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.