By Stephen Ubanna
For years rice and vehicle smugglers in the southwest geo-political region were always smiling to the bank while the economy suffers. The smuggling situation may have forced Muhammed Uba Garba, Comptroller, Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, and his men to go back to the drawing board on how to cage the smugglers by acting on credible intelligence.
The effort of Muhammed and his men may have worked out as the Command impounded 127,000, of ”50” bags of foreign parboiled rice in 2017 alone. The rice smugglers may have realised that there was no hiding place for them in the illegal business as they were forced to scale down their operations , thus giving the Command patrol teams combing the bush paths and waterways in the region little or no job to do.
Muhammed confirmed that there had been a significant drop in the smuggling of foreign parboiled rice and Vehicles across the land border Areas in the region in the recent months because of the measures put on ground and the activities of the patrol officers.
This is evident going by the quantity of rice and other seizures that were said to have been made by the Command between January and June 2018. The Magazine gathered that the Command made a seizure f about 34, 000 bags of ”50” foreign parboiled allegedly smuggled into the country through illegal routes. The Customs boss , who is optimistic that the drop would persist because of the Customs anti-smuggling personnel who are all over the region said there was no gaing back. Take for instance, the Headquarter’s Strike Force personnel, who have virtually taken over the Iseyin and Sarki area in Oyo state as their branded vehicles are everywhere .
Given the loses incured between January and June 2018, rice smugglers may have devised new strategies to beat FOU , Zone A, personnel to it. But Muhammed disclosed that every steps taken by them would continuee to be punctured by acting on credible intelligence
. He cited the Concealment of 330 ”50”kg bags of foreign parboiled with Charcoal in a Containerised truck . The truck was said to have been impounded at Idiroko land border, Ogun state.
The FOU, Zone A personnel, according to sources have every reason to be hard on foreign rice smugglers to save foreign exchange for the government. This is because between 2015 and now, the Federal ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Nigeria had not given Letter of Credit, LC, to any rice importer, meaning that the government had save about $60 million or N215 billion on rice imports. This is because rice is one of the 41 items banned bt the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, from accessing the foreign Exchange market.
With the ban on rice importers from accessing the forex market, the Asian country of Thailand rice farmers appears to be losing their Nigeria Customers. A CBN source told the Magazine that the yearly rice import of 1.2 million metric tons had dropped to less than 700,000 metric tons with the implementation of the policy as many importers had gone into the rice farming business.
Already Muhammed has told those that care to listen that their obligation is to support the Federal government policy on rice importsto encourage local rice farmers and the millers in order to create employment opportunities for the teeming unemployed youths in the country.
Given an insider view of the activities of the Command between June 13, 2018 and July 25, 2018, the Customs boss disclosed that 9,504”50”kg bags of Thailand rice, 426 ”25”kg jerry cans of vegetable oil, 333 cartons of poultry products, 287 bales of secondhand clothing and 196 pieces of used tyres were seized and kept in the warehouse awaiting Headquarters orders for evacuation to the Internally Displaced Peoples, IDP , Camps in Borno state .
Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, was said to have directed the evacuation of 11,597 bags of ”50” bags of foreign parboiled rice by the Nigeria Army of Supply and Transport , NACST, IDP, Camp in Borno state to create space to warehouse other seized items. Other items on the evacuation list are 627 and 485 jerry cans of Vegetable Oil 25 liters and 5 liters each, 219 bales of used clothing and 33 sacks of used shoes.
Another major item intercepted by the Commmand within the period were 21 exotic vehicles. They are one Mercedes Benz, G500, 2016 model, six Toyota Hiace Bus, 2018 model, three Lexus Jeep GX460 and Lx570, 2017 model and one Toyota , Hilux, 2017 model. Others are Toyota Land Cruiser, (2016), Toyota Hilux bullet proof,(2014), Toyota Corolla,(2018), Honda Civic, 2016, Honda Accord, 2016 and Dodge Charger, 2016, one piece each.
the FOU, Zone A, Customs boss, confirmed that the 21 exotic detained vehicles have a Duty Paid Value, DPV, of N484.46 million. The vehicles were said to have been detained because the owners could not produce relevant Customs documents. Just as rice smugglers in the south west have scaled down their operatons, the same was said to be applicable to vehicle importers. There are fears in both official and unofficial circles that these vehicles may be forfeited to the government. That much was confirmed by Muhammed , who ” urged the owners of the detained vehicles to come forward with valid Customs documents to take delivery of it otherwise they will be liable to seizure and subsequent forfeiture to the government in line with the provisions of sections 147 of Customs and Excise Management Act, Cap 145, laws to search premise freely and 158, Cap 145, power to patrol freely, 2004.
Investigation by the Magazine shows that most of smuggled vehicles found on the Lagos -Ibadam expressway which had fallen into the waiting hands of the FOU, Zone A, patrol team personnel or at the Checkpoint were smuggled through the north. This is because the tight security provided by Muhammed and his men in the south west, particular, Idiroko, Seme, Iseyin and Sarki.
Perhaps, what may have gladdened the Comptroller, was the interception of an Iveco Truck with Registration No. LAM283 LG along the Ijebu Ode Ore Road carrying 498 cartons of CSP Codeine Cough Syrup,100 ml with each carton containing 200 bottles.
It would be recalled that Emzor Pharmaceutical Company ltd and two other Pharmaceutical Companies in Kwara state one production line each was shut for producing Cough syrup with Codeine allegedly manufactured in United Kingdom. The federal government had banned the importation of Cough Syrup that contains Codeine. The closure of the Pharmaceutical Companies Coup Syrup production lines may have opened the eye of FOU ,personnel in Zone A and Zone C , to put a close tab on Pharmaceutical products imported into the country. the question on the lips of most people was:How did the CSP Cough Syrup enter into the country, if Customs personnel at the Idiroko land border where the Truck was allegedly intercepted had not compromised with smugglers.
Muhammeed has given his words that the items would be handed over the items to the National Agency For Food and Drug Administration, NAFDAC, for further investigation.
Annother major seizures that may have given the Customs Comptroller joy were two the Containers at the seaports because of their contents which contravenes the government fiscal policy measures. The Containers were said to have been intercepted by the Command operations and Lagos Roving team Headed by Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs. The Container Nos. are PCIU922650/8 and PCIU871664/5 respectively. The Containers were seized at the instance of the Muhammed, the Area Comptroller for false declaration which contravenes the government fiscal policy measures. The first Container, was said to have been seized for carrying 525 bales of second hand clothing as against used motor cycles declared in the SGD Form while the second ”40”Container fell into the Customs hand for carrying 11 jumbo bales of jeans, 365 cartons of new slippers, 145 cartons of new bags as against ”adhesive dressing declared”. Insiders informed the Magazine that the Command also impounded two Containers filled with unprocessed wood for export to China against the government policy on wood exports. one of the Containers was said to have been intercepted at Tin-can Island port while the second one came from Apapa. The seizure of the Containers have exposed the rot at the seaports.
The Magazine gathered that some people have been arrested in connection with the seized Containers. As at Wednesday, July 25, 2018, the suspects were still in detention awaiting for their bail order to be confirmed.
Despite working round the clock to sanitise the seaports, airport and Land border stations, the Command was said to have recovered N67.4 million for the government. This is revenue could have entered into private pockets but for the intervention of the Command. The FOU, Zone A, Customs boss may have played into the hand of some powerful importers and agents who are well connected and before of his incessant seizure of Containers for contravention of government fiscal policy measures and may have resorted to blackmail him to put him in the bad book of the Management.