The Value News

Customs: FOU Forces Fraudulent Agents And Smugglers On Their Knees

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.

Kayode Olusemire: Comptroller, FOU, Zone C

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.

A ’40’ Container Loaded with Thousands of Cartons Of Palmolein Oil Intercepted By FOU, Zone C, Patrol Team

  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.  

Government Warehouse, Owerri, Filled To The Brim With Seized Foreign Rice .

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.  

Stephen Ubanna

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July 2021

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