Anti-Smuggling: The Lion of Seme Border

By Stephen Ubanna

When Muhammed Uba Garba, former Comptroller Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos, was redeployed to Seme Command, last August, nobody gave him opportunity to succeed. This is because  of the difficult terrain and the age-long tradition between the  indigenes  of the Border Communities between Nigeria and Republic of Benin, who believed  that whatever they do for a living, including smuggling of Contrabands was right.

More worrisome  was the activities of the traditional rulers in the Border  Communities who provide protection for  smugglers found  in their various areas of jurisdiction  and the security operatives who indulge in smuggling operations, thus making it difficult for Customs personnel at the land border to do their work as expected.

but given his experience at FOU, Zone A, Muhammed, according to sources, was not ready  to jump  into the anti-smuggling operations in the Seme border axis without understanding the environment.  He was said to have taken  the month of August,  to study  the environment  and pay courtesy calls on the traditional  rulers and his counterparts in the other security agencies  to rub minds with them and solicit for their support.

Based on his findings on why  indigenes of the Border  Communities  take to smuggling , he was forced to go back to the drawing board to regig his tactics of crushing  the foreign  parboiled rice and vehicles smugglers in the area. This is because, these are the two major items that were mostly smuggled in the area.  It would be recalled that foreign parboiled rice and vehicle  imports , through the land border was banned by President Muhammadu Buhari on January 1, 2017, thus  giving  the Customs officials the mandate to implement it. This is not the case in Cotonou port, Republic of Benin and other ports in the West African sub-region, where importers are allowed to import such items into their country including poutry products,  seecond hand bags, clothing and shoes  and textiles.

As a prelude to carrying out a successful anti-smuggling Campaigns  in the Seme axis, the Customs Comptroller  was said to have made some changes in the Command Enforcement  and Operations Unit.  He was also said to have made some changes in the  patrol team  in readiness to take on the  smugglers found on the land border area. He may have avoided encroaching on the marine environment because  it is the responsibility of the Western Marine Command, the Customs Amphibitious Unit to do so.

Insiders told the Magazine that when he was satisfied that he had set up the necessary structure and with the   pledge of the leadership of other security agencies to support him  in the Customs anti-smuggling war , he quickly mobilised his men into action, forcing smugglers who  could not  penetrate the ranks of the officers and other security operatives to carry out their nefarious trade to describe him as the ”lion of Seme”.

only recently at the  Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, managed  Seme-Krake,  joint Border post  building  constructed by the European Union Commission, EUC, Conference Center,  Dominic Asogwa, Comptroller , Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, was said to have showed  up at a media event organised  by the Customs Comptroller at the border.

Agents who witnessed the event said this is the first time  a top official of another sister agency, particular, NIS, could honour  an invit-

Muhammed Uba Garba: Comptroller Seme Command Addressing The Press.

ation from a Customs Comptroller  at the Seme Command to join him at a media  organised event, showing the spirit of a new working relationship between  the Customs  and other security agencies at the  land border. This  had never been the case over the years. In the past the other security agencies had ganged up against the Customs  to sabotage the Service anti-smuggling efforts.

 

The Customs boss had disclosed that  the Command could not have achieved much  in  its anti-smuggling war  in the last two months  in the Command without the support  of his counterparts at the sister agencies, particular  Immigration, because of the   information supplied about smuggling activities in  areas where Customs presence are not much noticeable.

That much was confirmed  by Asoqwa, the NIS, who  confirmed  that there are several  remote areas in the Seme axis where  only Immigrations officials could be found , thus forcing his officers to serve the duo purpose of being informants to the Customs Authority at Seme and controlling the movement of persons , goods and services , across the border.

It  was not surprising why  Muhammed, the Seme Customs boss  could beat his chest that in two mont,  the Command  seized 16,729 of 50Kg bags of foreign parboiled rice, equivalent of  27 trailer loads of rice, worth  about N302.48 million, 115 cartons  of poultry products , valued at about N728654.00and 57 Jerry cans of Vegetable Oil of 50  litres each.  this is in addition to  1111 pieces of used  tyres, 71 Jerry cans  of petroleum Products and 378  bags of  50Kg each of Sugar.

One seizure which may have gladdened  the Customs Authorities at Abuja was the seizure of 21 vehicles, both exotic and those used as means of Coveyance by  smugglers. One of such , exotic vehices, was a Toyota 4 Wheel Drive, 2016 model. Another  is  a Toyota Sienna. Investigation shows that most of the seized vehicles have  duly registered plate numbers. This may have forced the Customs Comptroller to take up the matter with the  officials of the Federal Road Safety, FRSC,  to fish out the suspects.

The Command was also said to have seized within the period  40 bales of used Clothing, 57 packs of tramadol, 387 sacks of Coconut and other general goods worth  N52 million. Given an insider information, the Comptroller disclosed that  the Duty Paid Value, DPV,  of the seized items in the two months  of operations in the Command alone was  about N839.51 million.

Customs sources told the Magazine that  seven persons  who could not escape when the Customs anti-smuggling personnel swooped on them in their operations  were arrested and detained.  The Customs Authorities  may be handicapped in dealing with the suspects the Customs ay  as the law did not allow the Service to detain any suspect beyond 48 hours. It was not surprising why the most of the suspects were quickly  handed over to the police which have the powers to prosecute such suspects. the Magazine learnt  that some of the suspects were dragged to Court  for prosecution by the police  and subsequently jailed based on the evidence supplied by the Customs Command while some others were granted bail .

The renewed  war against smugglers at the Seme Command  may have forced  many of them to relocate to Ogun  state where  the NIS  confirmed that there are about 84 illegal routes that could be used  by smugglers to carry out their  nefarious trade. Others were said to have relocated to Oyo, Ekiti and the northern axis.

Many believe that Muhammed may have not allowed the anti-smuggling war in the Command to  becloud his drive for revenue generation in the Command. He was said to have blocked all the possible areas of revenue leakages in the  Command, particular in the, Baggage ECOWAS, Economic Trade Liberalisation Scheme and the Valuation  Units. Over the years, the Command had lost billions of naira on under payment  as the Valuation Unit had no standard Value forgoods and vehicles.

Most of the Valuation officers were said to have relied on goggles to give them the market price of dutiable goods and vehicle brands. The Customs Comptroller was said to have changed all that by getting the relevant  duties that ouught to be paid on imported goods including vehicle brands at the FOU, Zone A. This may have forced the Seme Command  Valuation officers to sit up.  This is evident going by the revenue that was said to have been generated by the Command within the  period. An elated Muhammed said, ” our resolute  determination to succeed  resulted  in an  impressive revenue generation  of about N2billion”.

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