By Stephen Ubanna
It is no longer news that vehicles are still being smuggled into the country through unapproved routes in Seme and Idiroko land border stations The increased smugglings of vehicles into the Lagos market in the south west geo-political region is coming on the heels of the ban on the importation of vehicles and other prohibited items through the land border including foreign parboiled rice.
Investigation by the Magazine shows that Customs and other security agencies personnel who are hiding under the cover that smuggling cannot be completely eliminated in any part of the world are the ones aiding and abetting the smugglers. Over the months there have een rumours making the rounds that smuggled vehicles from the Idiroko axis in Ogun state find their way to Lagos through the road leading to the Olusegun Obsanjo Farm at Otta. A resident at Ayobo in Ipaja area of Alimosho local government area of Lagos state informed the Magazine that scores of exotic vehicles with police escorts following pass through the area daily. The source disclosed that the vehicles are kept in mostly private residences instead of car porch at Ikeja, awaiting for the owners to take delivery of it.
The visit of Emmanuel Macron, the French Presiden ont Tuesday, July 3,2018, to Lagos, may have exposed the Nigeria police as one of the agencies whose personnel were involved in aiding VIP vehicle smugglers across the border.
A Prado Jeep allegedly smuggled from Republic of Benin through the road leading to the Obas Obasanjo farm had entered Lagos through the Ayobo axis under a police escort but somersaulted before Wema Bank along the Egbeda-Iyana Ipaja road .
Eyewitness account disclosed that the driver of the somersaulted jeep which had entered the busy Ebgeda-Iyana Ipaja road on top speed but was unlucky as he could not save the situation because there was a Commercial bus which was on top speed that could have hit from the IyanaOba axis.
The driver and the police escort team were said to deserted the location of the accident as people were trooping to the scene to see things , meaning that if the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Operations and Lagos Roving team which patrol the road were on Tuesday, they could have towed the vehicle to their Ikeja premises to be tetained.
Until Wednesday, July 4, 2018, the Jeep was still at the scene. A bystander who spoke to the Magazine remarked what if the sponsor of the smuggler could afford to buy a Prado Jeep of 2016 model worth millions of naira from Republic of Benin , what stops him from importing it through the seaport and pay the relevant duty to avoid Customs troubles.
A cross border transporter confirmed that the problem of the vehicles smugglers start with the agent who sold dummies to vehicle dealers that they have insiders in Customs and other security agencies who could facilitate a short cut to smuggle the vehicles through the bush path. This may have influenced the oner of the Jeepwhich somersaulted along the Egbeda -Iyana Ipaja road a forthnight ago.
The police escort team may have known the implication of leaving the somersaulted Jeep on the Egbeda- Iyana Ipaja as it may be tracedd to them and quickly removed it to another location . Insiders told the Magazine that Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs and leader of the FOU, Operations and Lagos Roving team could deploy a team on the road because of intelligence reports that some smuggled vehicles which entered into the Lagos market were hidden in private residences and a car porch at Ikeja. Riks had kept the information close to his chest without disclosing it to Muhammed Uba Garba, the Area Comptroller. He was waiting for an opportunity to strike at the locations on Tuesday, July 3, 2018 having seen the vehicles in the well guarded houses and car porch at Ikeja.
He was forced to delay the Ikeja operation to avoid disrupting Macron visit to Lagos. Unknown to many he was preparing the ground to ensure a hitch -free operation to evacuate the smuggled exotic vehicles from the private residences and car porch. he got it right. On Wednesday, July 4, 2018, he was said to have raised a team to raid the private residences and car porch to evacuate the vehicles. There was the initial fear that the team may not be able to penetrate the heavily guarded houses and car porch to evacuate the smuggled the vehicles but the the Riks team proved them wrong. The team leader was said to have mobilised all the drivers he could find on ground to follow them out for the operation in order to drive the vehicles out to the Command premises after taking over the residences in a military style.
As at Friday, July 7, 2018, the team leader, according to a source , was still searching for drivers that would accompany them to evacuate the remaining smuggled jeeps from the locations. At the last count, 10 Prado Jeeps were said to have been evacuated from the first private residence while an additional four was evacuated from the second residence. The source confirmed that four of the jeeps were carted away from the car porch. The evacuation of the vehicles in the heavily guarded houses and car prch at Ikeja did not come to many as a surprise.
Riks, according to sources, has been involved in such risky operations at Bakasi, Ikang local government area of Cross River ,Ere water side market in Ogun and Isasi Community water side in Lagos state where trucks load of Thailand barboiled rice were seized from smugglers with little or no resistance, fueling speculation that he was using black power to protect himself. the information may have filtered out to him that he had told those that care to listen that he is from a ”family of warriors who would prefer to go down with the enemy than lose a battle”. The continued seizure of the smuggled items by the FOU, Zone A, men was an indictment on Comptroller Mohammed Aliyu of Seme at Seme and his counterpart at Ogun over their inability to effectively police their area of jurisdiction.
There is no gain saying the fact that Customs personnel at the land border stations were hiding under the cover that smuggling could not be eliminated in any part of the world to turn a blind eye to smuggled vehicles , rice and other banned items coming into the Lagos market from the Republic and other neighbouring countries in the West African sub-region.
A senior officer who spoke to the Magazine confirmed that there is end in sight to the smuggling of vehicles or foreign parboiled rice through unapproved routes because the smugglers ”collude with dirty officers” described in unofficial circles as” thieves in the house” to ensure that the illegal operations succeed. The officer disclosed that no matter how the Customs officers across the country try to police the borders to forestall smuggled vehicles, rice and other items from entering the country through unapproved routes, , it will still find their way into the country because of the bad eggs in the Service who work for the smugglers for a price.
Many believe that Hammed Ali, a retired Colonel and the Customs Comptroller General, may have provided the enabling environment for the Customs personnel at the land border stations to collude with smugglers to allow smuggled vehicles to enter to the country because of threats to deal with Corrupt officers.
Maritime analysts believe that Ali, had made smuggling worse in the country with the establishment of the Customs police, thus reducing the powers of the FOUs, across the country to arrest suspects. There was an incident recently wheree a suspect detained at the FOU, Zone A, was ordered to be released by Aminu Dahiru, the Assistant Comptroller General, ACG, in-charge of, NCS, Zone A, without going through the Muhammed the Area Comptroller.
Insiders told the Magazine that the Dahiru had facilitated the release of the suspect through the Customs police personnel who handled the arrest and detention of the suspect at FOU, Zone A, Command without going through the Comptroller.
The question on the lips of most people was that : if something unusual had happened to the suspect, who would be held accountable for him?. This is where Ali, the Customs Comptroller General may have to do a rethink by removing the control of the Customs police from the ACG, Zonal office and put them under the control of the Comptrollers at the seaports, airports and land border stations including the various FOUS across the country for effective Coordination. The activities of the Customs police may have had a spillover effect on the operations of FOU personnel as they have concentrated their e effort t o fighting smugglers rather than preventing smuggling activities across the country as seize vehicles were sometimes released on orders from above rather going for the smugglers , particular when a VIP is involved.