By Stephen Ubanna
Those who think that Muhammed Uba Garba, a former Comptroller, Seme Command, and now acting Zonal Coordinator, Border Drills, sector 3, comprising of the six states in the north central geo-political region: Kwara, Niger, Kogi, Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau states, would fail in the national assignment like his predecessor, Dahiru Musa, an Assistant Comptroller General, ACG, of Customs, would be disappointed.
People have every reason to worry that he might face an uphill task cutting the wings of the smugglers in the region. This is because of the difficult terrain in some of the Border Communities, particular, Chikanda , in Baruten , local government Area , of Kkwara state.They also cited the Ilesha Baruba, Yashkira, and Okuta axis in the same Baruten local government , as well as the Kaiama –Jebba-Mokwa-Wawa –Babanna-Kotangora axis of Niger and the Otukpa, Adikpo-Ugbema axis of Benue states respectively .
Unkwon to them , Muhammed was not a neophyte in anti-smuggling operations. Close associates said anti-smuggling operations runs in his blood. They noted that pursuing smugglers in their hideouts has has become part of him since he joined Customs in the late ‘80s. He was said to have led a patrol Team , as a Cadet in Adamawastate Customs Command. His records as a Comptroller at Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone C, Owerri, Imo state, FOU, Zone A, iKeja, Lagos state and Seme Command, described as Africa busiest border speaks volume.
He knew he cannot afford to fail with the confidence reposed on him by Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, NCS, who had deployed him from Seme Command to Head the Border Drills , sector 3, described as a leveler. This is because there are are internal saboteurs who have their local Collaborators who have a way of roping their superiors into trouble. Note that Aminu Dahiru, the former ACG, was already having his own troubles, for allegedly passing of some trucks of Contrabands.The Independent Petroleum Marketers Association, IPMAN, PDT, the Nation Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW,and the memebers of Commercial Drivers Association were said to have been the major Customers of the smugglers.
As a prelude to ensuring that these group of people who patronise the services of the smugglers to fly vehicles or cross foreign parboiled rice and other illicit goods from the Benin Republic into the Nigerian market withdraw from doing so, the Border Drills sector 3, Coordinator , was said to have invited their leaders to Ilorin, the sector operational base, for a meeting,.
He was said to have sensitized them about the dangers of smuggling and its adverse effect to the economy. Insiders confirmed that he had solicited their support in order to cut the wings of the dare-devil smugglers. They may have gotten the message right as they took it to their members, urging them to support the government effort in the fight against smugglers. The Border Drills, sector 3, Coordinator, may have reached out to the various groups to avoid taking them unawares with the renewed anti-smuggling war in the region.
It was therefore, not very surprising that when Muhammed and his men embarked on the complete lock down of the Border Communities and the , close monitoring of the Lokoja – Abuja – Lagos Express way of Kogi state, IPMAN , and the other groups in the region threw their weight behind them. This is why Muhammed could beat his chest that smuggling of petroleum products, foreign par boiled rice, flying of vehicles across the borders have been minimized in Kwara and other states in the region over the last two months.
Giving an insider information, he noted that those who have tried to test the will of the sector 3, Border Drill operatives would never forget their experience in a hurry as they had lost both their goods and money. A Commercial driver who had relocated from Chikanda Border Community in Baruten local government Area of kwara state, to Lagos to continue his cab business told The Value News that they have never witnessed the type of anti-smuggling operations going on in the Border Communities that had forced most of the smugglers to go underground.
He disclosed that their major Customers who are the market women who come out very early in the morning to charter their vehicles to carry their foreign rice bought from the smugglers were no longer found around the Border Communities , for fear of being arrested by Muhammed’s men on the road and their goods seized.
The Commercial Driver who could not hide his feelings lamented that the ‘’fear of the Border Drills sector 3, Zonal Cordinator is the beginning of wisdom in Ilorin’’. Accordin to him , many Commercial Drivers rivers, whose major business in the state is to carry smuggled foreign parboiled rice and other illicit goods including petroleum products, have been thrown out of business while some are still struggling to recover their detained vehicles.
The anti-smuggling war in the five Border Communities in Baruten local government and its environs have become very worrisome that the people were said to have cried out that Muhammed has destroyed their major source of income which is smuggling. Between January and now, an elated Border Drills sector 3, Zonal Coordinator, has confirmed that they impounded 57 vehicles of various brands and 1,355 ‘’50’’keg bags of foreign par boiled rice.
Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari, had banned the importation of rice and vehicles through the land borders into the Nigerian market on January 1, 2017. It was the first step adopted by the Katsina born Nigerian President towards the partial closure of the Borders with the neighbouring countries of Benin Republic, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon on August, 26, 2019.
There are indications that the Border Drills sector 3 Team leaders who had been forced to go all out for the smugglers in their hide outs in their various locations in the Border Communities by the Zonal Coordinator also made other Contraband seizures ranging from long single barrel guns, cartridges, Cutlasses, Knives , Vegetable oil, Petrol, Engine oil, Textiles, Bales of second hand clothing, to Motorcycles, popular, in the Border Communities as Bajaj. The’ Bajaj’, according to sources, is the major means of conveyance of rice from the Benin side of the Communities into the Nigerian market. One Bajaj, the source said could carry as much as 10 bags of ‘’50’’ bags of the Asian country of Thailand parboiled rice without payment of duties. an indication that the Bajaj owners could easily smuggle a ship load of rice through unapproved routes into the country through the Border Communities in the north central region alone..
Attemts by a smuggler to cross 20 bags of dried yam flour to Benin was said to have been nipped on board by one of the patrol Teams who promptly intercepted it and transferred to the sector premises at Ilorin.
Given the Objective of the Border Drills Operation, popular, Operation Swift Response, OSR, to reduce banditry, human trafficking, smuggling, enhance production of locally manufactured goods and production agricultural products, particular, rice as well as tackling the country’s security challenge and reduce the taste for consumption of foreign goods, the sector 3 Border Drills personnel were said to have moved into action.
In taking the decision to close the Borders with the two neighbouring West African and one Central African countries, the government was optimistic that it would improve the country revenue generation from non-oil Imports and exports as importers who had abandoned Nigeria ports s to the ports of Cotnou, Bollore in Benin, and other ports in the region would be forced to relocate back to the country to take delivery of their cargoes .
Take for instance, the Duty Paid Value, DPV, of the Contraband goods that were said to have been seized by sector 3 Border Drills, so far, was put at about N135 million. Indeed, this is money that could have entered into private pockets if the goods had entered into the Nigerian market. The Beninese Customs may not have been worried about what happened to the transit goods as long as the importers agent had paid the duties and other charges into the government coffers and taken delivery of his or her cargo..
Maritime watchers believe that if the Katsina state born Nigerian President bows to pressure from other African Leaders to re-open the Borders, he will not relax the ban on the importation of rice through the and border, an indication that the Border Drills Operation would not be disbanded.
Already, the President has stopped Godwin Emefiele, the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, governor , from giving out Foreign Exchange to importers of rice and other Food items in order to make the country self sufficient in food production which will the Border Drills personnel more job to do as the rice smugglers that want change tactics to flood the Nigeria market with foreign rice to compete with the local production.]
Meanwhile , the Katsina state born Nigerian President has told those that cares to listen that the closed borders across the country would be reopened based on the report of the tripartite Committee comprising of Nigria, Benin and Niger. He noted that he had also discussed with Marc Christian Kabore, President of Burkina Faso state, who is Heading on the Border Closure set up at the instance of the African Union, AU.