By Stephen Ubanna
The last may not have been heard about the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, anti-smuggling operations in Oyo state between March 6th, 2018 and March 16, 2018. This is because Mohammed Uba Gaba, the Comptroller appears to have put his search on the state described as a haven for smugglers who had relocated from Seme and Ogun state to the state.
Acting on credible intelligence , Yahaya, the Command Deputy Comptroller, Enforcement , on the instruction of Garba, the Comptroller, was said to have ordered the rugged Okpabi Jack, a Chief Superintendent of Customs in-charge of the Command Lagos Roving Team to mobilize his boys in readiness for another operation in Oyo state. state. The first operation carried out in the state by the state by the Lagos Roving team was said to have taken place at the Saki border Community, where suspected foreign rice and other prohibited items had been smuggled and transported into different parts of the state.
This time the name of the town where the operation was expected to take place was said to have been kept a closely guided secret from the officers and men of the Command by the Comptroller to avoid filtering out into the ear of the smugglers.
An informant told The Source that the only officers who may have had the privilege of knowing about the town in Oyo state where the operation would take place was was Yahaya , the Deputy Comptroller Enforcement, and Jack , the boss of the Lagos Roving team . The Comptroller may have taken the two officers into confidence because he knew that they can keep the secret .
It was learnt that even when the officers selected for the operation from the Roving team were making their logistics arrangement to start the journey on Thursday, March 15, 2018, they never let the cat out of the bag where they were going for the operation in Oyo state. A senior officer who was contacted by the Magazine to get a clue of where the operation could take place in the state was emphatic: ” only Garba, the Comptroller” could answer the question”.
The source disclosed that the Comptroller may not had been hesitant to send out this time around the Lagos Roving team out for the operation this time around because of the credibility of the source of the information.
It was learnt that the same informant facilitated the successful operation in the first operation in Saki between Wednesday, March 7, and Friday, March 9, 2018, in which eight trucks loaded with foreign rice were intercepted and taken to Lagos, despite the logistics problem encountered by the team.
It was gathered that when the officers eventually knew they were heading to Ogbomosho for the operation, there was tthat initial apprehension because of the notoriety of the smugglers in the area. iOgbomosho is one of the major towns in Oyo state that had produced top flight politicians like the late Ladoke Akintola, a former Premier of the Old Western Region in the First Republic and Addebayo Alao – Akala, a former Governor of state in the present Civilian Administration.
Indeed, not many officers had expected the operation to be successful because of the side talks in the Command that Jack and his boys appear to be the only ones doing the job as virtually all the major seizures had been linked to the team. notoriety of the smugglers in the area. as According to sources, A source told the Magazine that the aggrieved officers were waiting to hear that the Ogbomosho operation had failed to malign the team. They got it wrong.
It was gathered that Jack who was expected to lead the operation, regarded in Customs circles as a deadly cause could not hide his joy to be involved in it. ”This is the kind of challenges I like”, he was said to have told a close associate.
He was said to have inspired his boys into action to face the Ogbomosho smugglers squarely. insiders told The Magazine that what was some smuggled trucks load of rice from Cotonou port in Republic of Benin.
The team were said to have invaded the town on Thursday, March15, 2018, and headed straight to the location where the smugglers had planned to discharge the trucks allegedly loaded with the smuggled rice concealed with empty crates of beer from Saki border Community.
But the question on the lips of most people was how the truck drivers could beat the numerous security checkpoints including that of the Customs check points from Saki to Ogbomosho town . Eyewitness account disclosed that the truck drivers and their loaders stopped at the busy Ibadan Expressway ,with police men on the road watching to buy bottled waters from hawkers . They had expected the police men armed with AK47 to take advantage of their uniform to block the trucks from continuing their journey instead they waived at them after collecting their settlement.
There are indications that ”it is either the smuggler had booked for the bags of rice to grant him free passage from Cotonou port as the plate number of the trucks may have been allegedly given out to officers at the ckpoints to turn their away their eye when they see the trucks coming by higher Authority”, an officer remarked.
Unknown to the smuggler and the suspected Security operatives giving him coverage , the FOU, Zone A, Lagos Roving team which had been furnished with information about the organized rice Crime in Saki hand prepared to truncate them at Ogbomosho town where the items were to be delivered in the owner’s warehouse.
They may allowed the drivers of the trucks loaded with the foreign smuggled rice to park at its location before striking to avoid open confrontation with the people. Despite the peaceful way of taking over the key of the trucks loaded, with the foreign smuggled rice, the aggrieved Youths of the Area in Ogbomosho town where the operation took place were said to have armed themselves with broken bottles, stones and other pellets which they threw at the Customs operatives, and calling them ”names, business killers”.
The aggrieved Youths may have resorted to the use of dangerous weapons, a source said, to provoke the Customs Operatives to shoot at the crowd to justify their attack on them . They got it wrong as Jack who was in full control of the operation never allowed the officers who were armed to the teeth and trigger hungry to lose their temper that could lead to lose of life.
