By Stephen Ubanna
Until last Tuesday, May 29, 2018, there were no signs that Ibrahim Usman Jibrin, the Minister of State, Environment would be visiting Apapa, Tincan Island, Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja and Oyo/Osun Commands on a fact finding mission.
It was business as usual at the Commands as officers and importers with their agents went about their normal routine duties at the seaports and the land border areas.
This is evident going by the interception of about 780 ”50” kg bags of foreign parboiled rice smuggled into the country from Republic of Benin in the West African sub-region. The smuggled rice was said to have been , loaded in a branded Dangote truck but intercepted at Iddo , Oyingbo axis of Lagos Mainland Local government area.
The Dangote truck which was loaded with the smuggled foreign rice from Republic, according to an eye witness account was heading to the south east but credible intelligence forced Riks Lura, a Chief of Superintendent of Customs and the officer in-charge of the FOU, Zone A, Lagos Roving team to lay ambush for the truck at third mainland bridge on Tuesday, May 29, 2018 at about 11pm.
The source disclosed that the truck which was eventually intercepted by Rik and his boys andwas quickly transferred to the Customs warehouse in Ikeja, before the area boys in the area could put up any stiff resistance.
The impounded Dangote truck loaded with the smuggled foreign parboiled rice was a big boost to the Command’s operations as it has a spectacular seizure to show to the visiting Jibrin, the minister of Ste, Environment on Thursday, May 31, 2018.
The Magazine gathered that that officers and men of the Command and others knew about the ministerial visit on Wednesday, May 30, 2018,forcing Muhammed Uba Garba, the Comptroller and his officers to make adequate provision for an escort team that would follow him about despite the internal arrangement made by the minister to use the services of the police in Lagos state Command.
As a prelude to guiding the ministerial movement in his visit to Customs formations in Lagos and Oyo/Osun, Muhammed, the FOU, Zone A, Comptroller, was said to have directed Riks , the Command anti-smuggling arrow head to withdraw one of his patrol teams from the road for the services.
Riks was said to have acted on the instruction of the Customs Comptroller and stationed stationed officers with their patrol vans at strategic locations along the Murtala Muhammed International Airport Road the escort team were said to have accompanied him to the Command to see things himself before continuing his movement to Apapa and Tin-can Island Commands.
The minister was said to have been accompanied on the visit by Juan Carlous, the legal Adviser of the Geneva, Switzerland based Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species, CITES, of Wild faura and flora and another unnamed woman from the Organisation. officials of the Nigeria CITES, Management Authority were also said to be on the ministerial entourage.
The question on the lips of most people was why the minister of Environment and CITES officials from Geneva, could decide to visit some Customs Formations in the south west Geo-political region instead of Kemi Adeosun, the minister of Finance who oversees Customs operations. The visit may not be unconnected to the inter agency and overlap in the functions of the Service which relates to the Environment.
There is no gain saying the fact that Customs personnel have tremendously increased their activities in the recent years because of the implementation of the different international Protocols and Conventions, particular the Convention of international trade in endangered species, CITES 1973. The Convention mandates Customs Administration world-wide to protect wild life by ”intercepting illegal trade on such animals”. The Convention also prevents the killing of endangered species since the tusks are only available after the killing of the Elephant and Pangolin.
Ibrahim Babangida, a retired Army General and former Military President was said to have to have dragged the Nigeria into CITES in 1975, ten years after its formation in Geneva, and therefore bound by its Protocols. and Convention. The fallout was the domestication of the CITES law in the Country.
This may have given FOU, Zone A, Customs personnel the ammunition to smoke out smugglers of Pangolin in their hideout in different parts of the country and those who abuse the provisions of wood export through Apapa and Tin can Island ports.
Aminu Mohammed, a former minister of Environment and Deputy Secretary General, United Nations, UN, , had heard so much about the exploits in making seizures of Pangolin and Elephant tusks including unprocessed wood but have never had opportunity of seeing it.
In one of the instances, the FOU, Zone A, Command was said to have impounded 55 sacks of Pangolin Shell, weighing 200kg, worth about N408.32 million and 218 pieces of Elephant Tusk weighing 343 kg valued at about N85.16 million. This is in addition to 407 sacks pangolin weighing 263 kg evacuated from a residential quarters at 64 Opebi Road, off Toyin Street, Ikeja, Lagos, with a Duty Paid Value, DPV, of overN2.01 billion. The minister’s visit to FOU, Zone A, on Thursday 31, 2018, was an opportunity to see some of the items listed in the CITES Protocol should not be traded anywhere in the world.
