By Stephen Ubanna
Smugglers in the south, and across the six south western states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun , Ekiti and Ondo are in for trouble as the Army had promised to collaborate with the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone, Ikeja, operatives in the fight against smugglers.
Muhammed Uba Garba, the Comptroller of the Command was said to have promise to further collaborate with one another in anti-smuggling operations within the region.
Fidelis Azinta, a Major General and the Army General Officer Commanding, GOC, 2nd Division, Ibadan has agreed to collaborate with customs following repeated attacks by smugglers on Customs operatives
Azinta was said to have given his words that anytime Garba, the FOU, Zone A. Customs boss need his support, he would not hesitate to deploy his officers immediately to the scene.
The Customs Comptroller may have been encouraged to embark on the visit to the GOC because of the recent blockade and attack on the Command Lagos Roving Team led by Okpabi Jack, a Chief Superintendent of Customs on operation in Ogbomosho town, Oyo state, to track rice smugglers. It was a fierce battle as the smugglers and their sympathizers did everything within their powers to frustrate the team from carrying away to their Lagos office their trucks load of rice.
Many believe that with the new found working relationship between the Army and the Customs, it would be very difficult for any Community harboring smugglers to mobilize to attack Customs operatives on duty and get away unhurt as the army has joined in the Campaign to forestall smuggling activities in the south west.
The Magazine learnt the FOU Zone A, Customs boss was also supposed to hold a close- door meeting with Abiodun Adekunle Odude, the state Commissioner of Police on how to collaborate to combat smuggling activities in the state but no luck. A source confirmed that Oyo is a smuggler’s haven .
The source disclosed that virtually all the abandoned warehouses in Ibadan, the state Capital and its neighborhood which had been taken over by big time smugglers are filled to the brim with smuggled rice from the notorious border Community. It was gathered that security operatives, knew much about the rice smuggling activities in the area but could do nothing about it.
An Ibadan based business man confirmed that it was from the warehouses that trucks were loaded with rice under tight security allegedly provided by the Police to their various destinations in the south west excluding Lagos and Ogun states.
Garba was also said to have paid a visit to Christopher Odibu, the Comptroller , Oyo/Osun Command in Ibadam on Wednesday, March 21, 2018, who had been having a running battle with the smugglers in the area. Odibu had described Saki , as one of the notorious Community in the state where smugglers operate. The Comptroller was said to have met with the Paramount ruler of the Community seeking to establish Custom presence in the area to forestall the activities of the smugglers.
He was also said to have written the Oba, seeking to get a land within the Community to build a Customs facility , in order to ensure a visible Customs presence at the area. He believes that if the Oba could give the nod for Customs to be given the land, it would go a long way to curtail the smuggling activities in the area but enhance trade facilitation and improved revenue collection for the government.
Investigation by the Magazine shows that there is no visible Customs presence at Saki Community , for now, aside from the Customs Flag, thus forcing the smugglers to go on a rampage in the illicit business, particularly the smuggling of rice from Cotonou port , in Republic of Benin to Nigeria unchallenged.
More worrisome is that there is no good road to the Saki border Community which had made it difficult for Customs operatives to patrol the area freely to forestall smugglers. The Command , alone was said to have made 4,000 bags of rice in January alone , this year but that had not stopped the smugglers from the runs.
It is therefore , not surprising why Garba, the FOU, Zone A, Comptroller , acting on credible information recently deployed his men to the Oyo/Osun axis for operation. The operation was said to have yielded results. In the first operation, the Comptroller confirmed that eight trucks laden with 3,351 bags of rice and 669 jerry cans of vegetable oil were intercepted along Iseyin. In the second operation at Ogbomosho, home town of Adebayo Alao-Akala, a former governor of Oyo state,1253 bags of rice, 50Kg each was evacuated from a warehouse in the town.
Those who think that the FOU, Zone Customs boss had come to stop smuggling completely in the south west would be disappointed. He had made it clear to those that care to listen that there is nowhere in the world where smuggling had be eradicated completely but could only be minimized
Perhaps, this is what the Comptroller and his officers are working round the clock to achieve in the south west geo-political region.
He maintained that as long as the ban on the ban on the importation of rice and vehicles through the land border by the government remains, smugglers would continue to live in fear.
Appealing to Nigerians to support the government on the ban on the importation of foreign rice through the land border, , he disclosed that it is the only ”to encourage local rice farmers, millers.
Prior to the all out war against the big rice smugglers in Oyo/Osun axis, the Command had detained and seized 16 assorted vehicles ranging from Lexus Jeep, Rolls Royce, Lincoln Limousine, Toyota Camry, Toyota Rav4, Toyota Avalon, Toyota Tundra to Dodge, among others. The Comptroller confirmed that the vehicles are mostly 2016 and 2017 models.
Given an insider information, the Customs said six of the vehicles were intercepted along the Lekki-Epe Expressway but the remaining 10 were intercepted while information on information patrol at various locations. ” Some of the vehicles , according to the Comptroller are still detention in the Command.