A resident who spoke to the Magazine from his Ogbomosho base disclosed that despite the attack on the Customs Operatives to frustrate them from taking away the alleged smuggled trucks loaded with foreign rice from the town, the Customs operatives still maneuvered their way and took away the trucks and its contents back to the Command premises in Lagos.
An elated Comptroller Garba was said to have heaved a sigh of relief when information filtered out that the operation was a successful one. He was said to have waited late in the office to welcome back the officers who had gone on the operation in the ancient Ogbomosho town. It could not be ascertained how many trucks were intercepted in the town . Efforts to peak to Attah Jerome, an Assistant Superintendent of Customs and the Command Image maker on the operation and the number of trucks intercepted by the team proved abortive. He told the Magazine, ”I will not be the one to give you the figure but the Comptroller”. At present the Customs Mechanical Workshop now turned to warehouse is swarming with seized trucks load of rice from Saki and Ogbomosho in Oyo state. Intercepted Containers for various infractions are also occupying space at the workshop. This is in addition to Containers seized at the port as well as assorted vehicles evacuated from private residences and cart marts for alleged under payment of duty .s
Many believe that Garba, the FOU, Zone A , Customs boss ,in the recent time may have given a breather to the assorted car mart owners and Lagos socialites using expensive cars such as Rolls Royce, Jaguar, G Wagon, Bentley,Toyota Land cruiser to Mercedes Benz to face rice smugglers in the south west, particularly, Oyo , regarded in security circles as the smuggler haven . the smugglers in Lagos and Ogun states border Communities may have gone underground or relocated to Oyo border areas because of the heat from Garba and his men.
A senior officer who spoke to the Magazine on condition of anonymity confirmed that smuggling of rice along the Seme route had reduced considerably. The officer posits that the recent trailing of nine cars loaded with smuggled foreign rice from Cottonou by the FOU, Zone A, Lagos Roving team which fell into the waiting hand of the police who are still holding on to it for no good reason was an indication that that the area was no longer safe for the rice smuggling business.
Many believe that, the FOU, Zone A Customs boss , may have shifted attention to the rice smugglers because of the Presidential directive to Customs on January 1, 2016, to donate seized rice from smugglers to the Internally Displaced People’s, IDPs, Camps in the north eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe . The other Camp in the list to benefit from the Customs rice donation was the one in Edo state, in the Niger Delta. At present , the Camp warehouse had been stocked with thousands of seized rice excluding the nine cars loaded with smuggled which are still in the custody of the Dente Police station, Oyigbo, Lagos Main land.
They may seen the recent intervention of the FOU, Zone A, Comptroller in Saki border Community and Ogbomosho in Oyo state in the recent time to make seizures of smuggled foreign rice from Republic of Benin as an indictment on Odibo Ochonma ,the Comptroller of Oyo Command.
”The argument may not hold water”, a senior Customs officer who spoke to the Magazine on condition of anonymity, had said. the officer disclosed that since ochonma assumed office in the Command last January, he had been having a running battle with the smugglers , forcing him to rejig his operational team, to give a bite to the Command anti-smuggling operations in the state.
He had described his colleagues deployed to Saki and other border towns in the state as being in the war front because of the activities of the fifth columnists who are bent in making nonsense of the Customs efforts to contain the activities of the smugglers.
There is no gain saying the fact foreign rice from the republic are the only items being smuggled being smuggled to Nigeria through Saki border Community. in Oyo state. Arms and ammunitions were also said to be among the prohibited items being smuggled into the country through the land Border Community.
It would be recalled that in March, 2014, Customs operatives intercepted a catches of 30,000 live cartridges at Saki. The cartridges , according to Customs sources were being transported then to ibadan from Republic of Benin. The items, the officer said were neatly concealed under tubers of yam and , cassava and yam flower to beat Customs operatives to it. but the vigilance of the Customs patrol informed them the bus loaded with arms needed to searched. they were said to stpped the Tyota Hiace bus at Ago-Owode on the Saki / AGO-Are road and 20 cartons where the arms were packed were found. Richard Oteri, the then Comptroller of the Command , now retired, was said to have made another seizure of 56,750 round of live cartridges on the same route in May also. This is an indication that Garba, the Comptroller of FOU, Zone A, who has taken the anti-smuggling war to Oyo Command must also also be on the lookout for arms which many believe are still being smuggled into the country through the notorious Saki border instead of paying all attention to Rice smugglers .
As the FOU, Zone A, customs boss and the Command Lagos Roving team anti-smuggling heat had shifted to Oyo, there are fears in both official and unofficial circles that the unrepentant smugglers , now operating in the state may relocate to Ktsina, Sokoto , Kwara or other states in the north east where smuggling still thrives on a large scale. They may also be tempted to shift base to Seme or Ogun state where there are many Border Communities both known and unknown to continue with what they know best: smuggling as the FOU, Zone A, Authorities appear to relaxed their operations in the area for now.