Customs: Officers Working Under Pressure

By  Stephen Ubanna

Dangladima.A. , a Deputy Comptroller General , DCG, of Customs, in charge of Enforcement and Investigation, at the Customs Headquarters appears to have put Christopher Odibu, Comptroller , Oyo and Osun Command and his officers under pressure to give a bite to the Command anti-smuggling operations.

The pressure on Odibu and his men may not be unconnected to the rumour making the rounds  over alleged  large scale smuggling of rice and vegetable oil at different parts of the  states which are under the  jurisdiction of the Command.  The Deputy Comptroller General was said to had been kept abreast of the smuggling activities going on in  the two state on a daily basis by unsuspected fifth columnists who analysts said  are out to frustrate the Oyo/Osun Command Customs boss from succeeding.

The situation was too bad as the Customs Enforcement and Investigation boss who could no longer keep the information  to himself as he decided to unveil it to the Oyo/Osun Comptroller in order to sit up.

A visitor to Ibadan, the operational base of the Command  disclosed that the frequent calls on Odibu about the activities of smugglers in his areas of jurisdiction despite the good number of his officers on the road by the DCG, is having a toll on his health. The visitor confirmed that the earliest time he leaves the  office daily was 8p.m as  he has made it a point of duty to talk with the patrol leaders and give them new directives on how to go about their duties.

Given the pressure from the Headquarters, he was said to have made it clear to the patrol team leaders that anyone  who allows smuggled foreign parboiled rice ,vegetable oil or any other prohibited items to be smuggled into  the country through his area of control will be summarily dealt with.

A senior Customs officer who spoke to the Magazine on condition of anonymity  explained that Odibu may have  been in the bad book of his detractors because of the holistic approach to deal with smugglers and their Customs collaborators in the state.” I have come to work and put things right in Oyo and Osun states”, the Comptroller was reported to have said.

there are indications in both official and unofficial  circles that  Odibu and his officers case were made worse by the frequent bursting of smuggler’s operations and seizures made in different parts of  Oyo and Osun states  which reports are regularly sent to the office of Dangaladima, the DCG, Enforcement and Investigation and Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and the Comptroller General by   Muhammed Uba Garba, Comptroller, Federal Operation’s Unit, Zone A, Ikeja.

In the recent time, the FOU, Zone A,  was said to have made an alleged eight trucks load  of  smuggled foreign parboiled rice in an area in Oyo state and another three trucks load of rice, containing about 1,200 bags of rice from Ogbomosho, another major town in the state. Garba, the FOU, Zone A Comptroller  was said to have engaged the services of informants who had provide a clue on how to burst the smuggling ring and achieve results.

Many believe that most of the informants  that had been volunteering information  to the FOU, Zone A, and the Lagos based Strike Force about warehouses stocked with smuggled rice may not be totally correct. This is because of the rot at the nation’s seaports  because of the recycling of Customs papers on the importation of rice as most of the  rice stocked in the warehouses were imported through the seaport in Lagos.

In spite of the fact that the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Nigeria , CN, had not issued letter of Credit, LC, to rice importers in the last one year ,but the items had continued to find their way into the country through the nation’s seaports on the excuse that the approval given to them in the past years are yet to be utilized.

A source told the Magazine that rice importers  easily have their way because of the difficulty in identifying a  recycled rice import document . This is because of the general stamp that is used for  all rice  import documents.

The source who claimed to have been in Oyo Command in the six five years as an officer, revealed that there had  been an instance where the FOU, Zone A, Lagos Roving team, had raided some warehouses in Ibadan and its suburbs , carted away  thousands of bags of rice but the importer was able to tender the necessary import documents to the Command , forcing the then Comptroller of the Command to release the items to the owner with an apology.

The officer may be insinuating that the recent eight trucks load of rice and the about 1,200 bags seized from a warehouse in Ogbomosho may not have been totally smuggled as alleged by the FOU, Zone A, Customs  boss and his retinue of informants.

Despite the claims by pundits that both FOU Zone A, officers and the Headquarters Strike Force are over stepping their bounds in both Oyo and Osun states , Odibu, the Oyo/Osun Command Customs boss was said to have   rejig the Command operational   teams as a way of giving a bite to its anti-smuggling operations .

An Ibadan resident confirmed  that the measures that had been put in place by Odibu to frustrate smugglers plying the Saki route and other notorious  routes in the  state appears  had shut down the two states against smugglers. This is evident as smuggled foreign parboiled rice, Vegetable Oil and Vehicles are no longer being smuggled into Oyo and Osun states  as was the case in the past.

Indeed, a  bus driver plying Ibadan and Saki, which is about four hours,  on Okada ride to the nearest border Community between Nigeria and Republic  through the town has dropped significantly. He  confirmed that  the road between Ibadan and Saki town had been completely taken over by Customs personnel mostly from the Oyo/Osun Command. The officers, he said , are also combing the villages within the Saki axis  to frustrate the smugglers from coming out with their smuggled rice and Vegetable Oil to load into t buses to different parts of Oyo or Osun states, thus forcing many of them out of the trans-border transport businesss.

