Spends N5bn Yearly On Repair
By Bayo Bernard
The Controller General of Nigeria Customs Service, Col Hameed Ali (retired) on his appointment was given a mandate by President Muhammadu Buhari to transform the service from a badly corrupt one to a body that will deliver service to the country. “You must end smuggling and other criminal activities across the nation’s borders” the President must have told him.” But two years in office Ali, perceived by officers and men of the Customs have failed to tame smuggling within the nation’s waters and creeks.
The failure to stop the activities of smugglers may not be unconnected with unavailability of the needed patrol boats required for such dangerous operations. Recent investigations by the magazine indicate that two specialized security patrol boats acquired at over $500 million by the service more than two years ago have packed up wasting away at the Marina jetty.
As a result, there have been increased smuggling and other criminal activities within the nation’s inland waters and creeks, as the Marine Commands of the service have been rendered ineffective due to the
total absence of patrol boats and other operational platforms .
Investigations also indicate that the service spends a whopping N5billion annually in maintaining the two patrol boats, the ‘Customs’ Pride’ and ‘Group of Nine’ acquired since 2015, as it needs to run theengines as well as the generating sets and other communication equipment on board the boats which were anchored at the Marina waterfront.
It was further gathered that the boats, which were acquired by the immediate past Comptroller General of the service, Alhaji Dikko Abdullahi, were meant for dedicated patrols by the marine commands, as part of efforts to checkmate the increasing menace of smugglers on the nation’s waterways, which are the primary responsibility of the Eastern and Western Marine Commands of the service
Thus following the acquisition of the two boats, NCS bragged tostakeholders in 2015 that they will be commissioned and deployed to patrol the nation’s inland waters. Two years after, the boats were still tied down at the jetty .rotting away.
The NCS later slated the commissioning and subsequent deployment of the patrol boats to 2016, while stakeholders waited endlessly, but that never happened, not even till now, thereby allowing smugglers to operate on the waterways unchecked.
Former Customs Area Controller (CAC), in charge of the Western Marine Command of the service, Comptroller Umar Yusuf, during a chat with journalists had attributed the delay to the need to install guns on the boats before commissioning and deployment for operational activities.
Yusuf had claimed that one of the vessels was involved in an accident where it was anchored and had to be repaired, adding that some officers of the command had already been trained to handle the boats for operations.
On assumption to office, the incumbent CAC in charge of the Western Marine Command,
Comptroller Sarkin Kebbi, informed journalists that the two patrol boats were yet to be commissioned and deployed for operations due to inadequate armory and trained crew.
He assured that the boats which were still idling away on the marina waterfront would soon be engaged appropriately. But this seemed not to have happened, giving smugglers unfettered room to operate along the creeks.
Despite the series of promise, the Ali led Customs had failed to revamp the boats, action which stakeholders insist, is a blanket cover for the dare devil smugglers to continue to operate, thus costing the President Buhari government billions in revenue.