FOU:No Respite For VIP Fuel And Exotic Vehicle Smugglers

By Stephen Ubanna

Barely three weeks on the saddle  as the  Comptroller of Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos, Mohahammed Aliyu appears to have proved book makers wrong that he would not succeed in the Command’s anti-smuggling war because of his calm  looks.

His successor, Muhammed Uba garba, a former  Comptroller, of the Command, had set a standard which maritime analysts believed could not be broken by any  past or  present Comptroller of the Command. They believe that Aliyu may have a tough time controlling the Command  Patrol and Surveillance teams  spread across Lagos, Ogun, Ekiti, Ondo, Oyo and Osun, the six states in the south west geo-political region because of lack of individual knowledge of them. They feared that some of the patrol and surveillance  team leaders may want to take advantage that he was coming from Seme , a smaller Command to do whatever they want by conniving with smugglers to release  intercepted goods without records to show for the transactions.

But the analysts may have gotten a wrong impression of Aliyu as close Associates  described him as a very aggressive officer who  could decide to lead an anti-smuggling team when  the shove comes to the push. The  patrol and surveillance  team leaders including  the Officers in-charge of the Command’s Check-points may have known that their new Comptroller  was a no nonsense officer that they are  competing among themselves to outshine  each other to impress him  . At the instance of the Deputy Comptroller , Administration, the patrol and Surveillance team leaders including those at the Checkpoints had pledged their loyalty to him on the day of handover at the Command. As a prelude to getting their totl loyalty, he had provided a level playing field for all the officers to works.

True to their promise, they had sustained the tempo of anti-smuggling war  that Aliyu, a source told the Magazine  could not believe the spectacular seizures that had been made by the officers in the last two weeks ranging from rice,  exotic vehicles to premium Motor Spirit, PMS, popular, petrol.

The Magazine  learnt that Lura Riks, a Chief Superintendent of Customs and the officer in-charge of the Command Operations and Lagos Roving team, who had been instrumental  to the major rice and exotic vehicle seizures in the Command  may have set the stage with the interception of over five exotic vehicles allegedly released from the sea port, particular, Tincan Island and port Multi-services Terminal Limited, PMTL, over alleged under-payment. The team were also said to have  intercepted vehicles smuggled into Lagos from the north, Seme  and idiroko  axis  in Ogun state. It would be recalled that the president Muhammadu Buhari  led government had banned the importation of vehicles through the land border to encourage importers who had relocated to Republic of Benin over complaints of  high  cost of clearing to patronise  the country’s ports.

A visitor to the FOU, Zone A, premises and the Mechanical workshop turned warehouse  would be surprised at the number of exotic vehicles  and truck laden Containers detained but awaiting  for the owners to produce the  relevant import documents to  show source of import and proof  of duty payment.

The Magazine learnt the Command Valuation Unit officers had been on the alert to their duties to  prove to the Comptroller that they know  what they are doing by recommending  Demand Notice, DN, on the detained  items  to Aliyu, the Comptroller for approval that could not be faulted by him, confirming what Muhammed, his predecessor had said that his assignment at FOU, Zone A, would not only be to run after smugglers in the south west but also to generate revenue for the government.

Perhaps, the biggest seizure that was said to have been made  in the Command  in the recent time was the  alleged 11 boats carrying about 80,000,  ”25” jerry cans of petrol at Ijofin, one of the unpopular but notorious Creeks in Ogun state by the Command Rapid Respond Squad, CRRS, headed by Jack Okpabi,  a Chief Superintendent of Customs.  The Jerry cans load of petrol that were loaded into the  11 locally built boats were to be smuggled  to the Republic of Benin, a neighbouring  country in the West African sub-region under tight security escort without the intervention of Customs .

Seized Jerrycans of Petrol At Seme

Insiders told the magazine that when  information leaked out about the alleged deal that some trucks carrying petrol  had diverted to a Creek at Ogun state where the products  were being emptied into  ”25” litre jerry cans which had been provided for it  and standby  locally built  boats ready  to carry it for deliverance  to the buyers  at a designated Creek in Republic of Benin, Jack saw it as an opportunity to bounce back to reckoning  in the Command’s anti-smuggling war. The source disclosed that he was in regular touch  with Aliyu, the Comptroller who gave him his tacit support.

