By Stephen Ubanna
For the first time, sanity appears to have returned to Seme, the busiest International border community, between Nigeria and the Republic of Benin, a neighbouring country in the West African sub-region in the conduct of business transactions.
The Source finding shows that the usual uncontrolled movement of people , particular, tricycle and motorcycle operators from Benin part of the border into the Nigeria side of the border with smuggled bags of foreign parboiled rice and bales of second hand clothing including hawkers in broad day light under the close watch of officers and other security operatives who were usually tipped between N200.00 and N500.00 have reduced to the barest minimum .
Even the physically challenged individuals masquerading as beggars at the land border Community but doing illegal businesses and acting as informants to smugglers on the movement of the Seme Command patrol team officers on the road have also reduced as they may have found out that it was no longer business as usual.
The alleged resumption of Muhammed Uba Garba, a former Comptroller of Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos, who was affected in the recent shake up in the Service in the Command may have been instrumental to the sanity that had returned to the border town when he has not started implementing his action plan . The Customs Comptroller who was said to have resumed in the Command about three weeks ago was said to have sent a message to the unrepentant under cover smugglers who had been operating freely at the land border over the years that the battle line has been drawn . The Provost Marshall Unit was said to have stationed a Hilux van at the Joint border post to control the movement of goods and services . The officers were said to have been making good seizures of smuggled rice loaded in daring motor cycle operators.
Already the Customs Comptroller was said to have told officers and men of the Command at one of its official parades, that they must show greater discipline and dedication to duties to ” facilitate trade and improve the revenue generation of the Command as well as fight smugglers to a standstill .
He was said to have stopped short of reading the riot act to the Command patrol team leaders and their officers including those on the import and Export Seat to sit up and do the right thing without Compromising their positions. He was said to have made it clear to the officers that he would not hesitate to” sanction any officer caught in the act”.
The Magazine learnt that he has made some strategic changes to reinvigorate the Command’s operations in the recent time. The changes , according to a source, affected a former Deputy Comptroller, Import and Export and an Assistant Comptroller in-charge of Enforcement. The Deputy Comptroller was said to have been moved to Head the Command’s Administration Unit while the Assistant Comptroller, one Hassan, took over the Import and Export Seat. The changes was a warning signal to other senior officers holding strategic positions in the Command to sit up. Another Deputy Comptroller was said to have been removed recently over his inability to handle issues that was within his control without involving him. A senior Customs officer told the Magazine that there had been uneasy calm as many of the officers were yet to come to terms with Muhammed style of leadership , accorda.
The Comptroller,according to a source may be in a hurry to start making spectacular seizures in the Command as he did at FOU, Zone A, within weks of assumption of office .This is because since his assumption of duties in the Command barely three weeks ago, no major Contraband seizure had been made by the Command. An Enforcement officer confirmed that no exotic Vehicle had been seized by any patrol team. The officer disclosed that the hundreds of ”50” bags of foreign parboiled rice that were seized were intercepted by officers on bush operation, an indication that many of the patrol leaders should be ready to go for gross inefficiency as they were not making seizures.
An indigene of Badagry Community told the Magazine recently that vehicles loaded with poultry products from Cold Rooms in Cotonou , frequently find their way into the Nigeria market through unapproved routes after booking. The source confirmed that the poultry product smugglers also hire Crafts that discharge at the Badagry Creek where awaiting customers are on ground to take delivery. He disclosed that past Comptrollers of the Seme Command may have had difficulty in controlling the activities of the field officers because most of them have link with the smugglers who tip them daily.
‘l; As a prelude to sanitising the notorious Seme border, the Customs Comptroller was said to have paid a vist to Kayode Oguntuase, the country’s Ambassador to Republic of Benin with a promise to work towards trade facilitation and improve the revenue collection of the Command by blocking all revenue loopholes.
Worried about reports of the activities of smugglers in the border Community, the Seme Customs boss was said to have told the Ambassador that ”smugglers will face hard time”. He was also said to have to have pleaded with Akinosho Hairat, the country’s Customs Controller of Customs who has expressed her” readiness to work with the Command to contain the activities of the across border smugglers”.
Insiders told the Magazine that the Customs Comptroller may have carried his message of zero tolerance for smugglers to the palaces of the Ankran of Badagry, Oba of Ibereku Community and other Paramount rulers visited within Seme and Badagry axis and its environs. The Seme Comptroller was said to have taken the same message to the revered Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, on Tuesday, September 11,2018. A member of the team told the Magazine that he had pleaded with the Royal fathers for their support as the custodians of the land in the Customs anti-smuggling war to protect the nation’s economy. The Comptroller’s familiarisations visit to the military formations in Badagry and Owode, was considered expedient, by security experts.
