By Stephen Ubanna
officers and men of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, across the country , particular, the anti-smuggling officers , are working round the clock to win the ear of Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General , NCS, by arresting smugglers on the wanted list of the Service. The action may have been spurred by a recent article by the Source, that Customs officer turn another way to VIP vehicle smugglers for a price.
From Lagos, Ogun, Kwara, Oyo, Osun, Cross river, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Kebbi, Kano, Jigawa, Katsina, Adamawa, Taraba Borno and Yobe states, the story is the same: Hunt for VIP vehicle smugglers.
Only recently, a well known VIP Vehicle smuggler , one Deinde, who operates in the Idiroko border axis and had been on the wanted list of the Service for years was arrested in his private vehicle in Lagos by a Customs patrol team who had been trailing his movement through informants.
Sources told the Magazine that the popular VIP was not found with smuggled exotic vehicles but was arrested on the road.
Many had thought that it was Comptroller Muhammed Uba Garba led Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Operations and Lagos Roving team headed by Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs, whose men are all over the border areas in the south west geo-political region that made the arrest but it was not. Those who knew him disclosed that he does not go out of his way to arrest suspects for the sake of arresting but it must be with reason.
Eyewitness account described the arrest of the VIP as uncalled for because he was not found with any smuggled vehicle but on a private visit to Lagos. Given a standing order from Dangladima, a Deputy Comptroller, Enforcement and Investigation , to his men to get him and others who had been elusive at all cost because of the number of exotic vehicles which usually found their way into the Lagos market through Idiroko and Seme land border stations daily. It was learnt the alleged VIP had trained many other vehicle smugglers doing the job for him at a price.
insiders told the Magazine that he had remained elusive over the years because there were senior Customs officers both serving and retired who were on his pay roll and giving out information to him. It was therefore not surprising that his arrest had dominated the discussion of officers at the Commands and Customs Headquarters.
The Magazine gathered that he was quickly flown to Customs Headquarters where he was shown to Ali, the Comptroller General as one who had broken all the security measures put in place by Customs to forestall vehicle smuggling in the land border area of Seme and Idiroko axis.
It was gathered that after a brief interrogation at the Customs Headquarters, he was flown back to Lagos at the expense of the Customs Authorities and detained at FOU , Zone A, for about two days. He was said to have been released on bail after fulfilling all the bail conditions.
Despite releasing him on bail , he had continued to report to the Command on a daily basis. He was said to have told those that care to listen that he was not molested in detention. The arrest of the VIP smuggler has sent a signal to other VIP vehicle smugglers that there are no hiding places for them ant longer as they could be arrested anywhere.
It would be recalled that in one week , the Command Operations and Lagos Roving team detained 18 exotic vehicles evacuated from two private residences and a car mart at Ikeja, alone. Muhammed, the Command Comptroller , according to a source is still awaiting the owners of the detained vehicles to come forward with the relevant Customs document to take delivery of it.
Unconfirmed reports said 15 of the vehicles were smuggled while three were released from Tincan Island port without payment of the appropriate duty. Investigation by the Magazine shows that much of the rot at the seaports are committed on the vehicle Seat as importers with their agents connive with Valuation officers to under-value vehicle models at the expense of the government.
A retired senior Customs officer who spoke to the Magazine disclosed that without the interventionist measures of Muhammed , the FOU, Zone A Comptroller and the support given to the Riks led Operations and Lagos Roving team to do their job without inter interference, the nation could have been losing millions of naira in unpaid vehicle duties daily.
As at last Wednesday, July 18, 2018, the 18 exotic vehicles earlier impounded by Riks and his men were still at the Command premises. A visitor to the Command would mistake it as a” car mart” dealing on on vehicle sales, because of the number of officers watching over the vehicles as if they were mandated to look out for Customers. one of the vehicles,a G-Wagon, landing cost was said to be about N100 million.
There are fears in both official and unofficial circles that 15 of the 18 exotic vehicles may be forfeited to the government because they were smuggled into the country through unapproved routes. For the owners of such vehicles , their case could only be handled by Ali, the Comptroller General and the Presidency through Executive Order, a source said.
This is because the detailed information about the detained exotic vehicles had already been forwarded to the Comptroller General by Muhammed, the Customs Comptroller, meaning that the Customs Comptroller General has daily records of vehicles and other Contraband seizures made by the Command, particular, foreign parboiled rice stocked at the Customs warehouse.
There is no saying the fact that the given the in-road that had been made by the Command in tackling the die- hard vehicle smugglers in the south west, many who were not happy with Muhammed’s achievements over the last one year had done everything within their powers to blackmail him including writing petition to rope him in but got it wrong This is because the various investigations teams that were said to have been sent to the Command to verify the allegations had found nothing incriminating against him but to encourage him and his boys to continue their good job. The fallout was that the Command Operations and Roving team officials and other patrol teams had been let lose to go after the big time vehicle smugglers in their hideouts sniffing like mad dogs on the field. The Operations and Lagos Roving team, particular, were said to have extended their operations to the Ogun and Lagos hidden water sides that were not known to the Western Marine Command and had made seizures of truck loads of foreign parboiled rice .