It was gathered that prior to the raid  on the alleged Ogun state  Creek on Friday, August 31, 2018, Jack had sent  out his officers on a surveillance of the area including the use of informants who were giving him reports about the the  syndicate and their next plan of action.

Unknown to the PMS smugglers and the boat providers, the  Customs personnel had surrounded the Creek but had  allowed them and their loaders to continue with their business of filling  the Jerry cans withthe petrol and loading it into the boats without disrupting their operations. The fallout was that when the team were invited over to the Creek by the advance team , the fully armed  officers in a military combat operation did not hesitate in taking over the boats forcing the smugglers and the boat providers  to flee for safety.

Eyewitness account confirmed that there was no resistance from the angry loaders who stood at a distance awaiting further instructions from the smugglers who had engaged them  to mount road blocks to forestall the Customs personnel from   leaving the Creek with the products.

The  petrol loaders have  every reason to worry about te Customs operations in the Community.A resident  of Idiroko, a border town between Nigeria and Republic of Benin confirmed that  the Ijofin Creek is always a beehive of activities as locally built boats carrying rice or those earmarked to lift products call at the Creek  daily. Unconfirmed report shows that the VIP smugglers may have be succeeding  in their illicit  business in the past years  because of insider collaborators in Customs formations, who  act as their undercover informants.

Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS,  was said to have congratulated Aliyu and his  officers in Rapid Response Squad for the Spectacular seizures and assuring him of the management support to do more.

But not many people are surprised at the interception of the 11 locally built boats by Aliyu’s officers.  As  a former Comptroller of Seme Command, he was said to have been instrumental  to the interception of about 2,200 jerry cans of smuggled PMS with a Duty Paid Value, DPV, of over N10 million on December 1, 2017. The sezeizures were said to have been made at Pashi- Yekeme  Community  in Owode and the Creeks.

The Customs Comptroller may have sent a signal to the VIP petrol  dealers in the south west geo-political region, who would always use their contacts  in the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, to get   petrol  allocation , only to divert it to the Creeks to load into jerry cans to be smuggled into Republic of Benin to watch it as the battle line had been drawn. His counterpart at Seme Command, Muhammed and his officers were said to have intensified the patrol of the Creeks in the area to forestall  smuggling of PMS through the axis as was the case in the past.

The Customs Operational norms , according to sources  did not allow  truck load of Petroleum products to cross the country land border stations  to any country in the West African sub-region.  It is not surprising why many PMS dealers, particular in the  border Communities  had resorted to the smuggling of the product  because of the high  demand for it  in Republic of Benin and other land locked countries in the West and Central African sub-region.

Statistics made available  to the Magazine shows that between January  1, 2017 and January  1,2018, alone, a total of  1.74 million  litres  of petrol,  were seized by Customs Formations  across the country. A break down shows  that 270,000  litres were seized  at Seme border, 150,000 litres by Western Marine Command, and 10,000 litres by FOU, Zone D, in the north east.  The Sokoto/Kebbi Command  was also said to have made a PMS seizure of 1,775, Ogun, 10,500 litres and Adamawa/Taraba, making a seizure of 174,492 litres.

Many believe t hat the Customs  Comptrollers at the land border stations  may be finding it difficult  to police the movement of Petroleum Products on bikes across the border  because there are many  border stations  that have between 20 to 30 filling stations.  Perhaps to checkmate  on the sitting of filling stations at the land border  Communities,  a senior Customs officer had suggested a review on who gets licensed  and where the filling stations are going to be located at the  land border before issuing the license.

Indeed, a recent studies commissioned by NNPC   revealed  that an   increasing  number of filling stations in the country’s land border station Communities  in the south west, north and the south-south geo-political regions are conduit for smuggling of petroleum products, particular petrol into neighbouring countries in the West African sub-region.




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