The security experts saw the Customs Comptroller’s visit to the Army Battalions 243 and 121 Forward Operations base at Badagry and Owode respectively as very timely in the Customs anti-smuggling war. This is because the soldiers and the Air-Force personnel were critical actors in the anti-smuggling war at the Seme land border and its environs. There had been instances in the past where the uniformed personnel had been caught with smuggled vehicles , Thailand parboiled rice and cartons of poultry products and other Contraband items by Customs personnel but had been challenged by the officers at gun point.
Given the Seme Customs boss determination to achieve results with the operational tools released to the Command by Hammed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, he was said to have solicited the support of the Brigade Commanders who had promised to give the Command the security back up in the anti-smuggling war as part of the inter-agency Collaboration.
Many believe that the support of the soldiers and the Air Force personnel would be able to assist the Command to forestall the activities of the smugglers who were usually armed to the teeth from carrying out their nefarious activities. A Customs source told the Magazine that the Command had lost billions of naira over the years through the activities of the VIP rice, exotic vehicles and second hand clothing importers and their sponsored smugglers.
It would be recalled that the VIP smugglers, who engage the services of the youths of the border Communities and security personnel may have been having their way over the years but there are fears in both official and unofficial circles that they have got their match in Muhammed who is prepared to cut their wings. The Comptroller is optimistic of policing the border communities within the Seme jurisdiction with ease with the support of the Soldiers and Air force personnel who have thrown their weight behind the Command anti-smuggling war.
For now, one thing that may be working for the Seme Customs Comptroller was his understanding of French, a major International language, spoken in the French -speaking countries in the West African sub-region including Republic of Benin. Only recently, the Seme Customs boss was said to have visited the Owode Out Station of the Command , where arrangements had been made to get an interpreter for him to relate with the Benenios government officials in the Border Community.
The Comptroller was said to have ignored the arrangement made by his officers and walked straight to the Benenios officials and was found discussing with them in french. The Out Station officers were at a loss. This is because past Comptrollers that had worked at the Command had relied on them to contract an interpreter whenever they were at the Out Station on a working visit.
The situation became very embarrassing that the Headquarters was forced to deploy a Deputy Superintendent of Customs who understands the French language to serve as an interpreter instead of engaging the services of a non Customs officer all the time.. The Deputy Superintendent was said to have operated from the the NCS office at Cotonou. To improve on his spoken french, he was said to have been sponsored on a one year advanced French Language studies in one of the Universities in Cotonou.
But the officer may have lost the job of being an Interpreter to the current Customs Comptroller at Seme Command in his iteractions with his Benenios Customs officers, thus saving the Command thousands of naira yearly. This is evident going by the recent close door meeting between the Comptroller and his Beninenios Counterpart at SSeme.
A source told the Magazine that the proceedings of the meeting was conducted in French, that the Benenios officials could not hide their feeling that they now have a Nigeria Customs Comptroller at the Seme International border who could speak both English and French, which is an added advantage to the Service.
The Seme Customs Comptrller, was said to have chaired the first Joint Border Security Meeting, JBSM, which took place at the joint border post at Seme on Friday, September 7, 2018. The meeting , according to a source, was at the instance of Muhammed to tackle the illegal trade in the border area, described as” capable of hindering the maximum revenue generation of the Command for the government”. The Command, the Magazine was informed has a monthly revenue target of N630 million which had never been met this year. Muhammed disclosed that ”securing the nation’s border has become imperative in order to protect the economy from the influx of Contraband items from Republic of Benin into the country”.
Many believe that the Customs Comptroller, may have prepared himself for the International border assignment, going by his early engagement of private French language teachers, who were working with him under ground . The French teachers were said to have been with him for the past six months, and had properly guided him on the use of Diplomatic languages in the conduct of business at the land border and dealings with his counterpart at the Republic of Benin and other Countries in the Cote d’Ivoire corridor in the West African sub-region.
A Customs source told the Magazine that his communication with indigenes of the Seme Community found around the Customs office in French has improved his spoken french. This may have helped him to tighten the revenue loopholes in the Command and put a close watch on the officers. This is because of the usual deals that goes on at the trailer park before the truck laden goods are allowed to enter into Nigeria to go through the Customs formalities.
An insider confirmed that the Command generated about N520 million in the month of August, 2018, described as one of the best since the beginning of the year. Mohammed Aliyua, former Comptroller of the Command, now Comptroller of, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos , was said to have made all the necessary efforts to improve on the monthly revenue generation of the Command through trade facilitation but that was how far he could go.