Anti-Smuggling- Battle Shifts To Ogbomosho?

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.

Cpt. Muhammed Garba: Deployed His Men To Oyo To Track Rice Smugglers

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.

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