By Stephen Ubanna
For much of last month and late last week, there were subtle rumors making the rounds at Customs circles that Hameed Ali ,a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, has singled out Mohammed UBA Garba, Comptroller, Federal operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, for a special award in recognition of his” sterling performance” in 2017 in the south west geo-political region. The performance was unexpected considering where he was coming from, FOU, Zone C, Owerri, Imo state, to FOU, Zone A which is located in Lagos , the hub of the nation’s economic activities.
The rumour became heightened when he returned from the monthly meeting at Abuja last January. The rumour peddlers claimed that he would be elevated to the enviable rank of an Assistant Comptroller General of Customs to continue his good work.
When the rumour could not jell, they claimed that they heard from reliable sources at the Customs Headquarters that Dan gladima .A.A., a Deputy Comptroller General ,DCG, of Customs, in-charge of Enforcement and Investigation has been mandated by Ali, the Comptroller General, to send a letter of Commendation to the FOU, Zone A, Customs boss over his persistence in making exotic car seizures for alleged gross violation of government fiscal policy measures within five days in December, 2017, a record that had been set in the Command.
In making the exotic car seizures, Garba , popular, UBA, was said to had been called names by those whose prized vehicles were detained or seized over alleged infraction. Okpabi Jack, a Chief Superintendent of Customs and Officer in-charge of the Command Roving team who had been at the center of raiding private residences and car marts to evacuate suspected vehicles was said to have been threatened by Assassins to dampen his enthusiasm to do the patriotic work. They got it wrong as the Comptroller threw his weight behind him to continue the raid of the private residences keeping the suspected cars alleged to have violated the government fiscal measures.
Given the support of the no nonsense FOU, Zone A, Comptroller, to the Jack led Lagos Roving team and information made available to him, he was said to have sent out his boys on surveillance of some suspected private residences between late November, 2017 and early December, 2017.
The Magazine learnt that when Jack became convinced that the coast was clear to strike without resistance from any quarters, he mobilized his men into action. The Lagos socialites who may have imported exotic vehicles to celebrate the 2017 Yuletide and the new year were caught unawares.
as information had filtered out to Customs quarters that some of these expensive car owners do not have the relevant Customs Documents to justify the use of the cars on Nigeria roads.
The question that was said to had been persistently asked by the FOU,, Zone A, Customs boss was: how could an importer spend thousands of dollar to import one vehicle but could not pay the appropriate Customs duty?. He may be looking for trouble, he was reported to have said.
Many believe that the vehicle importers who had committed such infraction may have smuggled the exotic vehicles into the country through illegal route and therefore could not confront the Customs Formation to perfect their documents for fear of being seized at Ikeja.
A source confirmed that they had opportunity to do so when the Customs Authority relaxed its stringent policy of” stop and search” vehicles on the road because of the opposition of the National Assembly forcing the FOU operatives to act on credible intelligence to strike.
The Customs and Excise Management Act, CEMA, Cap 2004, section 147, gives the Customs powers to ”enter and search premises without warrant for smuggled goods”. The Law also gives it powers to ”parade freely, enter any place in Nigeria at any time to enforce Customs laws and regulations”. This may have encouraged Jack and his boys to raid suspected private residences in Parkview estate, Banana Island, Alhaji Bankole Crescent, Ikeja and Tola Adewumi Street, Maryland, Ikeja on the orders of the Area Comptroller between December 7th and 15 the , 2017 and evacuated some of these suspected exotic vehicles.
Available report shows that the exotic vehicles without the relevant Customs documents evacuated from some of these private residences within the period ranges from Rolls Rocye, Porche Panamera, Jaguar, Bentley, Bentley, G waon, Toyota Land Cruiser to Mercedes Benz Jeep. An elated Garba, was said to have sent the report of the Command activities in December to Comptroller General last January, which shows that it raided private residences on the basis of CEMA on December 7th, 8th, 14th and 15th and evacuated exotic vehicles numbering about 10.
Ali, the Comptroller General, was said to have read the report and was very happy that the FOU, Zone A, Comptroller is giving the economic saboteurs a run for their money. insiders told the Magazine that Garba may not have made the list of the officer that were given letter of Merit at the last International Customs Day Celebration in Abuja, became the report came in late when the Management had taken decision on the recommendation of the Committee that shortlisted Officers to be honored on that day.
But the Comptroller General did not lose sight of the fact that Garba, who had remained consistent in the Customs anti-smuggling war deserve to be honored as a way of encouraging him to make more exotic car seizures that would further enrich the government treasury through the issuance of Demand Notice, DN to the owners.
