By Stephen Ubanna
More facts have emerged how 11 locally built boats loaded with about 80,000 Jerry Cans of 25 litres of smuggled petrol was intercepted by a joint operations of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ogun Command and Western Marine Command, WMC, of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, on the eve of Friday August 31, 2018.
The Magazine learnt that when information filtered out through a paid informant to Mohammed Aliyu, Comptroller, FOU, Zone A, about plans by some unscrupulous Nigerians to smuggle Premium Motor Spirit, popular Petrol, to Republic of benin, a neigghbouring country in the West African sub-region. The product, according to the informant were to be smuggled through Ijofin Creek in Ipokia local government area of Ogun state. The Comptroller, a close told the Magazine did not hesitate in reaching out to Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs and the officer in-charge of the Command’s Operations and Lagos Roving team, Jack Okpabi, another Chief Superintendent of Customs in-charge of the Command’s Rapid Response Sqaud, Officer in-charge of the Crack Squad and other patrol team leaders to put the officers on the alert for the Ijofin operation.
Aware that his image would be marred in this first major anti-smuggling operation in the Command if it flops, Aliyu was said to have reached out to his counterparts at Ogun Command and Western Marine Command to mobilise their officers for the operation as the Command could not execute it alone. He was also said to have also informed the Brigade Commander and the Commissioner of police and Head of the Civil Defense in Ogun state, on the to join the operation in order to strengthen the security and ensure that the operation was a success.
Many believe that the FOU, Zone A, Customs boss may have sought the support of his counterparts in the other Ogun and WMC including the sister agencies to adequately confront the smugglers, believed to have made adequate security arrangement before staking their resources into the illegal petrol smuggling business . The operation was said to have been kept a closely guarded secret.
The Magazine learnt that the responsibility of Coordinating the operation in the ijofin Creek was handed over to Jack a Chief Superintendent of Customs and the officer in-charge of the Command Rapid Response Squad. Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs and the officer in-charge of the Command Operations and Lagos Roving team was said to have also made his officers available for the operation at the instance of the Comptroller.
As a prelude to the Ijofin creek operation to confront the PMS smugglers, it was gathered that Jack had sent a Surveillance team to the area to prepare the ground and give him on the spot assessment of the smugglers activities at the Creek to avoid failure. The whistle blowers were also said to be on ground to monitor the situation and give feedback to Jack and his team .Insiders told the Magazine that when the coast was clear to strike, the leader of the Surveillance team gave signal to Jack, the Coordinator of the operation to move in.
Given the mandate given to him to ensure that all loopholes were blocked by biyu, the FOU, Zone A, Comptroller, who was said to be carrying out his first major anti-smuggling operation in his new Command, a source disclosed that the raid on the Creek was well Coordinated.
This is because officials of the WMC had moved into the Ogun waterways with their functional Crafts to patrol the area to forestall the smugglers from sailing into Republic of Benin with the smuggled item.
The source confirmed that when it became clear that the Enforcement team of the WMC at the instance of Adamu Mohammed, the Command Deputy Comptroller in -charge of Enforcement had taken over the waterways, Jack and his team moved into the Creek to take possession of the 11 locally built boats and its contents with little or no resistance. The Ogun Command Crack squad were not left out as they also mobilised to the site. The Army, police and Civil Defense officials were also ground to give additional security back up to the Customs team . Officials of federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, were also on ground to clear the road for easy vehicular movements.
The magazine gathered that the dispossession of the smugglers of the 80,000 Jerry Cans of 25 litres each of petrol from the water ways smugglers forced Aliyu, the FOU, Zone A, Comptroller to make adequate arrangement to secure the Creek and the 11 boats carrying the smuggled products. He was said to have engaged the services of the Army at an agreed fee to work with the Customs officers stationed at the Creek, pending the evacuation of the products for public auction.
Given the tight security at the Ijofin Creek provided by Customs personnel,soldiers, Civil Defense and the police, Aliyu, who was accompanied by Lura, the officer in-charge of the Command Operations and Lagos Roving team and other senior officers had mobilised three teams armed to the teeth for the visit on Monday, September 3, 2018. The Customs Comptroller had gone to the Creek to see things himself instead of relying on the information given to him by Jack, the Coordinator of the operation to send his report to hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General NCS.
When the Magazine visited the Command premises on Tuesday,September , 4, 2018, the seizure of the multi-million product by a Customs joint operations, Coordinated Jack dominated the talk of officers. Jack, an officer confirmed may have warmed himself to the heart of the Kebbi state born Comptroller of FOU, Zone , as he was said to have been having regular consultation with him. The Magazine sited him coming out from the Comptroller’s office beaming with smiles. ”I have no office. My office is on the road”, he reportedly said.
G Eye witness account confirmed, that the official take- over of the Creek by Customs personnel with the support of the other security agencies personnel may have given the Customs formations involved in the operation to evacuate their share of the products to their respective Commands. The FOU, Zone A, was said to have got the lion share as the initiator of the operation.
The Command’s Operations and Lagos roving team at the instance of the Comptroller, was said to have evacuated 11 trucks load of the seized smuggled product to the mechanical Workshop turned warehouse on Monday, September 3, 2018. An additional four trucks load of the Jerry Cans of ”25” of the product was said to have been evacuated to the Command by the team on Tuesday, September 4, 2018. The Command was said to have spent about N1i5 million to evacuate the products from the site, according to a source.
The evacuation of the Jerry Cans of the ”25” product to the Command may have given opportunity for officials of the Lagos state police Command, Civil Defense , the Army Operation MESA and Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, personnel to gather at the Command on Monday, September 3, 2018, to have their own share of the seized smuggled products. The Magazine sited the officials of these other security agencies as they stationed their pick up vans awaiting for the Customs officials going into the Command Mechanical workshop to collect their allocation from them
Decency was said to have been thrown to the winds as the security personnel struggle to get the free Jerry Cans of petrol from the Command Provost Marshalls. But the actual sales of the seized products to the public was said to have started on Tuesday, April 4, 2018. It was a bazaar of a sort as the uniformed men struggle with Civilians to buy the products.
The Magazine attempt to take the picture of the three trucks that brought some of the products and the long queue of buyers were frustrated by soldiers and Customs Provost Marshalls who were at the scene. Efforts to make the security operatives realise that the Magazine has the mandate of the Public Relations officer and the approval of Rashid Adahunsi, the Command no nonsense Deputy Comptroller, Valuation, who Coordinated the sales to do so was frustrated.
They had had snatched the Magazine Professional Camera and quickly rushed to the CPM office to keep it with their Head, an Assistant Superintendent. the situation was so embarrassing that by-standers rained abuses on them for abuse of tax payers uniform. The Magazine did not hesitate in going after them to avoid damaging the lens of the expensive Professional Camera. Visitors at the Command security gate looked in awe over the harsh words coming out from the Provost Marshals mouth.
In anger the Magazine was forced to report to the Deputy Comptroller who took it up with the Head of the Provost Marshall with a matching order to release the Camera to the Magazine without further delay. He was said to have grudgingly released it by calling Journalist names.
Maritime analysts would want Aliyu , the Comptroller of the Command, who may have watched the scene with the close circuit television in his, CCTV, in his office to call his Provost Marshalls, to avoid causing further embarrassment to the Command.