By Stephen Ubanna
While Mohammed Bello Jibo, and his Operation officers have continued to surprise Nigerians with the seizure hundreds of Premium Motor Spirit, popular, Petrol, in the watersides, Creeks and Beaches, around the Seme Jurisdictions and Badagry axis, the Command appears to have made the biggest drug seizures. The Pharmaceutical drugs, christened Gabadol, which was suspected to be Tramadol was discovered in a ‘’40’’ Container handed over to the Seme Customs Command last November but kept closely guided secret.
In making the drugs seizure the Seme Customs Comptroller and his officials, had kept a close tab, on the transit cargo imports meant for the Nigerian market through the Autonomous Port of Benin, Cotonou, and Bollore port, to ensure that the Benin Customs Administration follow strictly the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Protocol on transit cargoes without destroying the Seal to tamper with the goods loaded in the Container.
Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, at the instance of President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Army General, had engaged the neighbouring Customs Administrations of the neighbouring West African countries of Benin, Ghana, Togo and Coted’Ivoire, on the need to comply with ECOWAS Protocol on transit cargo.
Ali, the Customs Comptroller General had made it clear to his Counterparts in these other West African countries Customs Administrations who have continuously flouted the ECOWAS transits cargo Protocols, that it will no longer be business as usual with the reopening of the Land borders across the country after 18 months with Benin, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon.
The ECOWAS Protocol demands that when a transit Container load of cargoes berths at a seaport, the receiving West African country was mandated ‘’ to escort the Container without breaking the Seal to the joint border with the destination country’’. It is instructive to note that the receiving countries of the transit Containers of load of goods have not been following the rules over the years.
The receiving West African Countries of the transit cargoes had often broken the Seal of the Container on transit to Nigeria in their ports, trans-load the goods on open trucks that belong to their country and escorted it to the border with Nigeria, which in turn trans-load into the country truck
Many believe that this had been the practice between Benin Republic and the other neighbouring West African countries and Nigeria, over the years, thus leading to the smuggling of Contraband Pharmaceutical products, particular, Tramadol products and the Ghana grown India Hemp into the Nigerian market through unapproved routes.
The 18 –months closure of the Land borders across the country between Nigeria and Benin, Niger and Cameroon, may have exposed the the neighbouring West Countries of Ghana, Togo, Coted’Ivore and Benin Republic of flouting the ECOWAS protocol.
Recall that the Border closure had left 3,700 Nigeria-bound trucks laden with transit cargoes worth several billions of naira at Ilakoji , a border town between Ghana, Togo and Benin Republic. Going by the ECOWAS Protocol on transit cargoes, the transit cargoes ought to have been escorted to the Seme joint border and other approved borders with the neighbouring countries across the country in their original form the third party countries.
The Customs officials of Benin Republic may have known that Comptroller Jibo, of Seme Command will not Compromise his position to accept any trans-loaded truck laden with cargoes from the country that they have resorted without following the rules on ECOWAS transit cargoes imports.
This may have informed why the Benin Republic Customs officials had escorted a ‘’40’’ Transit Container that was said to have been discharged at the Autonomous Benin of Benin, Cotonou, meant for the Nigerian market last November to the Seme Joint border. The Container, according to Hussain Abdullahi, a Deputy Superintendent of Customs and the Seme Command Spokesperson, was handed over to them by the Benin Customs with the Seal unbroken on November 15, 2021.
T Having taken delivery of the ‘’40’’ Container, the Seme Customs Comptroller had expected the transit cargo importer with his agent ‘’to come forward ‘’to continue the clearing process at the joint Border in order to take delivery of it but it turned out to be an endless waiting game.Given that the transit cargo owner and the agent were not ready to up to claim their Consignment may have encouraged the Seme Customs Comptroller and his officers to suspect that the transit Container was carrying Contraband that had contravened the government Fiscal policy.
Perhaps to ensure that the 100 physical examination of the suspected ‘’40’’ Container load of cargoes did not drag on to 2022, while waiting for the owner or the agent, to show up, on December 20, 2021, the Seme Customs boss, was said to have invited Nurudeen Audu, a Pharmacist, overseeing the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration, NAFDAC, and other security agencies Chiefs at the Land Border including the Department of State Services, DSS,personnel, to witness the breaking of the Seal of the Container and also participate in the physical examination to ascertain its contents.
Informed sources told The Value News that during the 100% physical examination of the Container in the presence of the various security agencies personnel at the Joint border, it was found to be carrying 200 packages of adult Diapers, 100 cartons of Gabadol of 120 mg suspected to be the prohibited Pharmaceutical product, tramadol, equivalent to 360mg.
Given an insider information, Comptroller, Jibo, reportedly said that the adult Diapers were smartly arranged at the front role of the packing space of the ‘’40’’ Container while the suspected cartons of tramadol were packed at the back. The discovery of the cartons Gabodol, suspected to be tramadol, may have forced the Customs Comptroller to give the NAFDAC Chief, at the Land Border, the nod, ‘’ to take the sample of the drug to their Lagos Laboratory office to ascertain and confirm if the suspected Gabadol drugs were Tramadol or not.
The NAFDAC Laboratory analysts may have confirmed that the Gabodol drugs were actually tramadol but falsely labelled to confuse the Customs personnel at the Land border. The Confirmation by Audu, the NAFDAC, Chief at the Joint Border that it was tramadol may have encouraged the Customs Valuation officers to go to work immediately to ascertain the street market value of the drugs. A Statement by DSC. Abdullahi, the Command Spokesperson said the items found in the ‘’40’’ Container have a Duty Paid Value, DPV, of about N1.5 billion.
With the NAFDAC officials, confirmation that the Gabadol drugs found in the 100% physically examined ‘’40’’ Container handed over to the Seme Command by Benin Customs were tramadol, fear appears to have gripped the transit cargoes owners who have been doing dirty business in the neighbouring West African countries seaports of Benin Republic, Ghana, Togo and Coted’Ivore, over theyears, that the game is up as the Seal of their Containers may no longer be broken in the receiving countries seaport and trans-loaded in the country trucks that would be escorted to the destination country lad Border where it will be trans-loaded to another tuck for proper Customs examination.
Note that thehe discovery of the Tramadol drugs may have encouraged Comptroller Jibo and his Management Team ‘’to embark on a full-scale investigations into the transit Container load of cargoes import with a view to fishing out those involved in the illicit importation’’.