By Bayo Bernard
The intelligence unit of the Seme command of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS has been stressed to the limit as it struggles to apprehend criminals and smuggler who sometimes use various means, including hiding under the cloak of diplomatic immunity to get passage at the border.
The situation is not helped by the delay on the part of the Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority, NNRA to approve for use the multi-million dollar scanner donated by European Union, EU to aide seamless clearance of goods at the Seme/ Krake joint border post.
The development has somehow slowed down effort by the Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), Comptroller led NCS to eliminate, to a certain level direct human contact in the goods clearance cycle at the border with Benin Republic.
But the controller of the command, Comptroller Mohammed Uba Garba said he has directed his men not to let down the retired Army officer despite the setback on the part of the nuclear agency to approve the machine for immediate use.
Haul of goods laden trucks are known to besiege this important border daily. And as the volume of trade increases along this route keen border watchers have expressed fears of imminent trailer congestion.
Combined with the effort to block smugglers from using the corridor to bring in prohibited goods, analysts say Comptroller Uba and his men may have been overwhelmed with the load of work.
Not many are even aware that for weeks portable water was scarce at the ultra-modern ECOWAS Building that houses both Nigeria and Benin Republic border security officials, but the officers have survived because of their never-die-attitude to work, one of them told the magazine yesterday.
The officers were more than ever ready to perform their duty, said another Superintendent of Customs, SP who did not want his name to be mentioned.
The situation is even bad enough for the officers who are constantly accused of aiding the unscrupulous importers to beat the system by collecting bribes, close border watchers told the magazine.
But Comptroller Uba said the command will not be distracted by such spurious allegations. Officers and men have worked to do, he stated despite the sully narrative.
He seemed to be walking the talk. Others said there is still more to be done.
It’s left for his critics to determine whether he has lived up to the expectations of his boss in Abuja, the controller told journalists at the new ultra-modern Seme/Krake border last week.
But figures hardly lie. The command seems to have results to show for hard work in the last three months of the year despite seeming challenges.
The biggest trophy for Comptroller Uba and his men is the arrest of a member of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, Usman Abdulumar who must have made fortunes smuggling fairly used vehicles, popular as Tokunbo into Nigeria, using fake diplomatic documents.
Security experts told the magazine that the federal government has directed security agencies to crack down on individuals using diplomatic immunity for smuggling since the incident happened.
“The President Buhari administration has issued a red alert to security officials to search any suspicious diplomatic vehicles and personnel following the arrest of the suspect,” an anonymous DSS official told the magazine.
The suspect has been using the Inspector General of Police, IGP and Director General of DSS as cover to beat security at the border.
As soon as he’s flagged down by officers for search, the suspect will quickly brandish these identities and he would be allowed to go.
That’s what he has been doing until he was apprehended recently by Comptroller Uba’s men. It’s now end of the road for him.
Comptroller Uba said his case will serve as deterrence to others who hide under fake identity to commit crime.
After he was arrested by our highly intelligent officers, Uba said, “we ask him which documents do you use to pass and he brought out his phone that he has the phone number of the inspector general and I told him that is not possible.
After search was done on the vehicle, documents were found in the vehicle that stated that the vehicle is PrImera and with a plate number KJA 461 FP. The vehicle is Renault model.
He had a paper on him that if you intercept him is either you allow him to pass or call the Inspector General of police or call the foreign Affairs.
Further drilling showed that the suspect has since passed out from the NYSC, Uba stated because “when we asked him who he is, he brought out his identity card, 2014 NYSC. We asked him NYSC is just one year, what happened and his response was that he has an issue that is why he was carrying the ID card.
We call the director of NYSC to confirm the issue in such cases but the director said in such cases, they do collect the old ID card and will issue a new one to the person which is the current year and that is why we arrested him for further questioning.”
Within this period, the command generated the N1.26 billion into the federation account.
It’s very difficult to eradicate smuggling but under this circumstances ‘intensified operation of the enforcement unit has drastically reduced smuggling activities to the barest minimum,” Comptroller Uba said.
The unit seized 4745 bags of 50kg foreign rice which is equivalent to over 8 trucks with DPV 85, 504, 000, 68 parcels of Tramadol with DPV of N918, 000 and 10 parcels of cannabis.
The banned drug, the controller said has been handed over to the NDLEA for further investigation.
Other seizures include 180 sacks of scrap metals in Volvo FL7 truck with DPV of N8, 505, 000 intercepted along Owode axis and other exotic cars.
Since he assumed office last August the controller has instructed the enforcement unit of the command to ensure compliance with the reform process of the Comptroller General of the Service, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd).
He has also directed him officers to fasttrack documentation of both export and import.
Uche Abel, a customs agent at the border told the magazine that his principals (importers) are now happy that they could take delivery of their goods in 48 hours.
But that’s not the real problem. When the importer thinks that his problem are over, starring him in the face are numerous checkpoint mounted on the very busy Lagos/Badagary expressway by customs officers “who will ask you for their cut” to let you pass, the gent said.
Until recently, there were more than 10 of those checkpoints on this road. The checkpoints have now been reduced to less than five “we are still planning to cut them down” in line with ECOWAS protocol of free movement of goods and persons along this border, Comptroller Uba told the magazine recently.