Anti-Smuggling: Ali Gives Garba The Key

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.

Detained Rolls Royce From A Private Residence.

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.

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