By Stephen Ubanna
This is not the best of times for importers with their agents who own warehouses in Kirikiri, popular, monkey village and the smugglers operating in the south west states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti. This is because Kehinde Hussain Ejibuno, a Deputy Comptroller, overseeing the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, have swooped on them in the recent time.
Acting on intelligence that a warehouse in the Kirikiri area was stocked with Tramadol, may have encouraged the Customs Area Comptroller to detail Mohammed Abdullahi, an Assistant Comptroller and Head of the Command, Lagos Roving, to mobilise his team for action but it was kept a closely guided secret.
Informed sources told The Value News that until his appointment as a successor to the Superintendent who was initially appointed to take over from Jack Okpabi, an Assistant Comptroller, who along with 17 other senior officers from the Customs Headquarters, Enforcement , Inspections and Investigations, E.i&I, were withdrawn was already working out plans on how to raid the warehouse and evacuate the cartons of tramadol and subsequently, transfer it to the Government Warehouse , Ikeja without hitch in a bid .
This is forestall the importers with their Customers from taking it out from the warehouse to the north where is a ready for it. This is because it is the drug mostly used by the Islamic Fundamentalist Group, BokoHaram, the Islamic State of West African Province, ISWAP and the Bandits Group,fighters, to embolden them to kill mindlessly.
The question on the lips of most people was: how did the prohibited dangerous Pharmaceutical product exited the port to the importer’s warehouse in Kirirkiri. There are two major seaports in Lagos, the nation’s Commercial nerve centre, and several bonded terminals that doted the nooks and crannies of the city.
The Lagos sea ports which include the premier port ,Apapa and Tin can Island, for the transfer Containers to the Bonded terminals. There have been reported in the past cases where Containers on transit to the bonded terminals were said to have developed wings on the road. Perhaps, the Tramaadol stocked in the Kirikiri warehouse may be one of such Containers. Note that there are two other major terminals Operating independently from the Lagos two ports: Port Multi-services Terminal Limited, PTML and Kirirkiri Lighter Terminal, phases I &II.
The FOU, Zone A, Customs Assistant Comptroller who was closely working with the Area Comptroller to raid the Kirikiri warehouse with his team were said to have mounted a close Surveillance on the warehouse for days. When the officers became convinced that the warehouse was stocked with the Asian country of India manufactured tramadol they moved in without any resistance.
The cartons of tramadol in the warehouse were evacuated and transferred to the Government WareHouse, Ikeja, for proper documentation. The affected warehouse was said to have been put under Seal, meaning that’’ it cannot be opened by the importer without the authorization of the FOU, Zone A, Comptroller. But the ownwer of the warehouse may not show up as he is on the wanted list of the Command to help in their investigation.
An elated Ejibuno , had thrown the GWH, Ikeja, open, on Wednesday, February 2, 2021, for Journalists to see the 233 cartons of tramadol , loaded in 75,492 packs, with a street market value of N3,7774,600,000.00, based on the asking price of N5.00 per sachet.
The FOU, Zone A, team, findings in the Kirikiri warehouse operation, was very revealing, forcing the Area Comptroller, to extend the operations to other warehouses around the area. AC Abdullahi, and his team members were said to have discovered in all the other warehouse raided around the area that virtually all the goods released and exited at the port were without payment of appropriate duty.
The Customs Comptroller may have seen it as an opportunity to recover the lost revenue to beef up the revenue generation of the Command by issuing Demand Notice, DN, to the affected importers. The fallout was that in the month of January 2022 alone, the Command recovered over N190 million for the government, the highest ever, since he assumed office last September. This is money that could have entered into private pockets. The FOU, Zone A, Customs boss was said to have also deployed another team to other wares in the Kirikiri neighbourhood for search in the warehouses, forcing many of them to put it unde lock and key and run for their safety.
