By Stephen Ubanna
For much of Jully, 2021, Usman Yahaya, acting Comptroller, Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos, and who through Executive Fiat has been elevated to the Comptroller rank, alongside, Mahmood Ibrahim, also a Deputy Comptroller in PortHarcourt Area II, Command, Rivers state, because of their superlative Performance, appears to have focused his attention in this his remaining two months in the Service in dealing decisively with the untouchable Contraband smugglers in the south west states of Lagos, Ogun, O, Osun, Ekiti and Ondo .
This is evident going by the frequent clash between the Command Patrol Team officers and smugglers in the region. The most recent of such violent clashes said to have occurred on Friday, July 16, 2021, at the Igangan axis in Ibarapa Local government Area of the south west state of Oyo.
Eye-witness account said the clash between the FOU, Customs Patrol Team and the suspected smugglers had occurred in Igbo- ora in the evening of Friday, July 16, 2021, but but later spread to Tapa and Ayete, Communities, described as smugglers other hotspot in Oyo state.
Informed sources told The Value News that penultimate week, Yahaya, the FOU, one A, Customs Area Comptroller who had been informed of plans by some big-time smugglers to take advantage of the Sallah , holiday to flood the Nigerian market with Foreign rice had prepared for them. He was said to have alerted Jack Okpabi, an Assistant Comptroller, overseeing the Command’s Operations and Lagos Roving about the smugglers plans and to mobilise his men to stop them by dispossessing them of the undisclosed number of trucks load of Foreign bags of rice of 50Kg each.
The smugglers may have chosen the Sallah holiday period to smuggle the trucks load of Foreign rice into the country with the backing of their security agencies Operative Collaborators, who will make it easy form to push the item into the Nigerian market through Igbo 0ora, Tape or and Ayete border Communities.
The Customs Assistant Comptroller, was said to have kept the information a closely guided secret to avoid filtering out to the ears of the smugglers and their security agencies Collaborators which may force them to change their mind from embarking on smuggling the trucks load of foreign rice of 50Kg each into the country.
He was said to have raised a Patrol Team comprising of Customs personnel and soldiers, who kept a close surveillance on the Communities with the support of their informant to know when the smugglers would want to enter into the country from the neighbouring West African country of Benin Republic with their undisclosed number of Trucks load of Foreign Par boiled rice. The Team may have may have relocated to Ibadan, the Oyo state Capital to monitor the movement of the smugglers to avoid being taken unawares.
An insider informed The online Magazine that both not for the bold initiative to relocate to Ibadan and monitor the movement of the smugglers who were said to be very desperate in order to achieve their aim, they would have flooded the Nigerian market with the smuggled Trucks load of rice as they were said to have concluded arrangement on how to enter into the country without any Customs harassment on the way based on the assurance given to them. The information may have leaked forcing the FOU, Zone A, Special assignment Team, forcing them to restrategise on how to intercept the smuggled trucks load of rice by spreading out instead of waiting for them at Igbo-ora Community alone. The Smugglers were said to have had their plan B.
The hoodlums who were said to be armed to the teeth were prepared to kill any Customs officer or security agencies operatives collaborating with the FOU, Zone A, Team, sighted on their way. Given that the Customs personnel involved in the Operation had made all the necessary preparations that would help them intercept the Trucks load of Foreign rice with ease without loss of life, may have encouraged to to go ahead with the operation.
But the suspected smugglers were said to have opened fire on the officers when they sighted them. With the large number of the armed gunmen involved in the attack of the Customs Operatives, this may have given the people the impression that it was master-minded by armed herdsmen but the Customs Authorities would not take it.’’ The attack on the officers was spearheaded by smugglers’’, they insist.
Efforts to speak to Yahaya, the Customs Acting Comptroller on Phone on Saturday, July 17, 2021, following the reports making the rounds that the violent attack on the Customs Operatives resulted in the death of three officers proved abortive.
But Peter Duniya, a deputy Superintendent of Customs and the Command spokesperson in a Statement issued on the Operation at the instance of the Area Comptroller revealed that three Customs officers and a soldier were injured in the unprovoked attack by the smugglers in the Igbo- ora area of the Ibarapa Local government Area of the state.
The FOU, Zone A, spokesperson, had said that the officers who had sighted the eight Trucks load of Foreign rice being driven into the country from their illegal route at Igbo ora Community and the accompanying Passengers, supposed to be smugglers had strategically positioned themselves to intercept the trucks but the suspected smugglers who may have known of their plan were said to have launched attack on the Customs operatives to force them to flee.
The Courageous Jack boys were said to have summoned Courage to fire back at them and brought down one of the smugglers and disarmed him. This may have forced the drivers to know that the game is up and plot how to beat a retreat with their smuggled wares to Benin Republic.
In spite of the violent attack by the smugglers on the on the Custom Personnel carrying out their Legitimate duties at the Igbo ora axis of Ibarapa Local government area of Oyo state, Yahaya, the FOU, Zone A, Acting Comptroller, who was said to have condemned it in a strong terms the attack on the officers, had told those that cares to listen that the Comand would remain uncompromising in ‘’its resolve to suppress smuggling activities in the south west geopolitical region’’. He may have sent a message to the smugglers to note that that they will never be intimidated by this unwarranted attacks. Indeed, he may have gladdened the heart of Nigerians when he disclosed that investigations are ongoing ‘’to arrest and prosecute the Criminal elements unlawfully bearing arms and unleashing mayhem on officers carrying out their Legitimate duties in the south west’’.
Recall that last November, at the same Igbo-ora Community, there was a gun dual between the FOU, Zone A, Customs Operatives and suspected smugglers. An army officer, was said to have been shot death by the smugglers who were said to have also suffered heavy losses including the seizure of a truck load of foreign par boiled rice belonging to theme.
Recall that penultimate Wednesday, Yahaya, had shocked Nigerians when he gave a low down of the Contraband seizures made by the Command between April 20, 2021 and July 14, 2021, worth about N3.3 billion, which had remained an unbeatable record in the Command over the last five years.
An insider had said that the Command Operations and Lagos Roving including the other Patrol and Surveillance Teams had intercepted 14,789 bags of 50 Kg each foreign par boiled rice, as the Acting Comptroller had said that 84 of the different kinds of vehicles that were that were seized by the Command from Ogun, Oyo and Lagos axis, particular, were laden with sores of bags of Foreign rice of 50Kg each
This in addition to the Foreign rice seizures,727 cartons of unregistered drugs, 2,784 cartons of Foreign Poultry products and 28 units of used vehicles, mostly from Ogun state, which have over 100 illegal routes that could be used by the smugglers to carry out their nefarious activities, which Dunniya, the Command spokesperson had said were promptly sized.
The Interventionist unit spokesperson who had said in a Statement stated that the Command also made a seizure of 6,000 litres or 4,640 Jerry cans of Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, popular, Petrol, of 25 litres each, 237 bales and six sacks of second clothing, 20 cartons of Tramadol and 885 pieces of the North American country of the United States manufactured tyres.
The Command was said to have also seized four Containers loaded with 10,400 Alcoholic beverages and an additional four other Containers loaded with rough and unprocessed wood for export to China from a Lagos port, which agents had pointed out to be, the Premier port Apapa, which has Comptroller Yusuf Malanta, the Apapa Command Area Comptroller, overseeing the port import and exports activities through the port and the bonded terminals serviced by the port.
It is not surprising why the officers are clamouring for a seasoned Enforcement officer to be deployed to the Command next Sptember as Yahaya bows out from the Service in order to sustain the tempo of anti-smuggling operations in the Command.