By Stephen Ubanna
The last may not have been heard about the multi- million naira water ways anti-smuggling security patrol boats , procured by former President Goodluck Jonathan Administration for the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, in 2015.
The procurement of the patrol boats was at he instance of the then Management of NCS led by Abdullahi Dikko, now retired, to boost its marine anti-smuggling operations which was at its lowest ebb because of lack of functional patrol boats and other operational equipment to confront the water ways smugglers who use sophisticated and more fast speed moving boats and armed to the teeth.
The Magazine learnt that the contract to build the ship was awarded to a South African firm, Kobus Naval Design , KND, by the government in 2012. The then Jonathan led Federal Executive Council, FEC, was said to have approved N N3 billion for the procurement of the two NCS patrol boats for the surveillance of Nigeria waters.
Going by the Order, the two vessels , christened ”Customs Pride” and” Group of Nine” were slated to be delivered to the NCS within 10 months. The company was said to have worked round the clock to deliver the vessels on the agreed date because of the much pressure from the NCS officials but it was delivered in April 2015, three years behind schedule.
The Nigerian marine logistics and support service provider, portplus limited which had the contract to supply the spares for the boats and the training of Crew members for the patrol boats was said to have trained 72 0f them within three years, which observers claimed may have caused the delay in its deployment for operations.
It was gathered that the total cost of building the two patrol boats in Cape Town by the firm rose to over $500 million from the initial N3 billion approved for it, thus raising questions there were sharp deals. The patrol at boats which were delivered to the NCS in April, 2015 are currently berthed at the Marina Water fronts ,Lagos, where its idling away at great cost of maintenance to the NCS.
Many believe that there could not have been any difference in the long duration of the patrol boats at the Marina waterfronts where it had berthed, if the South African firm had hastily delivered the vessels to the NCS in 2012 or 2013 to beat the time schedule. This is evident as the vessels still remained at the Marina water front three years after delivery without any sign of going to be put into operation by the NCS any time soon.
Officers and Men of the NCS had expected Dikko, the then Comptroller General and his management team to deploy the patrol boats to the two Amphibious Commands of the Service, Western and Eastern Marine Commands because of his close working relationship with the then President Jonathan, but lacked the political will to do so.
The Western Marine Command operates from Lagos and has responsibility to oversee the Inland waterways and the Creeks in the states in the south west and ,north central and some states in the north west while the Eastern Marine which operates from PortHarcourt, Rivers state, has the responsibility to oversee the south-south, south east, and northeast waters.
Labaran Maku, the then minister of Information had put smiles on the faces of officers during the Commissioning of the vessels in 2015, when he declared that the boats would be deployed to the country’s waters immediately for use by the Marine Commands. He may have spoken the mind of the president. An ”effective patrolled waterfront will go a long way in curtailing the huge economic drain and threat to the incidence of smuggling pose to the nation’s manufacturing sector, ” he had said.
The absence of functional patrol boats and other operational equipment in the two Commands, analysts say, may have rendered their operations ineffective in the country waters in the last two years, thus, paving the way for increased smuggling and other Criminal activities within the nation’s Inland water ways and the Creeks.
From Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Edo, Cross River, Akwa Ibom , Bayelsa to Rivers state, the story is the same: increased water ways smuggling and other hoodlum Criminal activities.
Many had expected Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, NCS, to take advantage of the increased smuggling within the Nigeria water ways to get Presidential to approval to deploy the two Customs patrol boats that are idling away at the Marina water front, Lagos, for operations
Insiders informed the Magazine that Naval personnel and some officials of the, Presidency , ministry of Finance and NPA including the Customs may be feeding fat from the continuous servicing of the idling away of the patrol boats at the Marina fronts.
Being functional vessels, its generating sets must be on daily to warm the engines to facilitate the servicing of the Communication and other Surveillance equipment fitted into the boats to avoid a complete breakdown. Given the high cost to procure diesel to run the generating sets to keep the vessels working , it was gathered between 2015 and now, both the past and present Customs management led by Ali had spent over N15 billion to maintain the patrol boats , thus turning to a Customs drain pipe.
Having abandoned the patrol boats at the Marina water fronts for too long, it was learnt that Ibok Ekwe Ibas, the Chief of Naval Staff, CNS, had sent some Naval Engineers on the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari to assess the fitness of the two Customs patrol boats and what needed to be done to put it into operation. The Naval personnel were said to have been shuttling between Lagos and Calabar, Cross River state over the arms that could be used in fitting into the boats for operations.
The source disclosed that Ali , the Customs boss who is under intense pressure from both official and unofficial sources to deploy the vessels without further delay to avoid causing engine problem to it, may still be waiting for Presidential approval.
Perhaps to get the quick response of the President, the Customs boss, the source said, may have to solicit the support of the National security Adviser, NSA, Mohammed Babagana Munguno, a Major General, retired, to take up the matter with him, to facilitate the deployment of the patrol boats to the two Amphibious Command of the Service to boost their operations in the country waters.
Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller of Customs, and the Service Image maker, would not want anyone to rubbish the Comptroller General about the delay in distributing the boats to the Customs two Marine Commands. Attah had alluded to the fact that the Comptroller General is doing everything within his powers to see to the deployment of the vessels to the two Amphibious Command.
He disclosed that preparations had been made for the for the deployment of the vessels but could not give the exact date. He insists that without the relevant equipment or guns fixed to the bots, it may end up in the hands of smugglers, if hastily put into operations.
Analysts described Attah’s explanation to exonerate his boss over the delay in the deployment of the Customs patrol boats that are idling away at Marina water front as a” lame man excuse”. They had advised him to look for better reasons to give to assuage the public than cook up excuses.
Sarki- Kebbi Mustapha, Comptroller, Western Marine made a statement when he declared that once the patrol boats are Commissioned, the two Customs Marine Commands, Western and Eastern, will become ”more equipped to tackle smugglers, sea pirates and other Criminal element activities within the country waters”.
In the south west and north West alone, there are many known and unknown Creeks used by these smugglers to carry out their nefarious activities. the most notorious among them are the Yekeme, Gboa, Aseke, Choki, and Ijofin Creeks. Others are Alaba market waterside, Badagry axis, and Idiroko water front. There is no gain saying the fact that the two Customs Amphibious Commands needed smaller crafts to be able to patrol the Inland water ways, rivers and the Creeks across the country.