By Stephen Ubanna
Between December 2020 and now, smugglers operating in the south west flash point states of Ogun and Oyo states are no longer finding it funny in the hands of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos Roving Team, headed by Jack Okpabi, an Assistant Comptroller of Customs. Some of the smugglers were said to have lost thousands of bags of the Asian country of Thailand parboiled rice, 50Kg each worth millions of naira to the Command.
The most recent operation that was said to have been carried out by the Team that led to the interception of six pick- up loads of undisclosed quantity of foreign rice, although, only three vehicle loas of the foreign rice was said to have occurred along the Lagos –Abeokuta Express Way and the Shagamu inter-change roundabout before the Breweries was had occurred on Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021.
The Value News learnt that information had leaked out that smugglers from the neighbouring West African country of Benin Republic, described as a home of smugglers, had concluded arrangement to drive into the country in a convoy of vehicles loaded with foreign rice from the Ilara border axis of Ogun state.
It was gathered that Usman Yahaya, a Deputy Comptroller and the FOU, Zone A, acting Comptroller whad instructed Jack to mobilise his Team members and ensure that the smugglers Convoy of vehicles loaded with the foreign rice did not find their way the Lagos market. Acting on the Customs Comptroller’s instruction, Jack was said to have mobilised his Team members for the Operation. He was said to have arranged for some soldiers to be party of the Team. The request was said to have been granted. Jack and the Team members were said to have laid ambush for the smugglers at the Lagos-Abeokuta Express Way and Shagamu inter- change roundabout for much of Monday, February 1’st, 2021 and Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021.
The Team members , according to an eyewitness account had waited for the smugglers for much of Monday but they around the vicinity. They we force d to hang on at the location till Tuesday, February ,2, 2021. May It was when they have lost hope that the dare –devil smugglers have changed their mind of coming into the country with their Convoy of vehicles loaded with foreign rice that signs of their coming into the country began to manifest. Note that they had That may have strengthened up Jack and his Team members to tighten up security at the Lagos-Abeokuta Express Way and Shagamu Inter- change roundabout to prevent them from having their way into the country with their smuggled foeign ice.
An informed source told The Value News Magazine that the FOU, Operations and Lagos Roving Team members and the soldiers that had joined them for the Operation had strategically positioned themselves and blocked the Lagos-Abeokuta Express Way and Shagamu Inter-change roundabout, the route that had been mapped out to be used by the smugglers to deliver the smuggled foreign rice to the dealer’s warehouse in Lagos.
The blockage of the road may have prevented the smugglers who had entered the road with their Convoy of vehicles loaded with foreign rice to plot to return to Benin for fear that another Customs Team might be laying ambush for them. They may have found themselves in a very tight corner that they could not go forward or backward with their Convoy of vehicles.
This may have forced the smugglers to mobilise support from the local Communities within the area to force the FOU , Zone A, Team members , out of the road. Given previous experience where the smuggles had abandoned their vehicles loaded with Contraband foreign rice to escape to the bush to evade arrest by Customs Operatives, they may have expected the smugglers to do so this time around. They got it wrong. Unknown to them, the smugglers were fully prepared to do battle with them to facilitate the movement of their convoy of vehicles.
Aware that the game is up, the smugglers with their paid fierce-looking supporters who were armed with AK 47, were said to have opened fire on Jack and his Team members. The Customs Patrol vehicle side marrows were shattered. The smugglers may have had the ulterior motive to kill the Customs Operatives as one of the soldiers in the Team was seriously injured. Three Customs officers were said to have also received bullet wound from the smugglers.
The Value News findings shows that one Frank, an Assistant Superintendent who was in front of the Patrol vehicle at the time of the smuggler’s attack almost lost his life. The bullet fired from the backside of the Customs Patrol vehicle was said to have pierced through the front Seat and scratched his head. The smugglers and their supporters bullet which were said to be flying from different directions was said to have also hit,, one of his legs, though not too serious as to remain in the Hospital like the three other officers who were said to have had serious injuries.
The situation on the Lagos-Abeokuta Express Way and the Shagamu inter-exchange was very worrisome that many car owners and Commercial vehicle drivers from the south east and different parts of Oyo, Ondo and Ogun states coming into Lagos, were forced to abandon their vehicles on the road and ran for their safety.
