By Stephen Ubanna
When Ebere Chijoke, a graduate of Sociology , was discharged after the compulsory one year Nigeria Youth Service Corp, NYSC, programme, in 2015, she got a teaching appointment in a private secondary school in Lagos but turned it down.
Ebere major reason of turning it down was because of her interest in Customs job. She told a friend: I like uniform job, particular Customs. She was further encouraged to search for appointment in Customs when she saw a school friend who had secured a job in the Service, in 2015, through a family friend as a senior officer. The friend was said to have promised to help him secure a place in the revenue generating agency as an insider, if she could be patient without being in hurry or seeing the Customs job as a do or die affair. She made her to know that she is still young and good for job placement in Customs. As at then she was over 25 years old. But the age bracket for new officer or Customs Inspectors recruimentt in the Service was between18 and 35 years.
Given her desperate desire to secure a job placement in the NCS or nothing, she resorted to checking the Customs website daily to know when the ban on recruitment would be lifted in order to apply . She was lucky as she saw one of such online advertisement about Customs recruitment in 2017 with a payment of non refundable deposit of five thousand naira application fee in a private bank account and other subsequent payments which run into thousands of naira if given a place in Customs. Ms. Chijoke fell for it but it turned out that they were scammers. She was not alone. There were so many other desperate job seekers who fell into the hand of the scammers across the country.
Many had expected Chijoke to learn her lesson from the scammers tricks to dupe desperate Customs job seekers. hShe never did as she still fell victim to them recently. tThis time she was fleeced of over N500,000.00, with an advice to always check on a fake Customs web which was given to her to know when the result of the shortlisted Candidates would be released. A Clergy man from Cross river state who was desperate to find a Customs job fora niece using his contacts both within and outside the Customs also fell victim to the antics of the scammers.
The Customs job racketeers, were said to be using the name of popular Customs officers, both serving and retired to perpetuate the fraud. The activities of the scammers was said to have become so pronounced in the recent time that Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller and the Customs Spokesman at the instance of Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and the Comptroller General issued a disclaimer to the alleged recruitment exercise in Customs this year.
Attah was said to have made it clear to those that care to listen that there is no planned ” mass recruitment exercise in Customs” for now, urging desperate job seekers to be careful how they patronise scammers who hack into Customs website to create the fake ”wwwcustomsrecruit.com.ng/vacancy.pdf” to deceive and extort money from victims.
An aggrieved Attah revealed that on a daily basis, the Customs Headquarters had continued to receive ”complaints from victims of these fraudsters who had been” duped of various amounts running into millions of naira”’.
The Customs Deputy Comptroller, who is acting on the mandate of Ali, the Comptroller General, confirmed that the ”fraudsters on prowl” across the country duping unsuspecting desperate job seekers”. He was said to have assured Nigerians that the ”legal recruitment into the Service will be made public through various advert placement in national Newspapers and the electronic media. He further said that it would be published extensively on the Customs official website:www.customs.gov.nig and its official facebook page:www.facebook.com/customsng.
For avoidance of doubt, he said the” Customs application form for recruitment into the various cadres of Customs , from the Customs Inspectors to the officers rank is free of charge . Appealing to Nigerians not to be deceived by these dupers, who had created the purported Customs fake recruitment website to request payment from victims before the forms are completed to be careful.
Many believe that the fraudsters could not have been practising their trade undetected without the backing of insiders who had good knowledge of the Customs website operation and how to fake it. It would be recalled that there was a similar incident of job placement in the Service in its portal which generated much controversy, as many desperate job seekers were given fake appointment letters, forcing the National Assembly to intervene to save the situation from degenerating. The fraud was said to have been perpetuated by an insider , who was said to have relocated to the United States, with his loot which run into millions of naira.
Another area which the fraudsters may have tried to rubbish the name of Customs was in the sales of auction of overtime cargoes. Investigation by the Magazine shows that the fraudsters, use the names and pictures of both serving and retired Customs officers to give the impression that the buyers were dealing with genuine Customs officers ostensibly to fleece them. The fraudsters, according to a Customs source create the impression that they could ” use their position to facilitate the process of buyers of overtime cargoes from Customs in getting the allocation paper.
