Customs: Exposed, A Greedy Drug Importer

By Stephen Ubanna

Late  last year, Jibrin Musa,  Comptroller,  Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Apapa Command and Mohammed Uba Garba, his counterpart at the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja , were said to had  received  an alleged document within the same period  that some  unapproved controlled and regulated  pharmaceutical products were being shipped to Nigeria from  the Asia country of India .

The document, a source said  had revealed that the offensive pharmaceutical products  were to be shipped I  APM,  terminal  at Apapa port.  It was said to have given out the name of the vessel sailing to Apapa port with the pharmaceutical products and that of the importer to  prepare the mind of the Customs operatives to intercept the offensive  medicaments  that may be discharged by the vessel on arrival at the Nigeria port. The  alleged  controlled and regulated drugs were said to have been shipped to Nigeria from the Asia country  by one Villa Gold Pharmacy

Worried why the medicaments importer had chosen Apapa port for the dirty business, Musa, the Apapa Comptroller, could not  sit by and watch  the Consignment   fall into the waiting hands of Garba’s men on the  Oshodi-Apapa Expressway. He was said to have prepared his mind on how to get his officers fully involved to ensure that the Consignment were intercepted at the port.

As  a prelude to arresting the Containerized pharmaceutical products,   he was said to have held a close-door meeting with the senior officers comprising of t he officers   in-charge of Enforcement, APM terminal, Customs Intelligence Unit, CIU, Revenue , Valuation, Information Communication Technology, ICT, Export , Administration and the Command  Public  Relations Officer, PFO.

The Magazine learnt that there were other invited senior officers at the meeting . The meeting was ostensibly to put together a workable frame work to facilitate the arrest of the Containers loaded with the offensive Pharmaceutical products  at the port. This is ostensibly to further convince  Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and the Comptroller General that its anti-smuggling efforts and the full deployment of its ICT facilities in its operations  are yielding results.

The Comptroller was said to have appealed to the senior officers that all hands must be on deck to ensure that the Containerized medicaments were intercepted at the port. He  was said to have  obliged the officers with the name of the ship sailing to the port from India with the Containers and its numbers including the name of the importer .

Armed with the information, the ICT, personnel were said to have gone to work immediately to track the vessel on the high sea and to monitor when it would arrive the port to discharge the Containers.  It was learnt  that between t the month of December, 2017, when the information was given out to the senior offers  by the Comptroller  to  Tuesday, February 6, 2018, when the first three  Containerized  medicaments were intercepted,, the ICT  and the CIU personnel were said to had worked round the clock to track the vessel shipping the Consignment into the country.

Alao, the Deputy Comptroller in-charge of the APMT was said to have read the riot act to the releasing officers, who were mostly Assistant Comptrollers to sit up to ensure that the Comptroller’s directive was not flouted   by releasing the offensive  cargoes unknowingly.  On its part, the Enforcement Unit tightened up security at the port with support of the police and the Department of the State Security, DSS.

The FOU, Zone A, Roving team, headed by Jack Okpabi, a Chief Super intent of Customs who was saddled with the responsibility by Garba,   the Comptroller, to intercept and bring the Containers, loaded with the offensive cargoes to the Command  was busy with his game plan which was kept close to his chest until he was ready to strike with his men.

He was  said to have sent his men on constant surveilance of the port to know when the vessel freighting  the Containers to country would arrive the Apapa port. He did not stop there, the source said, as he positioned his men at strategic locations  alone the Oshodi- Apapa Express Way and Mile 2 Bridge.  The operational plan of the team , the source further  said was designed to forestall the offensive medicaments  from entering the Nigeria market.  That was how far, the team could go.

S But signs that the Containerized medicaments  would eventually fall into the waiting hands of Musa’s men at the port emerged early February, 2018,  when information lfiltered out  from the port  that the much expected vessel carrying the offensive India medicaments had berthed at the APM terminal and  discharged its cargo in readiness to set sail to its Indian base.

Given that the CIU, had earlier passed some credible information about the suspected  3x”40”  containerized medicaments imports and nos. from  India , may have forced the  officials of the various other Units saddled with the responsibility to  arrest the Containerized  offensive medicaments  to be vigilant.

The CIU  personnel may  have kept close to their chest the necessary information about the suspected Containers to avoid filtering out to the importer’s agent who may resort to plan B  of not going ahead with processing of the import documents and subsequent payment of   duty .

The  importer’s agent, according to sources, was very happy when he paid the duty on the imported medicaments and other unreceipted bills that the coast was clear to take delivery of the Consignment.  He got it wrong.

He had presented his documents to the CIU for stamping and approval to facilitate the positioning of the Containers  for scanning and examination at the terminal.  Given the approval, he was said to have reached to APMT   to book a date  for scanning and  for examination of the Cargoes. He got the CIU nod to go ahead with the examination of the cargoes.

