FOU: An Herculean Task

By Stephen Ubanna

Barely one week after Ibrahim Jibrin, the minister of  State Environment, visited Federal Operations Unit, FOU, , Zone A, Ikeja, to see things himself with the officials of Convention for International Trade on Endangered Species, CITES, officials  from Geneva, Switzerland, and a promise to see Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel, and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS,  on the need to reward officers and men of the Service who risk their lives to make spectacular seizures found in  Customs warehouses at Ikeja, it galvanised the officers in the Command to go after smugglers in their hideout in the south west.

Take for instance, the Command Lagos Roving team, headed by Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs, which had been associated with many spectacular seizures in the Command including  the most recent seizure of two locally  built ship, dubbed Barge in shipping circles, at Oyigbo Creek, Lagos Mainland Local government, loaded with about 800 bags of ”50”Kg foreign parboiled rice but made two spectacular seizures of  hundreds of bags of foreign parboiled of  rice and  vegetable oil between Thursday, June 7, 2018 and Saturday, June 9, 2018.

Acting on information and with the support of Mohammed Uba Garba, the Area Comptroller, Riks was said to have mobilised his men on Thursday, June 7, to block the Lagos-Ibadan  Express way to forestall the exit of a rice smuggler  from somewhere in Ogun or Lagos states  enroute to the south east to discharge at the sponsor’s warehouse . The smuggler was optimistic that he will enter  the south east without encountering FOU, Zone A, officers, on the road. He got it wrong as Riks ‘team members were all over the expressway  from Lagos to Ijebuode in Ogun state.

The plan of Riks, the team leader , was that if the smuggler succeeds in  beating the team on the Lagos side of the Expressway , it will not escape the other ones stationed along the Lagos-Benin Expressway.  The plan worked as the rice smuggler  could not escape the eagle eyes of Riks’ men on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway despite beating  other Customs teams  from the FOU, Zone A, Headquarters Strike Force, and the Ogun or Seme Command patrol teams on the road including the Customs check points.

The seizure of over 600 bags of ”50”Kg bags of foreign parboiled rice  on Thursday, June 7, 2018, may have encouraged Riks and his men to extend their  tentacle to the land border areas of Seme , Lagos state and Idiroko , Ogun statate. On Saturday, the team, was said to have impounded about 613 ”25” of Vegetable Oil along the Lagos -Badagry expressway.  It was a major seizure from the Seme axis which caught Mohammed Aliyu, the  Seme Command , Comptroller and his Enforcement team by surprise.

A Seized Container.

This is because Aliyu had  assured Ali, the Customs Comptroller General that that he has no cause to worry about the activities of smugglers in his area of jurisdiction because  it is under full control as there is   no escape route for smugglers either through the Creeks or by land. But Vegetable Oil smugglers found their way out on their way to the south east before they were stopped by FOU, Zone A, personnel on the road.

The question on the lips of most people was: how did Riks and his team members  maneuver their  way from their  Lagos  base to make such a spectacular seizure of truck load of Vegetable Oil in the area that was said to be fully policed  by Seme Command Enforcement Unit, thus fueling speculations that there might have been a high level of connivance between Customs personnel and other security operatives  at the border area .

Given the spectacular performance of the Lagos Roving team headed by Riks on the road in the last two months, this may have encouraged the team to launch out fully to the seaport  to forestall the activities of  fraudulent importers .

Insiders  informed the Magazine that, though, the team had being intercepting Containers  but the most recent, where  one of the Containers was said to have been stocked with about 120 bales of  jeans is legendary. The Container was said to have fallen into  the waiting hands of Riks’ men along the Oshodi/Apapa Expressway. This  should give Jibrin Musa and Baba-Musa Abdullahi, Comptrollers of Apapa and Tin-can Island Commands, respectively  and Heads bonded terminals attached their Commands  a cause for concern.

The spectacular performance of Riks and his boys in the Lagos Roving team may have encouraged Mohammed, the FOU, Zone A,  Area Comptroller to expand the scope of work of the Lagos Roving team by adding  the Command Operations to it, which may described as a big challenge to the Bauchi state born senior Customs officer.

The Magazine learnt that Jack Okpabi, a Chief Superintendent of Customs and a former Head of the Command Lagos Roving team and now officer in-charge  of the Command Rapid Response  tea m also made a seizure of over 600 bags of rice within the period.

The impressive  seizure of foreign parboiled rice  by the various patrol teams including  Containers intercepted along the Oshodi/Apapa Expressway  carrying goods alleged to have contravened the government fiscal policy by the Lagos Roving /Operations team  may have  forced  Mohammed  to speak out about the activities of the Command in the last one month.

An elated Mohammed  said the Command, between May16, 2018 to June12, 2018, intercepted exotic vehicles, which are still being detained and other  goods with a Duty Paid Value, DPV, of  about N1.35 billion.  He disclosed that the 15 exotic vehicles intercepted by the Command are being invested  to ensure there was no infraction or under payment of duties.

There are fears in both official and unofficial circles that the exotic vehicle owners who may be found to have contravened the government fiscal policy measures would  lose it to government.

The detained vehicles, according to him includea  Toyota Prado jeep,2018, model, Toyota Hilux, FordF150, Pajero jeep,  andMercedes Benz, which were 2017 model, one each, among others.Also on the list of seized items , he said were four Containers  with no:PCIU850134/9,PCIU8278544,FCIU983753, and TGHU6924330.  The Customs boss confirmed that  the Containers were seized  over alleged false declaration.

An aggrieved Customs boss revealed that  while two of the Containers  were carrying 8,633 pieces of   empty cylinders as against plumber materials that were declared in their SGD Form, the remaining two Containers on the list  carried 12 bales  of new jeans as against punching machines declared in the SGD. He disclosed that  a total of 12 suspects had been arrested in connection with the  12 seizures  made by the Command  within the last one month.

But what may have given the FOU, Zone A, Comptroller, a  cause to beat his chest that the Command has done well  in the month month under review was  the N59.506 million  that was said to have be recovered for the government. This is money , he said,” that could have entered into private  pockets”  but for the eagle eyes of the officers in the Lagos Roving/Operations and other patrol teams on the road.

He has  sent a warning signal to smugglers who may feel safe using the Creeks for their illegal business,  that the  Command ” in order to ensure full implementation of  the government  fiscal policy measures  banning the importation of foreign parboiled rice  through the land borders, has re-strategised its   operational modalities  and beamed its search light on the Creeks, water side  at various locations in the south west geo-political region.

It is not surprising the mass seizure of rice at Oyigbo Creek by Riks and his boys in the Lagos/Operations team recently.  Giving kudos to the  officers  who had put their lives on the line  in making  these spectacular  seizures, particular, the 15 trailers  load of rice , not minding that it’s a big battle the Creek  and bush paths used by smugglers in the south west, he promised that that their efforts would be rewarded.

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