Anti-smuggling: Police Now Doing Customs Job?

By Stephen Ubanna

The battle line appears to have been drawn between the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, and the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, over  seizure of smuggled parboiled rice in Lagos. The Federal Operations Unit, FOU, zZone A, Lagos Roving team, of the NCS, was said to have trailed a convoy of nine vehicles  loaded with smuggled  parboiled rice from Idiroko land border, Ogun state last Saturday, March  3, 2018, to Onyingbo.

The vehicles were said to have fallen into the hand of the police and detained at Dente police station, Onyingbo. It was learnt that the police had also made some arrests in connection with the seized items. The Magazine  gathered that the  officer in-charge of the Lagos Roving  team, Jack Okpabi, a Chief Superintendent of Customs was said to have reached out to the Dente  Divisional Police Officer, DPO,  DPO, to facilitate the release of the seized vehicles to the  Customs Operatives at Ikeja but no luck. The Magazine was informed that  one Abubakar, an  Assistant Superintendent of Police , ASP, was said to have rebuffed the Customs officials claiming that  the nine vehicle loads of rice were seized by Ibrahim Idris, the IGP, Monitoring team and therefore would not be released to Customs Authorities.

Ibrahim Idris: IGP

Sources told the Magazine that Mohammed Uba Garba, the Comptroller of the Command has taken up the matter with  Edga Imohimi, Commissioner of Police, Lagos state  but no head way appears to have been made.   The source  disclosed that Garba is left with the option of taking up the matter to Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, NCS, who in turn is expected to rech out to Idris, the IGP. to resolve the impasse. The Customs Authorities,  has every reason to worry because the Customs and Exercise Management ACT, CEMA,  gives  them  power to seize offending goods , gives it powers  to enter and search  premises without  warrant for smuggled goods as well of the police in the discharge of its function.

The Customs Authorities had expected the Lagos state Commissioner of police to intervene to facilitate the release of the nine seized vehicles load of rice and the suspects  to them becuuse of the good working relation between them.  The police had always supported the Customs operatives in the land borer stations to contain the activities of smugglers.

Many had expected the police to releases the intercepted none vehicle load of smuggled nine vehicle load of smuggled goods from  Idiroko and the suspects to the FOU, Zone A because  CEMA empowers  it to seize offending goods. The question on the lips of most people was why Idris, the IGP, is presiding over a force where  officers are poaching into Customs areas with impunity.   They would want Imohimi, the Lagos Commissioner  to call the alleged ASP Abubakar to order before the assumed powers gets into his head.

Customs Authorities expectation was informed by past experience  where suspects arrested had been  handed over to the police in the spirit of inter-agency relationship. There are fears in both official and unofficial circles that the Police action in failing to hand over seized  items and the suspects to the Customs may strain their relationship. This is given further credence as Garba, the Comptroller of the Command is not happy  that a junior police officer of such a low rank could take laws into his hand.

While the Command Lagos state Roving team are still struggling to recover the seized smuggled items from the police ,  the Warehouse Operations team  led  by one Assistant Mutalib Sule, who acts on credible intelligence to strike on Monday, March 5, 2018,   was said to have impounded  329 sacks of Pangolin  scales  weighing  492Kg with a Duty Paid Value of  N1.73 billion.  The items were said to have been  seized at an  apartment  along 64 Opebi  Road , off Toyin Street, Ikeja, Lagos. It  was learnt the items were evacuated , under tight security to the  Customs premises for physical examination.  The Customs operatives were ready for the operation as  one of the patrol vehicles was strategically parked  along the Toyin  Street and occupants armed to the teeth. It would be recalled that  in the month of February, 2018,  the team evacuated  55 sacks of Pangolin  and 218  pieces of Elephant Tusks, which were handed over to  NESREA, a government agency in-charge of such artifacts for further investigation.

Garba , the FOU, Zone A, Customs boss , disclosed  that  ”the invention of the International Trade  in endangered species (CITES1973) entails that Customs Administration all over the world  protect wild life by  intercepting  illegal trade  on such animals”.

Pangolin, he said are the only known animals  that have large and protective  keratin scales  covering their skin. He disclosed that ”after a surge  in poaching Asia, the international  illegal wild life  trade has become a growing   threat  to African Pangolin species, noting that theses scales  sourced from other African  countries are trafficked.

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