There was an instance in the Command last year where a detained Rolls Royce owner was asked to pay a DN of N5 million but the vehicle was re-valued by another senior officer on the orders of Garba, the Comptroller, who gave DN of N45 million. The Rolls Royce owner was said to have paid the DN to the government treasury and took delivery of his exotic car without protest.
Ali’s deep appreciation of the outstanding performance of the FOU, Zone A, Customs boss was said to have been contained in the ”Letter of Commendation” sent to the Comptroller on Friday ,March 9, 2018, through the office of the DCG, E&I, which was cited by the Magazine.
” I write to commend your diligence and dedication to duty resulting on the evacuation and detention of ten exotic vehicles from a private residence and other locations for different infractions the 7th,8th,14th and 15th December, 2017”.
The Comptroller General had declared that the ”timely detection of these acts of gross violations of government fiscal policy measures has demonstrated his ”zero tolerance attitude for corruption and other vices” in line with policy thrust of the President Muhammadu Buhari Administration.
The gladdening words in the well crafted message of the Deputy Comptroller General , E&I, to the FOU, Zone A, Comptroller was his remarks that the ”Comptroller General and indeed, the entire Management Staff of the Service were happy about” Garba’s laudable feat”.
Appealing to him to ensure that he sustains the tempo of the Service anti-smuggling opera rations in the states in the south west covered by his Command, he disclosed that it is in the ”interest of the economy of our great nation”.
A visitor to the Command last Friday disclosed that when information filtered out from Abuja that Garba, had been given a”Leter of commendation” by the Management, for his ”sterling performance , officers trooped in and out froms his office to Congratulate him and to pledge their loyalty.
It was gathered that wherever two or three officers are gathered, the Letter of Commendation from the Management to their boss dominated their talks. They see the Letter of Commendation from the Seat of Power as a sign of good things to come to him.
His colleagues and close associates who heard about the Letter of Commendation sent to him by the Management were said to have sent encouraging” SMS” to him. A close source told the Magazine that his phone was awash with ”SMS”s from friends and well wishers.
The Comptroller was said to have told those that cares to listen that he would not rest in his ”oars until the country economic saboteurs who are mostly based in Lagos change their attitude to business and ” imbibe the culture of doing the right thing by paying the appropriate Customs duties for their exotic car imports and other goods .He was said to have sent a warning signal to vehicle smugglers across the land borders in the south west that it is no longer going to be business as usual as security had been tightened up .
This is where Ibrahim Idris, the Inspector General of Police , IGP, has to call his men to order, who sources said are bent on frustrating the works of Customs operatives . Only recently, the police was said to have frustrated the Lagos Roving team of the Command from sealing up a car mart at Ogun state.
The patrol team was said to have made all the efforts to find their way into the car mart but that was how far they could go. Out of frustration , they were said to have reached out to Jack , their boss , who ordered them to use the Command Seal to bar the owner or buyers from going into it for further business transactions . But the team were said to have complained of insufficient Seal at their disposal to do it.
It would be recalled that the Lagos Roving team of the Command had trailed about nine vehicles loaded with foreign parboiled rice from Cotonou port through the notorious Idiroko land border Community to the sprawling Onyigbo market at Lagos Mainland . The foreign rice was said was said to have fallen into the waiting hands of the police who were said to have detained the vehicles at the Dente Police station . The Dente police Division, where the vehicles loaded with the smuggled rice are detained was said to have made some arrests in connection with the items but that was how far they could go .
But handing over both the smuggled foreign rice and the suspects to the Customs Formation at Ikeja, remained a difficult decision for the police to take for now, fueling speculation that they may have vested interest in the detained smuggled foreign rice.
While the FOU, Zone A officials are still making efforts to reach a truce with the police to take over the detained vehicles loaded with smuggled rice to their warehouse in Ikeja and the suspects, on Friday Mrch 9, the Comptroller was said to have facilitated the interception of another eight trucks, loaded with smuggled rice from Cotonou port, Republic of Benin.
The rice seizure was a major interception by the Command Lagos Roving team. The Magazine cited the trucks at the Customs warehouse, Ikeja where security had been tightened up.
Analysts see the seizure of the foreign rice heading to Nigeria from Republic of Benin on a day a Letter of Commendation had been sent to the FOU, Zone A, Comptroller by the Management as his own way of showing his appreciation to the Management and assurance that the Command would continue to enforce the law on the ban on the importation of rice and vehicles through the land border by the government.
It was learnt that more officers had been deployed to the Customs Mechanical Workshop, turned warehouse, to fully patrol the area daily and to forestall attempts by intruders to find their way into the warehouse by climbing the fence as was done in past.
The officers , according to a source had been armed to the teeth with AK.47 and given a matching order to ”shoot at sight”. This is a warning signal to hoodlums who might want to test the will of Garba’s security personnel on patrol in the warehouse to watch it as they not be lucky this time around.