By Stephen Ubana
For years, smuggling of Foreign parboiled rice, vehicles and other prohibited items in the north western states of Sokoto, kebbi, Katsina, Kano ,Jigawa and the south- south states of Akwa Ibom, Cross river states and Edo, particular, have been going with ease.
This may not be want of trying by the Customs Area Controllers overseeing the various states in the two regions. Many had blamed the lack of Cooperation between the Zonal Coordinators and some of the Area Comptrollers in the regions due to perceived conflicting interest.
The smugglers may have taken advantage of the Conflict of interest s between the zonal officers and the Area Commands to make a mockery of whatever strategies that may have been put in place by the interventionist units, comprising of the Federal Operations unit, FOU, Border Drills and the Comptroller General of Customs Strike Force, anti-smuggling officers. This is more pronounced at the various various border Communities in the two regions , that have boundaries with Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon.
It is interesting to note that this problem is more pronounced in south west states of Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti and Lagos, were bookings , by the smugglers, popular, fireworks, is the order of the day. But it is a no win-situation for the die-hard smugglers as Ali’s Patrol Team officers have always made nonsense of the smugglers every moves by seizing their smuggled Contraband Foreign rice and vehicles at their various illegal routes using the services of informants.
It is not surprising why the Government warehouses , mostly in the border states of Ogun, Oyo, Katsina, including Lagos, where Comptroller Usman Yahaya, overseeing Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, including 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, who call the shot are pulling the strings.
Many believe that the story of anti-smuggling operations in the country would be taken to another level as Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, have completely rejg the Customs Enforcement, Inspection and Investigation uni EII&I, at the highest level of the service by bringing together the trio f Elton Edorie, a former Assistant Comptroller General overseeing , overseeing the PortHarcourt , zonal Office, as the new DCG, of the EI&I, with the trio of ACGs Aremu, Acting Comptrollers Mohammed Uba Garba and Kayode Olusimere, deployed to the Zonal offices as Coordinators in Lagos, Kaduna, Headquarters of, Customs Zone B and Zone C, PortHarcourt respectively, in order to contain the activities of the smugglers in the regions.
He may have taken Acting ACG Aremu , to the take charge of the south west geo-political region in order to give direction and provide the needed Leadership to the interventionists Command Area Comptrollers under him. A senior Customs officer who spoke to The Value News disclosed that the new EII&I, Management Team is very formidable that it could not be faulted by any person. The officer, who could not hide his feelings had said that DCG Edorie and his three Zonal Coordinators have the Capacity to do their work by ensuring that the Interventionist Area Comptrollers and the anti-smuggling officers under them do their part of the job without Compromise.
Despite paying attention to rejig the EI&I, at the Headquarters Level in order to give effective Leadership to the field officers in the zones, Ali, the Customs may have sent a message to other serving Area Comptrollers or those on special assignments at the various zones that the Management Team recognizes hard work. This is evident going by the elevation of the duo, acting Comptroller Yahaya, FOU, Zone A, who ought to have retired this June but allegedly extended by another three months to continue his anti-smuggling drive in the Command until a suitable succsseed is found to replace . Another performing Deputy Comptroller Mhmood Ibrahim, overseeing the exit gate , at the Onne port, in Rivers state was said to have also been promoted to the enviable rank of Comptroller.
The duo were said to have established themselves in anti-smuggling operations and revenue generation in their respective Commands. Ibrahim, particular, was said to have used his technical knowledge to block all the areas of revenue Leakage at Onne port which was said to have translated into improved monthly revenue collection in the Command over the last two years.
Indeed, Importers with their agents who were said to have taken delivery of their cargoes at the port, according to informed sources dread coming close to the gate with their Compromised cargo , for fear that DC.Ibrahim , is waiting for them and would not allow them to exit without checking their documents.Those who were said to have dared him and his officers were said to have found their Containers rerouted to the Government Warehouse where it was detained or seized.
It is not surprising why the agents, particular, are very happy that their traducer at the Onne exit gate had been elevated in order to leave them do whatever they like and still take delivery of their cargo. But an insider told The Magazine that that the problem of the Onne port importers and agents has just begun as Ibrahim, the outgoing , Head of the Onne exit gate, has trained other senior officers that could be used by the Area Comptroller to fill the vacuum that would be created on his exit, once he is decorated with his new rank.