On May 9, 2018, in an alleged fake website,” http//www.businesslist.com.ng/ company/25841/nigeria customs service, the scammers had released a document showing that the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, has” commenced the auctioning of vehicles on the directive of the Federal government for 2017/2018”. The scammers had listed over 50 vehicles ranging from Toyta Land CRuiser, Toyota Prado Jeep, Toyota Corolla, Toyota Camry, Toyota Avensis, Toyota Yaris, Toyota Venza, Toyota RAV4, SUV, Toyota Hilus Pickup to Ford and Suzuki for sales. The vehicles that listed for sales were said to be between 199 and 2016 models. They had imputed a price range of between N250,000.00 and N1.1 on the vehicles depending on the brand and the year it was assembled in the car plant.
According to the scammers, the” vehicles were impounded due to smuggling and improper documentation” which had been forfeited to the government as” penalty for the illegal act” and thus being auctioned. Perhaps to win the confidence of the unsuspecting buyers, that they are genuine Customs officers holding positions of trust in the Service , they fake officers irrespective of the rank. They wer said to have faked one Suleiman Ibrahim Iidris, a Deputy Comptroller General, tariff and Trade, now retired, in their dirty deal of May 9, 2018. they were said to have informed the unsuspecting Customer thats the vehicles to be auctioned are” direct Belgium/Tokunbo and have never been used in Nigeria”, stating that the vehicles, listed for auctioning are currently detained at the Apapa Command warehouse, ” awaiting removal for, clearance”.
Appealing to the unsuspecting buyers to ” contact Suleiman , the DCG, Trade and Tariff, on his MTN line, 08035704223 , for further directive, they said , is for their own good as delay could result to forfeiture.
Unknown to them, DCG Suleiman, had retired from the Service, thus making their case very worrisome. Their stupidity, according to a senior Customs officer became more pronounced , when They had described Suleiman as the ” Chief auctioneer officer”.
The scammers attempt on the May 9, 2018, attempt to fleece their victims may have turned out a bad day as they had used the name of Attah, the Customs image maker to sign the alleged fake auctions sales paper on behalf of Ali, the Comptroller General. They got wrong as Ali, the Customs boss had automated the sales of overtime cargoes as a way of blocking areas of loopholes in the Service.
The scammers may have further exposed their ignorance on Customs operations when on Friday, June 22, 2018, one Paul Balogun wrote on the Reporter’s timeline about sales of ”replacement/Recruitment, forms , urging interested applicants to apply. The fraudster was said advised applicants to contact one ” Collins Adebayo, a Customs officer on 08100127091 for purchase of the form and clearance”.
Also, the fraudster claimed that he has bags of ”50”kg foreign parboiled rice at N8,500 per bag while the cost of delivery to the buyer is N1000.00 per bag. The contents of the letter was not quite different from the May 18, 2018 document on auction vehicles sales which was linked to NPA, by the dupers.
It was not surprising why maritime analysts are asking the Customs Comptroller General to look inwards to track the perpetrators of these internet frauds using the name of the Service to dupe desperate job seekers and overtime cargo buyers.
They feared that that this high wire fraud which became pronounced in the Service between 2011 and now, would continue unless Ali apply tougher measures to deal with officers caught in internet fraud in the Service. They claimed that most of the officers may have taken advantage of their Information Technology background and involvement with their senior Colleagues trained at the World Customs Organisation, WCO, Brussels, to design the Customs Pre-Assessment Arrival Report, PAAR, form , for Customs release of cargoes to give out information on Customs website to close friends without knowing the implication.
These Customs Information Technology trained officers were said to be fully involved in stalling the Customs software at the Headquarters and the Commands for Customs migration from NC91 to 92, described as a more sophisticated platform, expected to reduce the level of contact between importers with their agents and Customs officers at the ports and land border areas. Attah, the Customs Spokesman, has made it clear to those that care to listen that the internet fraudsters who are faking the Customs websites in order to dupe victims would be treated as criminals if caught in the act.