By Stephen Ubanna
With the support of Hameed Ali, a reired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, Kayode Olusemire, Comptroller Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, and his Operation Officers renewed anti-smuggling war and searchlight at the south east ports appear to be yielding results, forcing the fraudulent agents and smugglers to cry out. This is because they have never had it so bad in losing their smuggled goods or Containers taken delivery of at the ports to the Unit, as was the case in the recent time.
Going by the number of exotic vehicles, hundreds of ‘50’ foreign parboiled rice, and other Contraband seized from smugglers operating between the south west states of, Ondo and Edo including the south east states of Anambra, Abia, Eboyi, Enugu, and Imo including Containers taken delivery off at the port, ,it means the south east, generally, is no longer safe for the fraudulent importers with their agents and the unrepentant smugglers.
From the Government waehouses in Enugu, Calabar, Owerri and Benin, the story is the same: filled to the brium with Contraband, particular, foreign par boiled rice.A senior Customs Officer who spoke to the Value News disclosed that the press briefing which was held by the FOU, Zone c, Area, Comptroller on Wednesday,June 23, 2020, at Owerri, the Imo state Capital, to show case its Contraband seizures and other items including the intercepted Containerised cargoes eleased from the ports in the south east ought to have been held before now.
It was said to have been delayed in Compliance with the directive of the Chikwe Ihekweazu, led Nigerian Center for Disease and Control, NCDC, and the Presidential Task Force on COVID 19, under the close watch of Boss Mustapha, who incidentally is the Secretary to the government the Federation , which had outlawed large gathering of people at a place.
Olusemire, the FOU, Zone C, Comptroller, may have become convinced to hold the press Conference with the reduced tension in the state. He was encouraged by the report given to him by Admadu Shuaibu, a Deputy Comptroller overseeing the Command Operations, about the situation at the Government warehouses in Benin, the Edo state, outstation, Calabar, Cross river state and Owerri, the Command, operational base.
Acting on the Shuaibu, report that there is enough Contraband to showcase to the press at the government warehouse Owerri, seized from smugglers in in Abia , Imo and Rivers states axis alone between March and June 23, 2020. He noted that the other Contraband seizures made across the south east and south –south geopolitical regions were deposited in Enugu, Benin and Calabar Government warehouse.
This may have informed why he made an impromptu arrangement to engage an officer to organise the press briefing as the Command Public relations Officer, Ijeoma Onuigbo, an Assistant Superintendent of Customs, was on maternity leave.
Given the well documented report presented to him by Shuaibu, which shows the performance of the Command patrol Teams in the south east and south-south regions, he was elated that despite the Wuhan Town in Hebei Province of the Asian country of China, emerged coronavirus , popular, COVID 19, the Enforcement officers could achieve that much.
Given a breakdown of the Contraband seizures scattered in Owerri, Enugu, Calabar and Benin, Government Warehouses, the FOU, Zone C, Comptroller, pointed out that it included 122 pieces of live ammunition cartridges for pump action rifle with a Duty Paid Value , DPV, of about N1.9 million.
It was learnt that the 122 pieces of live ammunition cartridges may have been smuggled into the region from the Creek but the smuggler was unlucky as the Contraband fell into the waiting hands of the Command Patrol Team along Elele-Port Harcourt road. The items were said to have been Concealed with Computers in a vehicle on the road. The vehicle carrying the live ammunition carteridges which is described in Customs circles as Groupage, at may have been released, according another school of theought.
The interception of the pump action rifle cartridges from the smuggler may have informed why the FOU, Zone C, Enforcement officers had beamed their searchlights at the ports and the Creeks in Rivers, Akwa Ibbom, Delta , Bayesa and Cross river states to forestall the activities of the Creek smugglers to contain the activities of the Creek smugglers.
The major ports in the south east are Port Harcourt Area 1, port, Onne, Rivers, Delta and Calabar ports. It could not be ascertained which of the seaports in the region where the fraudulent agent, who may have penetrated the ranks of the releasing officers took delivery of the cargo which eventually fell into the waiting hands of Olusemire’s men on the road.
The tight security mounted by the Command Enforcement officers on the major road between Abia and Rivers were said to have been extended to Edo-Ondo, where the smugglers who had succeeded in beating the Usman Yahaya, a Deputy Comptroller, overseeing FOU, Zone A, Adba Kakudi, an Assistant Comptroller, in-charge of the Comptroller General of Custom , CGC, Strike Force and the Headquarters Border Drill, sector 1, Patrol officers on the road have not been lucky.
The Unit was saids to have also made a seizure of 300 pieces of used tyres allegedly smuggled into the region from the neighbouring West African country of Benin Republic Cotonou terminal, Benin, and Bollore port, in Benin Republic.