In a related development, Bllo Mohammed Jibo, Comptroller ,Seme Command, who appears to have been guided by Ali, the Customs Comptroller General’s mandate to stop Smuggling of Foreign parboiled rice and vehicles through the land border Community between Nigeria and Republic of Benin had tightened up security within his areas of Jurisdiction.
Many of the smugglers who are no longer funny over the last nine months were said to have relocated to Ogun state where there are over 100 illegal routes in order to remain the illegal business. Recall that the Katsina tate born Nigerian President had banned the importation of foreign rice and vehicles through the Land border on January 1, 2017.
Determined to make the Seme and its environs a no go area for smugglers, he was said to introduced fresh hands into the Command Enforcement unit with the redeployment of Deputy Comptroller Adahunse Rashid, a former Deputy Comptroller in-charge of the Unit to to PortHarcourt. He was said to have introduced one DC.Mohammed , who was said to have been up and doing as some of the Patrol Team Team Leaders and one or two the checkpoints were said to have been removed to reposition the Command anti-smuggling operations. Note that in the last three months, the Command intercepted hundreds of 50Kg bags of foreign rice in various locations including vehicles.
It was therefore , not very surprising that when information broke out that Comptroller Yahaya’s operations and Lagos Roving Team officers had intercepted six vehicles, allegedly loaded with foreign poultry products out of eight vehicles that were said to made attempt to enter into the Nigerian market, he could not believe it This is because of the water tight security at the Lander that it sivery difficult to beat beat the array of security operatives at the land border. He has one mind set that any interventionist unit could always s make seizures at the land border as they are working towards the same goal.
Informed sources told The Magazine that he had contacted one Mohammed, the Dc, Enforcement to know the tru position and who was said to have to have to him that there was no FOU, Zone A, operations at Gbaji axis, le talone alone making six vehicle loads of loaded with poultry products and while two returned to the Land border.
A senior Customs officer described it a the handwork of mischief makers who are out to bring Seme Command into disrepute a as the Area Comptroller could not be penetrated, despite several attempts by some individuals , including officers to do so in order to force him to change his hardline position on smugglers.
Another area, where the Jibo, the Seme Area Comptroller, was said to have set a tack record was in the area of evenue generation , despite coming out from 18 months border closure. The Border closure, had forced may importers with their agents , including those dealing in Economic of West African States ECWAS, Trade Liberalisation goods, popular, ETLS, to keep away from the border. The reopening of the land Border Communities last Decemenber by the Nigerian President may have givenComptroller Jibo and his officers the opportunity to dust the Customs books and attend to traders and Companies who are ready to resume Cross-border business.
Given his knowledge of the operations at the Land border, and having blocked all the areas of revenue Leakge at the border, this may have translated to the collection of N431.16million for the government between January and now. Revenue experts are optimistic that the revenue generation of the Command would improve tremendously with the resolution of the problem between the Nigeria transit cargo importers and the Beninois Customs Authorities over payment of duties.
For now, the Command is making much of its revenue from exports of Cement, dominated by Aliko Dangote, a Multi-billionaire , Nigerian Cement Company. Almost on a weekly basis, scores of trucks load of load Dangote cement loaded in the business mogul branded trucks pass through the Seme border to Ghana , Togo and other West African countries to deliver to their Customers. The Command was said to have processed and exited 1,059, ETLS, Trucks, and exported2,487 and 179, import/Baggage goods. Husani Abdullahi, an Assistant Superintendent of Customs and the Command Chief Public Relations Office, CPRO, shows that the declarations captured and processed by the Command was a total of 713, which maritime analysts had considered as very impressive considering where it is coming from.
The Seme spokesperson had said that impressive revenue generation was ‘’an indication that the Seme border is not only opened for business but fully operational’’. Appealing to genuine Cross-border traders to take advantage of the Lander border to resume their west Coast transactions, assuring that they have no reason to worry if they do the right thing without trying to cut corners to cheat the government.