bY sTpehen Ubanna
For much of this February, 2021, information had leaked out to the knowledge of Usman Yahahaya,a Deputy Comptroller by Customs rank but an acting Comptroller, Federal Operations Unit, FOU,Zone A, that some Cotonou, Benin Republic, based smugglers had concluded plans to bring into the country some fairly used vehicles loaded with foreign parboiled rice and poultry products.
The informant may have given acting Comptroller Yahaya, a graphic details of the movement of the smugglers with their Convoy of vehicles into the country . He may have told him that the smugglers intend pass through the Lagos- Badagry Express way to bring the vehicles load of Contraband cargoes into the country. This may have given the Customs Comptroller an Opportunity to plan a ahead in order to beat the smuggles to it.
He was said to have furnished Jack Okpabi, an Assistant Comptroller and the Command , Head of Operations and Roving Team, who had been involved in many risky Operations , about the details of the smugglers plan with a mandate to intercept all the vehicles and transfer them to the Ikeja premises for proper documentation.
Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari, had banned the importation of Foreign rice and vehicles into the country through the land border on January 1st, 2017. It is also on record that the importation of poultry products into the country through the land borders had been banned by the government. But the the smugglers had continued to test the will of the Customs Operatives to see what they can do .
Given the mandate to Jack and his boys by Comptroller Yahaya, to ensure that the smugglers who had planned to smuggle the fairly used vehicles into the country through the Badagry axis did not have their way, Jack and his boys were said to have gone back to the drawing board to decide on how to go about the operation without failing.
They may not have wanted to adopt the same operational method used in tackling the smugglers from the Ilara border area of Ogun who had entered into the country with six pick-ups load of Foreign rice, hoping to get to their safe have in Lagos state last month. The smugglers who had passed through the Lagos-Abeokuta Express way were said to have been stopped by the Jack led Team at Shagamu round about who were forced to abandon the vehicles amidst strong resistance that had resulted in four officer including a soldier in the Team being injured.
Jack, the Customs Assistant Comptroller may have learnt his lesson from he Lagos-Abeokuta Express Way and Shagamu Round About incident that he did not want a repeat before sending out a Team to the Badagry axis Operation. Prior to the Operation, The Value News learnt that h, had sent out a Surveillance Team to the area to prepare the ground for the Operation.
The vehicles which were smuggled from the neighbouring West African country of Benin Republic may not have entered into the country from Seme-Krake joint border Community between the two West African countries because of the tight security that had been mounted by Comptroller Mohammed Jibo,the Seme Command Comptroller.
Indeed, the Command , anti-smuggling officers or resident officers, as they call themselves are everywhere within the Seme jurisdiction that it would be difficult for the smugglers to have had their way.More so, at the foot of the Gbaji bridge, FOU, Zon eA, Border Drills, Lagos , Zonal office and Comptroller General of Customs, CGC, Strike Force ,Team A, under the close watch of Ahmadu Shuaibu, a Deputy Comptroller, already have their checkpoint, which makes it more difficult for the smugglers to carry out their nefarious activities.
An eyewitness account revealed that the vehicles may have entered the country through Ipokia Community. He had given the Magazine a graphic sketch of how the smugglers got the vehicles that were loaded with the foreign par-boiled rice and poultry products , which are perishable items smuggled from Benin.
According to him, the riverine Community of Ikokia, around Badagry, has been a conduit for smuggling of foreign rice and poultry products into the country through different routes over the years. He disclosed that the prohibited items which had found their way into the Community from Cotonou, Capital of Benin, where the Autonomous Port of Cotonou and Bollore port are located are reloaded into trucks or vehicles in motor parks for on ward movement into Lagos, the nation’s Commercial nerve center and other major Cities in the south west states through the border Communities.
The Magazine investigations shows that these Contraband cargoes in most cases were carried in canoes which were discharged in villages along the Creeks. But luck ran out of the smugglers on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. Jack and his men who have been following the movement of the vehicles over the past two weeks were who fully prepared for the operation were said to have blocked all the possible routes that may be followed by the smugglers to bring in the alleged 54 vehicles which were in a Convoy into the country. They may have made matters worse for the smugglers by blocking the Lagos end of the Agbara long bridge to ensure that they may not be able to beat the Team to it.
The smugglers were said to have made a U-turn to Badagry from the Aradagun axis when they found that that the game was up and they stand the chance of losing all the vehicles to Customs Operatives. The Customs Operatives could not have pursued them because they were fullyready for the worst.: either to lose the vehicles to Yahaya’s men, kill or be killed.
It was gathered that in the midst of the Confusion , one Tunde, who is a known smuggler in the area emerged from nowhere with AK47 and started shooting sporadically at the FOU, Zone A, Team members. Unknown to him, the Customs Operatives who may have learnt their lesson from the previous operations of the Lagos Abeokuta Express way and Shagamu round about , last month were well equipped to face the smugglers squarely They were said to kitted with bullet proof helmet. This may have informed why no officer received a scratch from the operation. But the news making the rounds was that four officers escaped with bullet wounds It is interesting to note that a Baale in one of the border Communities had helped the FOU, Zone A, Team, in their Operations that even when some angry Youths came out to resist the Customs personnel from taking away the intercepted vehicles, they were calmed by him.
In apparent reaction to the attack, the officers were said to have responded by firing at the smugglers. One of the smugglers was said to have been hit on the shoulder. There are indications that he may not have survived from the gun shot.
Informed sources told the Magazine that the Team could have succeeded in bringing most of the intercepted vehicles to the Command premises at Ikeja, but were constrained by ineffective Operational vehicles. Some of the Operational vehicles were said to have broken down on the way why toeing the intercepted vehicles back to Lagos. It was not surprising why one Toyota Camry and one other vehicle was successfully driven to the Command because the engines were sound.
Insiders told the Magazine that the officers along the Lagos-Badagry check points may not have helped matters as they failed to provide reinforcement to the Team when it was requested. The fallout was that virtually all the intercepted vehicles with full load of foreign rice and poultry products were parked on the road when it could no longer move under the close watch of some of the heavily armed officers.
The Magazine had cited two of the drivers at the Command premises coming for support to be given additional Operational vehicles in order to trainsload the items found in the intercepted vehicles to them for transfer to the premises. Officials of the Command were found making efforts to meet the demand of the Team just as Yahaya , the Command Area Comptroller prepares to send the incident report to Hameed Ali, a retired army Colonel and Comptroller General of Customs and the Deputy Comptroller General of Customs, DCG, in-charge of the Enforcement, Inspection and Investigation, EFI&I, Department. The report may likely go Mohammed Uba Garba, an acting Assistant Comptroller General, ACG, of Customs, since there is no substantive DCG, for the Department for now.
Many would want ACG. Garba, to make a case for more operational vehicles to be sent to FOU , Zone A , as most of their Operational vehicles have become too old and easily broke down due to repeated repairs. This has become very necessary because of the deadly approach of the smugglers in carrying out their nefarious trade around the border Communities in the recent time.