The most worrisome was how the hundreds of ‘50’ bags of par boiled rice produced from the Asian country of Thailand which was said to have been intercepted from the suspected smugglers who may have beaten the tight security in the south west states of Ogun, Lagos, Oyo, Osun and Ondo including the Bakasi and Ikom axisis of Cross river state .
Given an information volunteered by Olusemire, the Customs Comptroller, he had said that ‘ it is difficult for the smugglers to beat his anti-smuggling officers on the road in the two regions under its Jurisdiction because of the tight security. ‘We are ready for them’, he has said.
According to him, the Command seized ‘50’ bags of the Foreign parboiled rice, that are deposited in Enugu, Owerri, Calabar and Benin, government Warehouses in the last the months of its operations in the south east and south-south was 2,182 ‘50’, valued at about N55 million.
Perhaps, why the briefing was going on, the Patrol Team Officers were busy discharging more seizures fat the various Government warehouses in the two regions’wWe have over 2,682 ‘50’ bags of foreign rice picked up from different parts of the regions’, he had said.
The bad news for the smugglers was that the exotic vehicles used as a means Conveyance of the smuggled Foreign rice, which according to the Area Comptroller, which had a DPV, of about N143.4 million were intercepted and detained in the Command premises. Going by the Customs and Excise Management Act, CEMA, Cap 2004, the importers may forfeit the vehicles to the government, an indication that it is for outright seizure.
He lamented the extent which desperate Nigerian Foreign rice smugglers could go in the recent time to smuggle the Contraband into the country. He cited a truck owned by one of the Beer Companies used for distribution of its product which was used to Conceale rice. The truck fell into the waiting of hands of Olusemire’s officers on the road. His major worry was how Toyota Sequina, could be used by the importer to smuggle rice into the country in a bid to beat Customs personnel on the road.
‘There is no way you will see this expensive vehicle on the road and suspect it to be used for smuggling foreign rice’, he had said. He explained that the importer did everything within his powers to deceive the Customs personnel on the road as the vehicle was tinted, making it difficult to see the content inside.
With the seizures so far made, the FOU, Zone C, may have sent a signal to Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, that the Unit is running out of space, across the Government warehouses in in Enugu, Owerri, Calabar and Benin to deposit more seized Contraband. This is where the Customs helmsman may have to intervene to save the problem of the UNIT From getting worse.
Recall within the period under review, the Unit also made 186 Jumbo bales of second hand clothing, alleged to have been imported from China, valued at about N33 million and 20 packs of tramadol, a banned Pharmaceutical drug by the government. Note that the value of the tramadol drugs were put at about N0.6 million.
The total value of the various Contraband seizures that were said to have been made by the Command between March and June 23, 2020,were put at about N442.5 millionThe FOU , Zone C, anti-smuggling Patrol Teams, may have combined the seizure of contraband to the arrest of the suspects. The FOU, Zone C, Patrol Team officers, who were said to have intercepted the Live ammunition cartridges may have gladdened the heart of the Comptroller, with the arrest of two suspects.
President Muhammadu Buhari, in a bid to increase the patronage of Nigerian ports by vehicle importers and Dealers, and increase local production or rice, had banned the importation of vehicles and Foreign parboiled rice into the Nigerian market on January 1st,2017, through the land borders. The policy was later extended to the country’s seaports in June, 2017, with a matching order the FOUS, across the country to effectively block all the border routes to ensure that these Contraband do not enter into the country.
Appealing to the smugglers’ to turn a leaf and help build the economy through legitimate trade, he noted that that ‘it is the only way to keep away from Customs harassment.
An aggrieved Olusemire, who could not hide his feelings disclosed that there was no basis for smuggling of textiles, particular, when the country have cotton in abundance to produce such textile materials. He wondered why importers should be bringing in used clothing from , suspected to have been imported from the Asian countries of China, Korea and the European country of Turkey and Britain. Described as ‘unhealthy’, Olusemire was said to have told those that cares to listen that ‘second hand clothing remain absolutely prohibited from being imported into the country and would not hesitate to seize it if seen. ‘it is high time we go back to rebuilding the country’s textile mills’, he had said.
The Customs Comptroller, however, believes that the smuggling could only be reduced to the barest minimum ‘if the importer with his agent, the transporter and the owner of the warehouse hired to store such Contraband, particular, foreign par boiled rice, and the trader, displaying the items could support the government in the anti-smuggling war.
‘It is not the duty of the Customs ant-smuggling officers alone’, stressing that it is a call to everyone, including the Journalists to help make the country great again’. He may have dampened the enthusiasm of traders displaying the banned Foreign items in their shop when he said that they are culpable like the smugglers if caught in the act.