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.
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.