The driver disclosed that in the past , he used to make about four to five trips to Saki town daily but he could hardly make two trips now  as many traders who ususally travel to Saki to buy rice could no longer do so to buy the expected Commercial quantities as many  smugglers had  gone underground for fear of losing their money and items to Customs.

The desperate smugglers who could no longer stand the superior fire tactics of the Customs officers, may have devised  alternate   ways of taking  out their smuggled items, particularly  rice and vegetables into the Nigeria market i through  Oyo and Osun states . They were  said to have resorted to the use of Train services to carry out their illegitimate trade.

Only recently, a patrol team from the Oyo/Osun Command, acting on a tip off were said  to have stopped a passenger train heading to Ibadan station. The passenger train was said to have been  loaded with a large quantity of vegetable oil.

The Magazine gathered that there was apparent confusion in the area where the train was stopped by Customs  officials.  Eyewitness account disclosed that after much argument, the train driver pleaded to be allowed to drive the train  to their Ibadan station to discharge the items instead of discharging it on rail tracks which might obstruct  the  movement of goods and services in the area.

He disclosed that the Customs patrol team leader had  given the train driver the nod to take the smuggled items in their train coach to their Ibadan station for proper documentation and subsequent hand over to the Command. As at press time, the items were still  at the Ibadan train station

Insiders described the use of Passenger Trains in the south west, particularly, Oyo and Osun  states as a regular occurrence as  Train drivers saw it as an opportunity of carrying cargoes which gives much money to the  Nigeria Railway Corporation, NRC.

Worried by the use of passenger trains to smuggle rice, vegetable oil and other banned items by the government,  officers had challenged , Odibu, the Oyo/Osun Customs boss to take up the matter with Dangladima, the DCG, Enforcement and Investigation, who in turn should take it up with Ali, the Comptroller General, to facilitate the release of the smuggled items in the NRC, Ibadan  Station to the Command.

The officers is are optimistic that once Ali is put into the picture of the use of NRC facilities to smuggle goods, he would be encouraged to take up  the matter with Eng. Usman Abubakar, the Chairman of NRc, who may be forced  to caution his train drivers  who stop over in unapproved locations to  carry smuggled goods to desist from it or be fired.

The embattled  Oyo/Osun Comptroller  may have sent a signal to Smugglers in Oyo and Osun states to prepare for war  within his first month in office .  Under his guidance,  patrol team leaders  were said to have impressed him with their seizures of two trucks, six Tunkunbo vehicles  used smuggling shoes, bags of rice, vegetable oil ,  secondhand clothing , and fairly used tyres.

The  Comptroller had confirmed in his first  media interation with Journalists in Oyo state that the Command  made a seizure of 375 bags of foreign parboiled rice, 27 bales of secondhand clothing, 60, 25 litres keg of vegetable oil and 600 bags of fertilizer. It was learnt the seizures were made between Saki and Ibadan. The seizures were however, a far cry to what the FOU, Zone A, Ikeja and the Headquarters Strike Force, were said to have made  in the state within the period.

Given the resort to Passenger trains  by Smugglers in Oyo and Osun states to carry out their nefarious activities  and the challenge of  FOU, Zone A as well as the Headquarters Strike Force officers, Odibu, the Oyo Customs boss  was said to have reached out to Fidelis Azinta, a Major General and the General Officer Commanding, GOC, the 2nd  Mechanised Division, Ibadan  and the Director of the Department of State Security, DSS, at the outskirts of Ibadan to  seek for their support in the anti-smuggling war in the states on Thursday, April5, 2018.

He was said to have told the GOC and the Director of DSS, that  the Command would not hesitate to request for their assistance to clip the wings of the smugglers in some of the no go areas  in the state because of the sophisticated weapons used by them.

The  Army boss was said to have assured  him of their support at any point in time to bring the activities of smugglers in the state to a standstill. The DSS were also said to have promised  their support in  the area of information gathering and dissemination  to the Command about smugglers in the state.

This is good news to Odibu and his men who had looked forward to such a time when they could meet the leadership of the two security outfits in the state to seek for their  support to curtail the activities of smugglers in  both Oyo and Osun states.

It is hoped that this new found working relationship between the Army, DSS and the Oyo/Osun Customs Command, it would go a long way to curtail the activities of smugglers in the two states. It would be recalled that  late last month, Garba, Comptroller , FOU, Zone A, led some senior officers from the Command  to pay a courtesy call on Azinta, the GOC,  f the Army second Mechanised Division in Ibadan. The visit was said to have been informed by the seizure of eight trucks loaded with rice from the Ibadan axis and  another three trucks  loaded with about 1,200 bags of rice in Ogbomosho town, also in Oyo state.

The FOU, Zone A, Customs boss may have gone to seek the support of the Army in their anti-smuggling operations because of the harassment of the officers who went on the operation at Ogbomosho.  Aggrieved Youths from the town  were said to have blocked the road against the officers  to forestall leaving the town with the impoundeed smuggled rice . They were said to have used stones, broken bottles              and other dangerous weapons to throw at the officers to provoke them to shoot at the crowd but got  it wrong.

The Magazine gathered that there were   Army and police officers  at the scene with rifles  but could not come to the support of the embattled FOU, Zone A, operational Officers fueling speculation that they may have liked  the attack on the Customs officers.

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