Customs: Testing Their Wills?

By Stehen Ubanna

In spite of the ban on the importation of foreign parboiled rice  through the nation’s land borders, Nigeria traders had continued  to test the will of Customs operatives. On Monday, March 12, 2018, the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Lagos  Roving  team arrested a bus, loaded with  40 bags of rice  within its Ikeja premises.

The  bus was said to have loaded the foreign rice at Sango Otta, Ogun state, and was expected to deliver it to the owner in Lagos . The  journey to taking the items to the owner’s shop in Lagos was said to have taken the driver   to many routes in Ikeja to escape the eagle eyes of the Customs operatives  but  finally landed at Unity road, close to the popular, Ikpodo market. From the Unity road to the FOU, Zone A, premises is about a five minutes- walk.

It was learnt that the bus had broken down at the scene, forcing a cobbler  who witnessed the driver struggling to fix the bus to rush to the FOU, Zone A, premises, to pass the information about the broken down bus loaded with rice .

Acting on the Information, Okpabi Jack, the officer in-charge of  the Command Lagos Roving  team was said  to have abandoned the official files he was treating in his office  and accompanied by a  Lagos based Journalist to the scene where the bus  had allegedly broken down but no trace of it.

The Lagos Roving team boss could not have been  patient to mobilize some gun -carrying officers to follow him because of the urgency of the message. He may have felt that further waste of time could force the driver to escape.   He was said to have ordered the officers around to cordon off the streets from Unity road to Olu Ayinde to forestall any attempt by the suspected rice smuggler to escape.

Acting the directive, the officers  were said to have mounted temporary road blocks on the likely streets to be followed by the smuggler while  Jack,  their boss, accompanied by the Journalist   trekked to   Unity road  without his Service pistol.  Many believe that he could walk down the streets of Ikeja with his Service Uniform because he has no skeleton on his cupboard.

The officer who had accompanied him secretly was said to have  boarded an Okada on the way  to trail the bus driver to the particular route which he had entered to escape  but his contacts with the informant provided  him  minute by minute movement of the bus. This prepared the ground for other Roving  officers who were within the premises to intercept the bus at Ola Ayinde street.  Jack considered the action of the smuggler in entering  their neighbourhood with smuggled as testing their  wills.

When Jack eventually arrived the scene from his long trek to Unity Street in search of the bus, he met the officers surrounding bus.  He ordered that an entry be made  for the intercepted rice.

Mohammed Garba: Impressed With Lagos Roving Team performance
Mohammed Garba: Impressed With Lagos Roving Team performance

It was gathered that when the rice smuggler saw the Lagos Roving team boss , he knelt down pleading for forgiveness  but was shouted down by one of the officers. It could not be ascertained whether the alleged smuggler  was detained or  allowed to go.  Efforts to reach out to reach out to Attah Jerome, an Assistant Superintendent of Customs and the Command image maker to know  if the smuggler was detained proved  abortive. The seizure of the 40 bags of rice behind the Customs premises was coming on the heels of the interception of eight truck loads of rice from Shaky in  Oyo state  by the Jack -led Roving team.

As a prelude to the interception of the eight trucks load of rice , Jack and his boys were said to have laid ambush in the Oyo state rice smuggling Community  for two days, Wednesday, March 7th, and Thursday March 8th, 2018.  It was learnt that Muhammed Uba Garba, the Comptroller of the Command was initially reluctant to send the officers out because of the volatile nature of the area.

It was gathered that  the Comptroller finally made up his mind to deploy his men to the area when the informant  promised to lead the way. A  source disclosed that the Comptroller may have paid the informant heavily to volunteer the information . This is to advise Comptrollers who are lobbying to be deployed to FOU, Zone , Command, that it is not a bed of roses. It  takes only a Comptroller with a tough skill to be able to deal with the smugglers in the south west geo-political Zone.  This is evident with the rice seizure of the intercepted foreign rice from Shaky, Oyo state on friday,  March 9, 2018.

An elated  Garba who could not hide his joy  when his officers arrived with the eight intercepted truck loads of rice from Shaky described it as an ‘accomplished feat’. His joy knew no bounds as Dan Gladima, a Deputy Comptroller General in-charge of Enforcement and Investigation was said to have earlier sent a letter of Commendation  to him  for his” sterling performance” in the Command in 2017.

Those who had the opportunity of visiting Shaky Community,  described the rice smuggling business  in the area, as an organized Crime involving the Customs operatives and other Security agencies personnel. Past and present Comptrollers of the Oyo Command were said to have made several efforts to contain the activities of the  rice cartel  but that was how far they could go.

This is because of the activities of the fifth Columnists  within the Security Operatives ranks  including the Civilians who  monitor the movement of Customs patrol teams at the land border area and information  to the smugglers  who always change their tactics to beat Customs to it.

Odibo Ochonma, the incumbent Comptroller of the  Command knew that he was going to have a running  battle with the rice smugglers in the area that he was said to have been  fully prepared for them. Moreso, tthe Management were watching over him to see how far he can go in dealing with the unrepentant smugglers.   He was said to have dispossessed many rice  smugglers in area thousands of bag of rice over  the last two months but the smuggling ring had continued in the organized Crime.

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