Based on the CIU approval, the Customs operatives and all the other relevant agencies personnel that may be involved in the examination of the cargoes were quickly contacted  to be at the scanning  and examination site on Tuesday, February 6, 2018. Officials of the  National Agency For Food and Drug Administration, NAFDAC, and the DSS,  were also said to be on ground to participate in the examination of the cargoes.

Given an insider information, the Apapa Customs boss  confirmed that 936 cartons of tramadol Hydrochloride tablet,225mg and56 cartons of Collistop Chlophniamine Maleate Capsules, 4mg, were found in the  first Container , MRSU 3637149 .

He disclosed that in the second Container, MRKU, nos.196764, 364 cartons of tramadol Capsules BP, 120mg,192 cartons of tramadol Capsles, 250 mg and 160 cartons of Dobumol Anagestic. T While the third Container,  MRSU3516384  was said to have contained  554 cartons of  tramadol Capsules BP, 120mg and 176 cartons of Col-cap.

indeed, there was no sign that another Container loaded with the offensive medicament  import from India  could be found again with the discovery of the  earlier 3x”40” Containers load on Tuesday but on Wednesday, February 7, 2018, the importer proved book makers right that he was a greedy person whose craze for profit was insatiable as another  ”40”, Container, loaded with the offensive Consignment was discovered during scanning and examination at the APM terminal.

An eyewitness account disclosed that  the Container nos. MRKU 6058282 as loaded with 200 cartons of tramadol,225mg,330 cartons of Ibramodol, Chest and Lungs tablets, 15mg, 98 cartons of  Col-Caps Capsules, 4mg and 453 cartons of RallyExtra 50mg.

A visitor to the Enforcement Unit  on Thursday, February 8, 2018, confirmed that some of the offloaded cartons of  the tramadol drugs in one of the40” Containers  examined were still  lying on the ground awaiting to be cleared.  But on Monday, February,  12, 2018, when the Magazine disguised himself to  the Enforcement Unit, the examined Container load of medicaments  and the offloaded cartons of  drugs had been removed  and the Container taken to another location within the port. The Duty Paid Value, DPV,  of the imported Consignment  from India ,was put at about N110.02  million.

Going by the Customs and Excise Management Act, CEMA,   the items are liable to seizure and subsequent forfeiture to government in accordance with the provisions  of section 147 of the CEMA Act. The seizure of the items, analyst said , would be a big loss to the importer who had be exposed of his dirty  businesses, . This is because the duty  that had been paid on the Consignment   , shipping and terminal charges would never be refunded to him, a Customs officer remarked.

In spite of the fact that investigation is still on going on the matter. the Apapa Comptroller confirmed that one suspect   had been arrested in connection with the imported  goods. but granted a an ”administrative bail”.

Already, the Director General of NAFDAC and his men are waiting in the wings to take over the seized Containers load of medicament from the Apapa Command Customs boss.  The question on the lips of most people was : why seize the drugs when it is not on the import prohibition list? .

In apparent response to the question, Musa confirmed that  tramadol  was not on the trade but controlled and regulated. He disclosed that NAFDAC  could give approval to the importer  to go ahead with the importation but confine himself to the mg approved by the government. He stated that the craze for profit may have forced  some of the drug importers to abuse the policy  and the law   had to take its full course as a derement  to others. It is not surprising why the Villa Gold Pharmacy tramadol  imports from India was promptly seized  over alleged abuse of  the mg that ought to be shipped to the country for sales in the market.

Musa lamented the negative impact  that could have result  if the drugs had found their way into the Nigeria market, given the present level of insecurity in the country, ” he said.

It would be recalled  that last Novemeber, Barsha Yusuf, the ICT, guru and former Comptroller , Tin-can Island Command and now Comptroller, PAAR, at Customs Headquarters  had arrested and handed over two ”40”  Containers load of  falsely declared pharmaceutical products to the agency.

This is in addition to the handing over of a ”40” Container loaded with Spectradol, Tramadol Capsules,  Spectra-Doxyzine Capsules,  and Jaimart tablets  which was handed to NAFDAC . The agent was said to have tendered a bill of lading showing that what the Container  carried only vehicles.

But the 100 percent showed that it was loaded with offensive drugs which was seized according to  the Customs and Excise Management Act. Other drugs contained in the Container were  Clarinnthromycin,  and Jinold Extra strenth Capsules. The ”40” Container load of drugs was said to have been” handed to the agency by the Command as part of the inter-agency Cooperation”, Barsha had said.

Last June alone, FOU, Zone A, had intercepted 442 cartons of tramadol ina  Container  nos. MSKUU98895. Garba had said that the intercepted Container load of drugs  was” based on credible information”, noting that it ”contravened Customs Law by means of false declaration and breach of import prohibition list by trade. The medicaments were said to have been handed over to NAFDAC. The offensive drugs was said to have been on transfer  from Tin can Island port to one of the Customs offshore  terminals within the Lagos Trade Fair complex.

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