Prior to the ministerial visit , Muhammed confirmed, the Command Comptroller confirmed that the first seizures of the Pangolin Shells and Elephant Tusks had been handed over to the Nigeria Environment and Regulatory and Enforcement Agency, NESREA, for further investigation.
Some of the Pangolin Shells and Elephant Tusks , according to the Comptroller are still in the custody of the Command because the NESREA Enforcement Unit do not have safe place to keep them for now. He is optimistic that the items would be handed over to the agency as soon as it secures a safe place for it.
The Magazine learnt that Jibril, the minister of State, Environment and the CITES officials were taken to the Customs warehouse to see the Pangolin and Elephant tusk items including the Dangote branded truck use in smuggling rice.
An elated Jibrin was said to have applauded Muhammed and his officers for doing the unexpected by smoking out the Pangolin and Eplephant tusks traders in the country. He was said to have promised to reach out toHameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, to initiate a reward system to encourage officers who make such spectacular seizures.
This is good news for Riks, the officer in-charge of the Command Lagos Roving team and Mutalib Sule, an Assistant Comptroller and Head of the Command Warehouse operations team and their officers to smile soon if Ali keys into the minister’s suggestion to reward performing anti-smuggling officers.
The minister’s comment on the FOU ,Zone A, visitor’s note book speaks volume’: I am glad to be at FOU,Ikeja, to see things for myself along with CITES officials from Geneva, Switzerland, to encourage inter agency Cooperation and Collaboration for the general good of our dear country, Nigeria”.
The ministerial applaud of FOU, Zone A, command personnel, was not quite different from the impression of Hope Uzodinma, Chairman , Senate , Committee , on the Command in one of the Committee oversight function to the Command. ” Am impressive that the FOU, Zone A, team are working intelligently to ensure security of the nation”.
It was a different ball game at Tinan Island Apapa Commands where the minister had also visited because of the export of wood to the Asian country of China and other trading partners in other Asian countries and Europe including the United States through the two major facilities which have facilities to handle such exports without CITES permit.
Tministry of Environment guidelines on the exportation of wood through the seaport had made clear that shippers must obtain CITES permit or lose the items to the government . But that as how far the ministry could go.
More worrisome was the news making the rounds that the Commands do not have authentic records of the tons of wood being exported , fueling speculation that there is high level of compromise in wood export at the ports.
Jibrin Musa and Baba-Musa Abdullahi, Comptrollers, Apapa and Tin-can Island Commands respectively were said to have exposed their ignorance about the activities at their respective Command’s export at the recent meeting of the Customs Management involving the Comptrollers atAbuja.
Sources told the Magazine that here was an ominous silence at the meeting as the duo could not stand up speak when exports which was on the said agenda of the meeting was mentioned for discussion, meaning that they have no clean records . The information may have filtered out to the ear of Jibrin, the minister of Environment that there shady deals on the exports of non oil goods through the seaports, despite the generous incentives enjoyed by exporters from past and present government of President Muhammadu Buhari.
It would be recalled that the Environmental Investigation Agency,, EIA, a nongovernmental Organization had alleged of shady of deals in the export of wood through Apapa and Tin-can Island , the two major seaports handling the exports of wood to the Asian country of China and other Countries in Europe and the United States.
EIA was said to have cited a case of over 1.4 million illegal rosewood logs from Nigeria, valued at about $300 million which was detained in the ports of China in 2016 under the nose of Hajia Mohammed, the then minister of Environment.
The agency had stopped short of calling the minister a corrupt government official as she was accused of signing out thousands of allegedly backdated CITES permits in 2017 which were said to had been used to clear illegal rosewood exports to China . But the former minister had denied the allegation , insisting that she spent her time at the ministry working to eliminate illegal export of the tropical hard wood used for rosewood furniture in China. She dismissed EIA claims that CITES permits signed by her were backdated. ” No permits were backdated or illegal signed by me”, she had said.
Giving an insider information, she disclosed that as the minister of Environment, she was faced with the problem of deforestation as the rate at which the country was losing its forest cover was very alarming., stressing that she has no option but to face the problem headlong by tackling ” illegal logging”, which was considered alarming. Jibrin, may have followed the foot step of his predecessor to tackle the problem of deportation in the country that he has beamed his search light on wood exports and trade in endangered species and Elephant tusks. The minister’s visits to the Customs formations may have given him an insight into the operations of the Customs Federal Operations Units and other Customs formations across the country, particular those at the seaports which handle wood exports.