Deputy Comptroller Ejibuno had confirmed that in the Kirikiri Ooperations, 23 suspects were arrested but five of them were granted Administrative bail while 18 , are still in their custody, awaiting to be released after completion of their investigation.
Many believe that with the FOU, Zone A, Operations in t Kirikiri axis, of Lagos stat by e, Deputy Comptroller Ejibuno and the Lagos Roving Team which have exposed the rot at the Lagos ports, Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller, General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, have no option but to carry out a surgical operations at the Customs Commands in Lagos and introduce fresh hands who are not be known to these fraudulent importers that could easily bribe their way and exit their Contraband cargo from the port.
The FOU, Zone A, Customs Comptroller was said to have also used the opportunity of the Wenesday media briefing to take the Journalists on tour of the mechanical workshop where he showed a ‘’40’’ Container carrying two buses with tyres Concealed I in it released from an unknown Lagos port.
Another ‘’40’’, loaded with expired 476 cartons of Shakapain tablets, 104 cartons of Beigara and 37 sacks of Hiegra were also showcased. Perhaps, to ensure that no officer or any of the casual workers at the Mechanical workshop gained access to the drugs may have informed why the Area Comptroller had engaged the services of a wielder to properly wield the Container. It was, however, opened in the presence of the Journalists at the instance of the Customs Comptroller by the wilder to show the contents.
The Customs Comptroller may have shocked the Journalists when he showed a Dangote Truck used in conveying cement to the west coast concealed with foreign parboiled rice but intercepted by his officers on the road . Recall that last year he had promised to take up the matter with the Management of Dangote Industries to call their drivers who connive with foreign rice smugglers to order but that was how far he could go.
The Customs Comptroller may have also dealt a decisive blow on the rice smugglers. The Katsina state born Nigerian President had banned the importation of foreign rice through the land borders, across the country, on January , 2017 and also at the nation’s seaports, in June, in order to encourage local production of rice.
It was not surprising why many of the foreign rice smugglers within the Iseyin, Igbora, axis in Oyo state and the border areas in Ogun state , always played into the hands of the Command patrol team officers. In three weeks, the Command was said to have intercepted 9, 675 bags of rice, ‘’50Kg each , equivalent of 17 trailer loads and a trailer load of the Asia country of the Indian produced Bsmatic rice.
Much of the foreign rice found in the GWH, Ikeja, was said to have been intercepted around the Iseyin and Igbora area of Oyo state including the Abeokuta axis, Olurunda, Ilaro and Owode area of Ogun state. Note that there are over 140 illegal borders around Ogun state used by the smugglers for their nefarious activities.
Given an insight on how the Command Patrol Teams , were able to make such large quantities of foreign rice in three weeks, the Customs Comptroller disclosed that the smugglers took advantage of the Christmas break that the FOU, Zone A, anti-smuggling officers would not be on the road to enter the road with their vehicles loaded with foreign rice but played into the hands of his officers, who were ever ready’’ on the alert’’. He was said to have made it clear to those that cares to listen that the Command is ready ‘’ to counter any tactics that n may be employed by the smugglers to flood the Nigerian market with foreign rice’’.
He may have sent a message to the smugglers using the Igbokia Creek and Ere beach , connecting Idiroko, under the close watch of Comptroller Dera Nnadi and Seme Jurisdictions, managed and supervised by Comptroller Bashir Jibo, that ‘’it is no longer be business as usual’, stressing that that the officers attached’’ to the Command have a passion for the job and are determined to work without being Compromised’’.
Although, the Command has its challenges which had posed an initial threat when he had assumed office last September but he disclosed that ‘’it has been addressed by the Management’’. He cited the 16 Hilux Vans sent to the Command last October which had helped it in its anti-smuggling Operations over the last five months. This is evident with the monthly seizure of foreign rice, which the Comptroller had said , are turned in by’’ the various Patrol Teams almost on a thirty minutes basis daily’’ including secondhand vehicles that litter the premises.