By Stephen Ubanna
For years, there had been rumours making the rounds of the rackets going on at the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos, warehouse at Ikeja, Lagos . The rumours became more manifest last two years with the regular seizure of Contraband tyres, Foreign parboiled rice and poultry products by the Command patrol team officers on bush and road operations.
The Magazine learnt that traders, vehicle mechanics and vulcanizers and behind the Command office Complex fence practisingg their trades who were said to have been acting as fronts for officers or labouers who have tyres, vehicle parts, bags of Foreign parboiled rice and poultry products to sale at the warehouse. Okada riders were also said to have also been involved in getting Customers for those who have tyres to sale . .
But these had consistently been denied by past Comptrollers and Public Relations officers of the Command including Jerome Attah, an Assistant Superintendent and the Command incumbent image maker , describing it as the handwork of mischief makers.
Unknown to the officers, Aliyu Mohammed, a former Comptroller of Seme Command and now Comptrller of the Command, described in Customs circles as a thorough bred manager of officers has devised a roadmap to sanitise the Command warehouse and clear it of the bad eggs to stop the pilfering of seized goods.
As a prelude to sanitising the warehouse and its environs, he was to have cleared the Mechanics, Vulcanizers and traders behind the Commandoffice Complex fence. The Customs Comptroller was said to have given a standing order to Deputy Comptroller Yaya, who is in-charge of Enforcement to arrest any trespasser found behind the Command office Complex fence trading or doing any other business. The Restaurant operators were also give a quit order by the Comptroller. When the Magazine visited the busy street which share boundary with the Command fence, the usual line up of Vulcanizers, mechanic and traders including agents looking for Customers to link up to officers in the Command were n where to be found.
A resident of the area confirmed that the usual movement of people with vehicles behind the FOU, Zone A, office complex fence for one transaction or the other have disappeared for fear of Mohammed. The unexpected may have happened on Sunday, September 16, 2018, forcing the Comptroller to order the detention of some officers of the rank of Assistant Superintendent to Deputy Superintendent caught in the act at the warehouse.
Trouble was said to have started for the officers when some seized cartons of poultry products from smugglers which were transferred to the warehouse by a patrol team were loaded into a bus to be taken to a site for burial.
It was learnt that some officers in the warehouse had protested taking the seized poultry products to the approved site for burial but insisted that it should be sold to a trader who was said to have been contacted for the deal. the Magazine gathered that there was a heated debate between those opposed to the sale of the intercepted smuggled Poultry products from smugglers and those against it.
in what looked like a set up, Eye-witness account disclosed that when the officers who supported the sale of the hundreds of cartons of poultry products loaded into the van, a call was quickly put to Mohammed, the Area Comptroller who was not in Lagos at the time of the incident. The Customs Comptroller was said to have ordered the arrest and detention of the officers, pending for further investigation. there are indications that the officers may be demoted or dismissed from the Service if found guilty. This is because Customs Comptroller from the onset had made it clear to the officers that he would not tolerate indiscipline and any one found to be an embarrassment to the Service would dealt with. A senior officer who spoke to the Magazine on condition of anonymity said the officers does not deserve any pity but have gotten what they had bargained for.
The Ikeja Customs warehouse incident may have forced the kebbi state born Comptroller to force the labourers engaged in unloading intercepted Containerised Cargoes and truck laden goods for examination and re-loading the goods back into the Container or trucks for proper documentation. The Customs boss was said to have made the situation worse for the laborers, who according to a Customs source, must hproduce guarantors for proper documentation and accountability. With the recent exposed deal in the warehouse, Relations or close friends of the labourers used in the warehouse may not be willing to stand in as any of their guarantor for fear of getting into Mohammed’s trouble who is not ready to spare any person found wanting in the warehouse.
But there are indications that the Customs Comptroller may recall most of labourers back as the Command still need their services in the warehouse. This is because the Command Provost Marshalls who have taken over control of the warehouse would not be able to do the job of the labourers by unloading andre loading goods into inmpounded Containers or trucks. This is given credence by the daily turning in of Containerised goods and truck laden goods that are being transferred to the warehouse by the Command Operations and Lagos Roving team headed by Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs and other patrol teams.
Between Monday, September 17, 2018, the Lura led Operations and Lagos Roving team which was said to have impounded over 10 Containers load of cargoes released at the seaport, including some exotic vehicles, released from Five Star terminal at Tin-can Island port and Port Multi-services Terminal limited, PTML would still need the services of the labouers to facilitate the examination of the cargoes in the warehouse.
TOnly recently, an additional two trucks laden with foreign parboiled rice were said to have been intercepted and transferred to the Ikeja Customs warehouse by the Command Rapid Response Squad headed by Jack Okpabi, a Chief Superintendent of Customs. To count the number of the ”50” kg bags of the Thailand rice on each of the trucks, would still require the services of the labourers , an officer remarked.
Many believe that since Mohammed resumed duties at the Command about three weeks ago, there have been intense Competition among the patrol team leaders in the Command to impress him with seizure of Contraband goods including Thailand rice, smuggled from the land border. The good news was that what may have escaped the Command either at the sea port or at the land border had fallen into the hands of the Abdullahi Kerewa, a Deputy Comptroller and National Coordinator, Custom Strike Force, officers in Zone A, lagos at the land border routes scatered in the south west geo-political region.
It would be recalled that the Federal government on January 1, 2017, banned the importation of foreign parboiled rice and vehicles through the land border stations into the country. The foreign rice and vehicle importers who could not cope with the government fiscal policy, wwere said to have resorted to sponsoring smugglers with the assistance of security operatives, particular, soldiers and the police to carry out their nefarious trade.
Muhammed Uba Garba,a former Comptroller of the FOU, Zone A, Command and now Comptroller, Seme Command was said to have made a mockery of the smuggler’s tactics at the porous Ogun and Oyo/Osun land borders . Using the services of informants, he was said to have been instrumental to the seizure of 11 trucks load of rice in the Oyo/Osun alone in less than two weeks .
In one of the operations, the Command was said to have made a seizure of eight trucks load of rice which was Concealed with Nigeria Breweries limited, NBL, bottles of beer at Shaki border Community axis of Oyo state. In the second operation at Ogbomosho, an additional three trucks load of rice were impounded by the Jack led team after clearing the roads of the miscreants hired by the smugglers to forestall the Customs officers from leaving the town with the trucks load of rice. The security back up of the Lura patrol team was said to have helped to in transferring the trucks to the Command premises.
Indeed,with the seizures rolling in daily into the Command Customs warehouse and the ease at which the legal Department are pursuing for the Condemnation of the intercepted items at the High Court in Lagos to turn it into government property, mohammed , the FOU, Zone A, Customs boss, has sent a warning signal to the smugglers to to turn a new lead or lose their goods which they had borrowed millions of naira from the banks to import and clear at Cotonou port in Republic of Benin or any other port in the West African sub-region to the government.
He has made it clear to those that care to listen that there is no going back in the war against smugglers as those who contravene the government fiscal policies would pay dearly for it. The Customs boss has every reason to beat his chest that smugglers in the south west have no hiding pace any longer because the entire south west had been effectively covered by his officers and the Strike Force team.
Already, the Seme axis , has become a no go area for rice and petrol smugglers who have resorted to the Creeks in Ogun state to smuggle the iems. , Muhammed , the Seme Command, Customs Comptroller who is getting the desired Cooperation of the Military operatives and Department of State Security Service, DSS personnel at the land border may be making an impact in the Command anti-smuggling war as the smugglers are no longer finding it funny.