By Stephen Ubanna
When Abdullahi Kirawa, a Deputy Comptroller was appointed the National Coordinator of the Customs Strike Force, CSF, nobody gave him opportunity to succeed in discharging his duties of controlling the activities of fraudulent importers with their agents and smugglers at the seaports , Airport and land border Areas.
This is because the Federal operations Unit, officers, across the country have fully established themselves on their areas of jurisdictions that many believe it would be difficult for another Customs ad-hoc team to break in.
Take the situation in the south west geo-political region where Muhammed Uba Garba, the then FOU, Zone A Comptroller, now, Comptroller, Seme Command, , had split the Command Operations and Lagos Roving team into three different Units : Operations and Lagos Roving Team, Rapid Response Squad and Crack Squad, heade with different team leaders traversing the nooks and cranies of the region and the Oshidi-Apapa Expressway leading to the seaports intercepting Containers, vehicles and items.
Indeed, with the FOU teams on ground, particular in the south west geo-political region, many believed that the Kirawa led Strike Force team would not make any impact in the region. Unknown to them, Kirawa, knows his onions and how to go about the national assignment.
It would be recalled that as a one time member of the FOU, Zone A, Lagos Roving team, he had led a patrol team along the Lagos-Badagry Express who made a ship-load of smuggled foreign parboiled rice into the country through the Republic of Benin. The parboiled rice seizure was said to have been transferred to the Command warehouse in 12 trucks load. Abdullahi Dikko, the then Comptroller General was impressed with his efforts that he elevated him to the enviable rank of an Assistant Comptroller. The tracking of the ship load of rice by the Kirawa led patrol team may have exposed him to the Management as an officer who could be used for special national assignments by past and present Comptroller General, Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel. The fallout was that when the Comptroller General Task Force was first set up, he was asked to head the team at FOU, Zone A.
Insiders told the Magazine since he took over the leadership of the Strike Force, from the former National Cordinator, the story is no longer the same for importers with their agents and their Customs Collaborators at the seaports and Bonded Warehouse terminal operators and Customs officials deployed to oversee the clearing of goods at the terminals. This is because the Strike Force team , with the support of the Customs Ruling Centre and Informants have been getting useful information to track down Containers fraudulently released at the port.
The Magazine learnt that there have been cases where Containers released at the seaport have been stopped from leaving the port over alleged false declaration and under-payment . It was gathered that some of the queried Containers which had been re-routed to the Customs Training School, the Operational base of the Strike Force, Zone A, for examination had been found to contain items that were different from what was declared by the importer in the bill of lading from the country of supplies, mostly in the Asian countries of China and India.
Sources told the Magazine that the Bonded warehouse operators around the trade Fair Complex in Lagos and their Customers to be the worst hit by the Strike Force effort to sanitise the clearing process at the seaports, particular , the Chinese and the Lebanese businessmen who own warehouses in the Complex filled with mostly cleared Contrabands sold to traders in.
A source disclosed that the Strike Force personnel have at different times raided the Complex, forcing the traders to always find their way to the Strike Force office at Warehouse road, Apapa, to plead with the officers to participate in the examination of their Containers at the seaports or bonded terminals to avoid into trouble with their officers on the road.
Given that the Strike Force personnel may want to see themselves as above the Law and rcompromise their position, Kirawa, who has the mandate of Ali, the Comptroller General to sanitise the seaports and go after the smugglers in their hideouts across the country, shuttles between the operational base of the team at Apapa and the Zonal offices to checkmate the officers to ensure they do the right thing. He was said to have made it clear to officers that anyone found compromising his position would be dealt with desively.
The Magazine was also informed that he also calls at the Customs Headquarters at regular intervals for briefing with the Management . There is no gain saying the fact that the Kirawa led Strike Force are actually complimenting the efforts of the FOUs across the country.The team was said to have intercepted 49 vehicles and other Contraband goods with a Duty Paid Value , DPV, of about N127 million between August3, 2018 and September 20, 2018 in FOU ,Zone B, Kaduna, area of Jurisdiction which covers the seven states of the north west: Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara. The seizures include 13,983 ”50” bags of foreign parboiled rice, 3,983 ”25” Jerry Cans of Vegetable Oil,, 456 bales of second hand Clothing,, 70 bags of sugar and 50 cartons of spaghetti among others.
The Strike boss also disclosed recently that the team made a seizure of foreign parboiled rice, second hand second hand clothing worth over N20 million in Katsina , President Muhammadu Buhari home state. He confirmed that the seized items had been deposited at the nearest Customs formation’s warehouse for safekeeping. It was not surprising why this the items were deposited at FOU, Zone B, Kaduna , warehouse for proper accountability.
Last August the team was said to have made an inroad into Kogi state where it seized about 4,200 ”50” bags of smuggled foreign parboiled rice at Mopa village in the state. A elated Kirawa had said that seizure was as a result of the synergy between the Nigeria Police, Army, Department of State Security Services, DSS, and the Customs Intelligence Unit, CIU, personnel. This is in addition to the 1,246 ”50” bags seized along the Creeks in Ogun state. The Ogun seizures, he said was as a result of intelligence gathering from informants.
Kirawa, who could not hide his feelings said, the team would do everything within its powers to ”suppress smuggling of rice, secondhand clothing and vehicles through the land border or the Creeks. He maintained that as long as the Federal government policies banning the importation of foreign parboiled rice and vehicles through the land border remain in force, those who derive joy in testing the will of the team to engage in the smuggling activities o would ever live to regret it. as his officers would go after them in their hide outs dispossess them of the items.
A senior Customs officer who spoke to the Magazine on disclosed that the Strike Force seizures of Contraband g items in the north had been made worse since the commissioning of some Dry Dock terminals in the region. This is because the Consignment s were never examined at the ports of discharge before being loaded into Rail Coaches for transfer by rail to the Dry Dock Terminal in Kaduna and Jos, plateau state.
The activities of Kirawa led Strike team may have forced Aliyu Adamu Mohammed , Comptroller , FOU, Zone and his counterparts at other FOUs across the country and their patrol team officers to sit up and do the right thing. The spectacular seizures that had continued to be made by the Command Operations and Lagos Roving headed by Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs speaks volume.