The nonsense Jack who could not take the attack of the smugglers on his Team members may have remebered Hamedd Ali, a retired army Colonel and Comptroller General of Customs maxim that Customs Operatives on anti-smuggling Operations should not allow themselves to be killed cheaply by smugglers. He may have made clear to the anti-smuggling Teams that if smugglers succeed in killing one officer trained with tax payers money, they should kill two or more of them.
This may have forced the ustoms Assistant to give an order to his boys to fire back at the smugglers. Their superior fire power may have hit one of the smugglers who was said to have died instantly. The killing of the smuggler may have resulted in alleged protest in Abeokuta, the Ogun nstate Capital, as the corpse was said to have been taken to the state governor’s office, amidst wide Condemnation by the Politicians of the Customs Operatives action.
The smugglers were said to have claimed that they were local rice farmers and that the rice found in their vehicle were locally produced and bagged 50Kg each which they were taking to their Lagos Customers before they ran into the FOU, Zone anti-smuggling officers.
The Abeokuta protesters may not have told Dapo Abiodun, the All Progressive Congress, APC, governor of the state the home truth that what they were carrying in their vehicles which was in a convoy were foreign rice in order to win his support. The Value News had cited the three evacuated vehicles load of rice of 50Kg each out of the six intercepted with foreign neatly packaged at the FOU, Zone A, premises.
When contacted, theophilus Duniya, a Deputy Superintendent , and the Command spokesperson, who had issued a Statement confirmed that officers of the Unit , while carrying out their statutory responsibility of enforcing the Customs anti-smuggling Laws ,’’ based on intelligence gathering , had ‘’intercepted six vehicles laden with foreign rice at the Abeokuta- Lagos Express Way’’.
He disclosed that ‘’upon interception of the six smuggled vehicles loaded with foreign rice, some armed hoodlums working in support of the smugglers attacked the Customs Operatives to prevent them from transferring the intercepted vehicle loads of foreign rice to their Ikeja premises’’. He noted that in their cross-fire, the Customs Operatives overpowered them and thus, were able were to evacuate three of the intercepted vehicles load of foreign rice to the Government warehouse, Ikeja.
He further disclosed that three officers and a soldier who received gun shots from the smugglers are currently receiving treatment at the Customs Clinic at the Customs Training College, Ikeja. Yahaya, the FOU, Zone A, acting Comptroller, who is not happy at the attack at his officers has vowed to bring ’’the perpetrators to book as a deterrence to others who may want to confront anti-smuggling officers in the future if found with smuggled Contraband’’.
An aggrieved Yahaya was said to have warned the Youths of the south west states of Ogun, particular, to stop allowing themselves to be used by smugglers to confront Customs Operatives on anti-smuggling Operations because of the dire consequences.
Appreciative of the support of the soldiers and the law abiding citizens of the state to the Customs Operations , he was said to have also ‘’warned ‘’the people with Criminal intentions to desist from such act because officers of the Unit, are well-mobilised , backed up by the external Law and would remain resolute at enforcing the Laws without fear of intimidation’’. It is a strong message to the smugglers in the south west states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun , Ekiti and Ondo operating between Benin and Nigeria that it is no longer going be business as usual.
The ogun smugglers attack on the FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos Roving Patrol Team members may have raised the profile of Jack , the Assistant Comptroller, who led the Operation and his Team members ’’. Indeed, Jack has continued to receive solidarity visits from and phone calls from Colleagues Congratulating him for surviving the smugglers attack which was at a close range.
The Magaine had cited Sarumi, an Assistant Comptroller and 2/IC, to Ahmadu Shuaibu, a Deputy Comptroller and Coordinator of the Comptroller Genral of Customs , CGC, Strike Force, Team A, in his IKeja office. He was said to have also played host to the Brigade Commander who released the soldiers who had joinedthe FOU, Zone A in the Operation.
An elated Brigade Commander, was said to have promised to release at least 30 soldiers to the FOU, Zone A, Team for such Operations in the future. This should gladden the heart of Jack and his boys that they are not alone in fighting the anti-smuggling war in the Command.