupted cross border trade to achieve the aims of the Economic Community of West African States, Trade Liberalisation Scheme, ETLS. the retired army General was said to have maintained a closed lips on the issue, as Ali, the Customs Comptroller General and his Intervention Units, including the Seme Command had continued to to do their their job by , even not allowing, even a bag of 50Kg foreign rice to enter into the country.
Though, there are no high flying smugglers within the Seme Jurisdiction that could use trucks or Pick-Ups to conceal rice at the Land border, the one to two bags that are usually Concealed in Passenger buses or private vehicles intercepted during routine inspection of vehicles by the Patrol Team Officers on the road on a daily basis had turned out to become large seizures.
The hundreds of bags of 50Kg each, of Foreign rice seizures seized around the Creeks and the bags of rice abandoned in the bush which were carted away by the anti-smuggling officers had summed up to bring the total number of seized bags of foreign rice , of 50Kg each by the Command to, 5,568, with a DPV. Of about N201.133 million, in three months.
Perhaps, one major Contraband seizure by the Seme Command, during the period under review that had attracted the attention of officials of other sister agencies, particular, the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency , NDLEA,was the 232, well- packaged parcels of cannabis Sativa, popular, Indian Hemp allegedly, grown , in the West African country of Ghana, with a DPV, of about N3million.
Given the good working relationship of the government agencies at the Seme Land border, Comptroller Jibo, was said to have handed over the drugs to Nurudeen Audu, the Commander of the NDLEA, office at the Seme border. The duo were said to have signed a document during its presentation to the agency on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, amidst tight security at the Seme Customs premises.