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-
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”.