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 .
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.