Customs: Reckless Use Of Guns, Beam Searchlight On FTZs

By Stephen Ubanna

For years , there had been complaints of reckless use of guns by Nigeria Customs Service, NCS  personnel across the country.  From Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Cross River, Bauchi, Kaduna to Jigawa , the story is the same: reckless use of weapons by Officers.

Customs personnel may have blamed  the resort to the use of arms to defend themselves  when they came under heavy attack by smugglers. This  is evident with the accidental discharge  by the Kano/Jigawa Command Patrol Officers in Babura, a border town between Nigeria and the Niger Republic  that was said to have allegedly killed two smugglers on February26, 2018.

The suspected smugglers were said to have been killed  while trying to smuggle rice, which are banned from coming into the country through the land border. Aggrieved Youths of the border Community who had  considered the action of the Customs officers as a reckless use of gun bought for them with Tax payers  money for their operations were said to have gone berserk  over the killing , leading to the burning of two vehicles belonging to the Service.

It would be recalled that  in 2014 , an officer of the FOU, Zone A, along the Lagos -Seme Express way  was said to have mistakenly shot another officer  which was said to have occurred  while the officers were attempting  to intercept two  vehicles loaded  with items suspected to be smuggled Contrabands.  He may have thought in his mind that the accidental discharge had hit one of the alleged smugglers but got it wrong.

There was also an incident at  Ado-Odo/Ota local government area of Ogun state where a nine month pregnant woman , Olugunna Bukola, was hit by a Customs Officer accidental discharge at Iyana Iyesi junction. As usual, this was said to have occurred when the Customs officials were in pursuit of  alleged rice smugglers in the area. The trigger hungry officers on the road, according to a sources,was said to have shot in a similar pattern like other incidents. As usual when accident discharge occurs,the trigger happy men having noticed a  vehicle suspected to be carrying foreign parboiled rice or poultry products but refuse to  stop when flagged down, they shoot at sight.

Only recently, a suspected smuggler was said to have been shot at Sagamu area of Ogun state by trigger hungry officers. The killing in the area had a telling effect on the officers at the officers along the Sagamu- Ijebu Ode axis  in Ogun state. The youths were said to had threatened to make life uncomfortable to officers  in the area because of their reckless use of fire arms.

Giving the importance of the Ijebu Ode Checkpoint to the FOU, Zone A , anti-smuggling operations, Mohammed Uba Garba, the Comptroller could not afford to close down the checkpoint  for a while to restore calm in the area.  Most of the spectacular assorted vehicles  that had been intercepted and detained by the Command were said to have been made by the Ijebu Ode Checkpoint officers.

Perhaps, to reassure the people that such would never occur again, Garba was said to have sent a high powered delegation led by a Chief Superintendent Officer, who has spent much of his career in the Service as an anti-smuggling officer to liaise with the people. He was also said to have heard a word of advice  to the officers on the use of weapons.

The Sagamu incident may have touched the Comptroller that he was said to warned the patrol team leaders to warn their officers on the use of arms to avoid loss of innocent lives.

Worried by the repeated cases of reckless shooting by his men, he was said to have started making arrangements with the Army for the training and re-training of officers on weapon handlings.

His counterpart at Seme Command, Mohammed Aliyu, was said to have engaged the services of the officers of the 243 Reece battalion, Nigeria Army, Badagry, for the training and re-training  of the  Enforcement officers of the Command  on weapon handling  and the use of fire arms. The refresher training became apparent in the Command because of the repeated complaints of  shooting of innocent people by officers in the guise of pursuing smugglers.

Insiders told the Magazine that since Seme Customs boss invited the Army to train and re-train his men on weapon handling and use of fire arms, cases of alleged accidental discharge of bullets had completely reduced in the area. Some Youths of the border Communities who are appreciative of the efforts of the Aliyu, the Seme Customs boss to foster a good working relationship with them had become Customs informants instead of providing  cover for smugglers who use their areas as base.

Many believe that if Garba, the FOU, Zone A , Customs  boss could actualize his plan of engaging the Army who are masters in  weapon handling and the use of fire arms because of their specialized trainings to handle the training of his officers ,repeated cases of reckless use of weapons would come to a stop.

 

 

 

Hameed Ali, CG, Customs

The FOU, Zone A, Comptroller has every reason to ensure that his men are properly trained in weapon handling and use of fire arms because of what is happening at the seaports and the Export processing  Zones. Indeed, most of the licensed Export processing Zones , across the country had become routes for deadly smugglers. That much was confirmed by Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, NCS.

Angry at what some of the licensed Export Processing Zones had turned out to be: route of smugglers, Ali was said to have told members of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN, at its General meeting in 2017, that the Free trade zones, which were supposed to be special economic  zones where goods may land, be handled, manufactured and re-exported without the intervention of Customs .

At present some of the functional  FTZs across the country are  Calabar Free Trade Zone, Tinapa Free Trade Zone and Resort,  Kano Free Trade Zone, Lekki Free Trade Zone and the Lagos Free Trade Zone.

Investigation by the Magazine shows that what is going on at the some of these FTZs are worrisome. The operators, according to a source , would prove to government that they are working according to the guideline given to them by establishing a manufacturing  firm to start production but  use the base for massive importation of  goods mostly contrabands and containerized  assorted vehicles which are smuggled out without necessary Customs papers.

They were said to have taken advantage of  the various  incentives granted them  by the government to import  98 percent of what  they were supposed  to produce  which are basically smuggled into the Nigeria market but producing  only two percent  locally.

There was a reported  case where 333  truckloads of rice  heading towards  one of the EFZs , forcing people to ask the value  addition  the foreign par boiled rice was supposed  to offer  to the operators  in the Zone.  It is not surprising why Garba and his men had beamed their search light at Lekki and Lagos Free Trade Zones established within the state.

 

 

Mohammed Uba Garba, Comptroller, FOU, Zone A

In spite of the rots being perpetuated  at the FTZs by the Operators, President Muhammadu Buhari, disclosed during his recent official  visit to Lagos state,  that the government  has approved N90 billion  for the special economic zones across the country in line with the economic and growth plans of the All Progressive Congress , APC, government.  He was said to made the disclosure at the flag off  of the Lekki deep seaport in Lagos. The President  said  the approval was initiated  to fasten  the country’s economic development including the Lekki deep seaport .

Given the information availed the government by the Operator,  Yemi Osibanjo, the Vice President  confirmed that  the promoters  of the deep seaport project are targeting about  1.5 million Twenty equivalent Unit, TEUs, Containers capacity annually.  He  noted that  the facility is expected to grow  to 2.7 million and 4.7 million TEUs  when the  project’s operations commence going by the calculation of the promoters.

There are fears in both official and unofficial circles that the activities at the Lekki  deep sea port would not be different from what obtains at the existing  FTZs which had become routes for VIP smugglers.

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